Disney+ could never play “Squid Game.”
By now, many viewers have probably heard of Netflix Inc.’s creepy series out of South Korea, which has become a streaming sensation in recent weeks. A “dystopian survival story kind of like ‘Hunger Games’,” is how Netflix’s co-chief executive officer, Ted Sarandos, described “Squid Game,” but even that’s sanitizing the plot. “Ultra-disturbing” better encapsulates it, and yet the series is a must-watch.
Without giving too much away, “Squid Game” is about a large group of contestants competing in a seriously twisted version of childhood games such as “Red Light, Green Light” to win money. It’s exactly the kind of mature content that could never appear on Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+, which unlike Netflix is committed entirely to programming that’s safe for children and family viewing. But that mission is also frustratingly misaligned with Disney’s other goal: to be the leader in streaming TV. For now, Disney relegates programming for adults to the Hulu app, and it’s hard to win the streaming wars with such an unnecessarily complex set of offerings. “Squid Game” is precisely why the company needs to rectify this by finally uniting Disney+ and Hulu as a single service and investing more in adult-friendly content.
It isn’t as easy as just slapping the two brands together. For starters, Hulu makes money from advertising, which Disney+ is forgoing for now. Incorporating ads is an enticing but tricky proposition for streaming companies as Netflix continues to spoil viewers by not having any. Parents also greatly appreciate the lengths to which Disney goes to shield children from inappropriate programming, although simple parental controls would probably do. It’s just not reasonable to expect every household to pay an increasing fee for a service that doesn’t have something to entertain or amuse parents — such as “Squid Game” or “The White Lotus” on HBO Max or “Mythic Quest” on Apple TV+.
Simplifying its offering could help Disney take the grown-ups away from Netflix.