The Disney + interface feels empty but elegant compared to Netflix

Browsing through a demo of Disney & # 39; s upcoming streaming service, Disney +, is the most striking contrast to its biggest competitor: Netflix. While Netflix is ​​full of content that tries to attract subscribers' attention, Disney + feels relatively infertile. Just like the Apple TV library of apps, the Disney service is almost surgically clean in terms of design precision. But the specific ways in which the content is compartmentalized can be divided.


The density difference makes sense: in 2018, Netflix had around 1,570 TV shows and 4,000 films available for streaming. At the launch, Disney + has around 500 films and 7,000 individual TV episodes. But while Netflix can feel like an unorganized chaos, every part of Disney + is subdivided into its own pocket, such as Apple TV. Sit down for a hands-on Disney + preview on D23, the biennial Disney convention in Anaheim, California – across the street from Disneyland – the difference between Netflix and Disney + could not have been clearer.

This is partly because the upcoming service from Disney has different goals. "From a technical or UI level, I didn't really compare it to Netflix," said Michael Paull, president of Disney, streaming services The edge.

"We basically wanted a simple, elegant experience," Paull said. “We want to make this easy. We do not want the product to interfere with the content. "

"Simple" is perhaps the best word to describe Disney +. The interface divides content into rows that people can browse through based on personalized recommendations, new releases, and composite selections. The top row of the app has a carousel with a few priority titles to browse, including new theatrical releases that Disney wants to emphasize (Captain Marvel appeared on my demo) and Disney + originals. There is also a line for recommended shows and films that are compiled in-house according to Paull. At the moment it mainly consists of major theatrical releases and Disney classics, but that can change, Paull said. Just as Netflix has begun to use its recommended portion to primarily highlight the original content, there is a good chance that Disney + originals will occupy most of that row.

The most obvious and interesting part of the Disney + page is a selection of Disney subsections: Star Wars, Disney, Pixar, Marvel and National Geographic. It is clear that this is how the company wants people to use the app to hone their favorite brands or franchises.

People "generally know what they are interested in" when opening the app, said Michael Cerda, vice president of the product at Disney +, The edge. If you are looking Star Wars content such as the new Mandalorian spin-off series, or the few Marvel films that Disney + will launch, people want them in the same room, he continued. See these subdivisions as almost completely separate apps. They organize collections of titles from every franchise and every brand that Disney wants to emphasize. The Simpsonsfor example, has a huge portion. People can enter that area and then browse through each season to find an episode to watch. It is similar to how shows work on Hulu.


Within these collection-specific areas, the Disney + designers really deserve their merit. Every film or TV show has a beautiful back page to greet viewers. Take Captain Marvel: Clicking on the movie opens a separate page with a few options, including the ability to read details about the movie (cast, etc.) or browse through other recommended titles. Users can also click on an icon at the top of the page to add a title to their queue. Users on mobile devices can also download movies for offline viewing directly from the page.

But what if people are not interested in exploring what Marvel Star Wars, or even National Geographic offer? Disney + also has a sidebar that people can use to navigate between TV series, films and the Disney + Originals category, which will host films such as Disney's exclusive streaming live action remake of Lady and the Tramp, or series such as the upcoming spin-off series from Marvel Loki.

However, the name has already led to some confusion online. Take Lady and the Tramp, to which Disney refers as an & # 39; original movie & # 39; on the official poster. People on Twitter wondered if that designation meant the original animated film, or the new live action adaptation. The terminology question was also conceived by the Disney + team, Paull says, but he could not go further.

Fortunately, that is the only openly confusing part of Disney +. Browsing through individual compartments per collection may seem annoying, but it isn't. Having different sections means it is easier to browse without finding the content as overwhelming as the collections on Netflix and Hulu – but again, that is partly because there is less of it.

Disney also invests in personalized recommendations, which get their own row on the homepage. Recommendations are needed for streaming platforms, especially as they continue to grow. Netflix performs around 400 A / B tests every year for its service, devoted solely to its recommendation algorithm. It has also led to frustration among both subscribers and creators, who have accused Netflix & # 39; s recommendation algorithm of not showing up specific shows or movies. That is not a problem for Paull and his team at the moment, but it is something they are thinking about.

"We were lucky to have a pretty strong team focused on personalization and recommendations," he said. "Our task is difficult, but it is not as difficult, because our content strategy is about quality, not quantity. Our content is about management. "

The focus on curation is an important reason why the company decided to launch a separate section with apps for children on the platform. Deciding to build a children's section on an app where nothing is rated higher than PG-13 may seem unnecessary, but Paull said there were a number of reasons the team considered important. Unlike the main Disney + homepage, which is largely powered by text on top of images, the children's version is primarily powered by photos of characters from movies and TV shows. This is because children, especially children younger than seven, do not really read. They associate with characters, Paull said. The design is therefore very different: the part is brighter and more bubbly than the homepage and it is full of Disney characters.


The other reason is something that people might not think about when it comes to Disney content: even within the PG-13 rating, Disney has some violent movies that kids may not be ready for. Avengers: Endgamefor example, has a scene in which Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) uses a katana to cut a man's throat before killing him.

That is where individual profiles come in. Disney + has a process for creating profiles where users navigate through a selection of avatars from movies and TV shows: heroes from Marvel movies, Star Wars characters and Pixar favorites. Accounts can have a maximum of seven profiles, either for children or as standard accounts.

The biggest advantage of going hands-on with Disney + is that it feels familiar. Between Netflix and Hulu (not to mention the numerous niche services), streaming users have become accustomed to a fairly standardized interface and a range of functions on streaming platforms. While the streaming wars are warming up – while WarnerMedia & HBO Max, NBCUniversal and even Apple are preparing to launch their own streaming services – it feels like the user experience will be one of the biggest factors in determining, apart from price and content who comes out on top. Paull does not disagree with that. "The user interface is very important," said Paull, who says, "It is incredibly important to be able to create a design that fits the brand and that allows people to find the programming that they do not get in the way of." The only thing he disagrees with? The & # 39; streaming wars label & # 39; for the coming conflict between online content services.

"I don't see this as a war," Paull said laughing. "I see this as nothing but a big win for the consumer."