Means TV is structured as a worker-owned cooperative. But even a "post-capitalist" streaming service will need to compete for subscriptions.
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Disney Plus' tech chief explains the biggest challenges he and 1,000 engineers faced getting the service ready for launch
Disney Plus officially landed in the US on November 12. Ahead of the launch, Disney Streaming...Disney Plus officially landed in the US on November 12. Ahead of the launch, Disney Streaming Services' (DSS) CTO Joe Inzerillo broke down the toughest challenges in getting the service off the ground, and how the platform will work to keep subscribers coming back month after month. Inzerillo led a team of 1,000 engineers and 250 product folks who stress tested the service for glitches before the US launch, though there were still technical issues on release day. The team also spent a lot of time trying make Disney's blockbusters look as good on home TVs and smartphones as they do in theaters. While much of the current attention is on getting the service off the ground, Inzerillo said his team is also working on improving content recommendations to prevent cancellations. Click here for more BI Prime stories. The chief technology officer of Disney Streaming Services, the company that built Disney Plus, appeared cautiously optimistic before the service's November 12 US launch. Joe Inzerillo, who joined Disney through its acquisition of BAMTech (now Disney Streaming Services), worked on streaming platforms before, such as HBO Now, the MLB's streaming service, PlayStation Vue, and Disney's ESPN Plus. But none were on the scale that Disney Plus aspires to. Within five years, Disney expects the service to be profitable, and have 60 to 90 million subscribers, roughly half half the member base of Netflix today. Some Wall Street analysts think Disney Plus could reach its target even faster. "This is not going to be a niche product," Inzerillo told Business Insider at a media event in New York, on the Friday before the service's US launch. "This is going to be big." With Disney Plus, Disney is jumping fully into the streaming waters, after dipping its toes in with other streaming platforms, like ESPN Plus, a subscription complement to Disney's sports-cable networks that launched last year, and Hulu, which Disney recently took full control of. The legacy media giant was the king of cable TV thanks to media networks like ESPN that commanded colossal audiences and supplied half of Disney's operating income. But, as people in the US abandoned traditional TV in droves, it became clear that Disney needed a stronghold in streaming to hold onto its crown. Disney Plus will be the company's "crown jewel" in streaming, Kevin Mayer, chairman of the direct-to-consumer and international business at Disney, said at the same event. Disney Plus got off to a bumpy start on Tuesday Disney Plus got off to a bumpy start in the US on Tuesday, when many people reported technical difficulties while using the service. A Disney spokesperson said the problems were due to higher than expected demand, and that the company was working rapidly to fix them. Inzerillo's team of about 1,000 engineers and 250 product folks spent much of the last 12 to 18 months trying to prevent some of these issues, by testing the service, pushing it until it broke and then fixing it. But technical glitches were still expected. "We haven't solved everything by any means," Mayer said at the event ahead of launch. "I'm sure we'll find some new things when we launch in the US." The largest test for Disney Plus was in the Netherlands, where a limited version of the service was tested for the past two months. There were glitches there, too. The biggest problems were on older devices, like smartphones and streaming media players that were released years earlier, Inzerillo said. Streaming incumbents, like Netflix and Amazon, perfected their platforms on each device as they hit the market. Disney is now playing catch up. A unique challenge on Disney Plus was bringing the company's blockbusters to home TVs and mobile phones, without compromising on creators' visions Aside from some of the infrastructure issues, the biggest challenge Inzerillo said he faced that was unlike any other platform he worked on was in translating Disney's big blockbusters to home TVs and mobile phones, without compromising on creators' original visions, and sparing users' mobile data or broadband plans. "It's really, are we delivering on the artist's vision from these incredibly creative folks that have made these amazing blockbuster pieces of cinema and other kinds of serial content," Inzerillo said, "and can we make that happen for you at home or on your mobile device with a pair of headphones on, on the train." Disney partnered with Dolby to offer many of Disney Plus' original series and movies, as well as some theatrical releases coming to the service including all the Star Wars saga films, in Dolby's high dynamic range (HDR) 4K video format, called Dolby Vision. "What Jon Favreau sees in the edit suite is what he wants you see in your living rooms," Tom Lattie, senior director of commercial partnerships at Dolby said, referring to the director behind "Iron Man" and showrunner of the Disney Plus original series "The Mandalorian." Dolby has been a frequent partner of Disney, which released all of its major films from the past two years in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, the company's audio format. Inzerillo's team at Disney Plus has also been going back through Disney's film archive and updating the home-video versions of contemporary movies, like "Iron Man," to the HDR format. "We went deeper and broader than certainly any project we've ever done at [Disney Streaming Services] and I'd argue, you'll see over time, I think we're going to go deeper and broader than anybody's ever gone," Inzerillo said. The team at Disney Plus is also thinking about how to reduce cancellations as the streaming wars heat up While the last 18 months at Disney Streaming Services have been all about the launch of Disney Plus, Inzerillo said he's thinking about the next phase, when keeping subscribers hooked on the service will be just as important as enticing them to sign up. "I make the argument, personally, that churn is the biggest indicator of the health of an SVOD service," Inzerillo said. "Getting people in is marketing ... The Walt Disney Company, I think we do it better than anybody to get people in, but if they stay in it, it means they take value month after month." Disney Plus will also have to battle a slew of new subscription services, including HBO Max, Peacock, and Quibi, that are lined up to launch in the next six months, on top of incumbents like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Inzerillo said his team can best prevent churn, or cancellations, by helping people finding the content they want to watch. When users first log into the Disney Plus app, the programming will be curated by Disney, because the platform won't have user data yet. Recommendations will become more personalized over time, as Disney Plus learns, through machine learning, from the way people interact with the service. The platform tries to entice people to set up multiple profiles by offering fun avatars of Disney characters, because more profiles suggest that more members of the family will using the service, inherently making it more valuable. The algorithms, by the way, also learn from the icons people select. "That gives us some signal about what you might be interested in," Inzerillo said. "You're unlikely to put 'The Mandalorian' there if you're not a Star Wars fan." And the recommendation engine takes cues from the choices people make on different devices, and throughout the day. On a subway commute home, for instance, some users might be more interested in Pixar shorts than movies or full-length series. "A lot of what we talk about when we talk about [Disney Streaming Services], especially on the early part, gets focused on the technology and shipping the product for obvious reasons," Inzerillo said. "But really over time it's the performance marketing, it's getting people into the product or retaining them or preventing churn. That's also part of what our mandate is."SEE ALSO: The top Disney Plus exec says it will have to push beyond its family-friendly image to succeed, and its Netherlands test run hints at how Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Behind the scenes with Shepard Smith — the Fox News star who just announced his resignation from the network