The UK television market is broken, but Disney+Star can fix it (Part 1/2)

*or, at the very least, start to fix it.

This is an article I've wanted to write for a while because there isn't a definitive guide that explains the pitfalls of the UK television market, so I've decided to do one.

Inconsistency is not key

In my house, we watch American shows almost exclusively. We used to have Sky, but then moved somewhere covered by trees meaning we can't get a good satellite signal. No bother, we just got NowTV instead, which is owned by Sky but lacks things like recording, 4K, and the rest. Whenever we find a show on a certain channel, such as SkyOne, we're excited - up until we get to waiting around for the second or third season, when the show fades into obscurity, never to be heard from again. This is because of distribution rights.

In a nutshell, distribution rights are the reason I use services like StreamLocator and (previously) VPNs. Whilst in the US, a show is generally produced by the network on which it airs, when those shows make it to the UK, the distribution rights are sold to networks (channels) because the objective of broadcasting further afield is money. Because the networks generally don't have a presence outside of the US, they'll licence out their shows to the networks with the highest traffic. But, this is almost always done on a season-to-season basis, meaning that a show could one year air on SkyOne, then the next air on Channel 4.

You might ask: how does Disney+Star fix this? Because Disney+ is an existing platform direct from the studio, who owns the networks, and Disney has already nixed its linear channels from the UK, Disney will use its adult platform to be the one-stop shop for all of its content. This means shows that air on ABC, Fox, Freeform, FX, etc. will all be marketed as Star Originals. In effect, Disney will most likely end its licensing agreements with international channels in favour of pushing everything to Disney+Star, and this could mean that we will have some sort of security for US-based shows.

Really, inconsistency is not key

Another pitfall of the UK's television market is in its approach to show production. In the US, a show-creator will pitch a show to a network, who will order a pilot; that pilot will be screened, then the show will get its half or full-season order. In doing that, the network will also hire a team of writers, because typically seasons will go on for 12+ episodes. In the UK, this is very different. You'd be hard-pressed to find a season of television that lasts longer than 6 episodes because the person pitching the show is also usually the person writing every episode. Whilst this means that the quality is generally better, it also means that a network is buying the writer's time rather than their idea, so if that writer wants to go on to work on other projects, that's fine but it means there will be a wait.

In part, this is because the US focuses more on syndication. Syndication is where a show, after reaching a certain episodic milestone, can be shopped to other networks in order to increase revenue. This episode count is 100, which for a full-season US show is usually around the start of Season 5. In the UK, because all of our channel-run streaming services are free, there's less of a desire to achieve syndication so the creator of a show will tell the story they intended to tell, and no more.

What this means in effect is that shows will generally only be renewed if and when the creator feels like it, which can lead to years-long gaps between seasons, and little to know clue on whether or not a next instalment is even in the pipeline.

You might ask, again, how Disney+Star will fix this. To that, my answer is multi-faceted:

  • Disney+Star will offer and invest in local programming, which means that

  • There will be pressure from higher-ups at Disney to ensure that consistency between seasons is maintained.

Whilst The Mouse has been pretty tight-lipped about how this local programming will manifest, there are some indications that it will emerge through content acquisition as well as original programmes. Given that the Kardashian-Jenners are producing original programming for Hulu and Star, and that scripted content is more expensive to produce than unscripted, it is likely that Disney+Star will see its first dabble into local programming through the medium of reality television.

This article is getting a bit long...

So I'll do a Harry Potter and split it into two parts. In the next part, I'm going to talk about how Disney+Star will most likely position itself over the next 4 years, taking us right to the end of 2024.

Until then, happy streaming!

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