As the Walt Disney Company continues to celebrate its 100th anniversary, let us consult the tea leaves and try to speculate just what the entertainment conglomerate wants to do with The Simpsons.
CEO Bob Iger recently spoke about the importance of quality over quantity. Sure, he was specifically talking about Marvel’s recent underperformance at the box office, but maybe, just maybe, he was secretly thinking about The Simpsons, which passed the 750 episode mark this year and is only getting more expensive to license.
There’s a rumor that 20th Century Studios recently greenlit James L. Brooks’s upcoming film Ella McKay in hopes of convincing him to do a sequel to 2007’s The Simpsons Movie. Maybe that’s true, but 20th and Brooks already have a longstanding relationship (his production company Gracie Films is located on the Fox studio lot) and frankly it doesn’t seem like Brooks would need much convincing (the Disney+ shorts were his idea). As I see it, the main obstacles are that everyone is 16 years older and the circumstances that made the first movie possible have changed.
Remember back in 2019 when Matt Groening announced a Disenchantment comic book series? Well, good news, it’s finally being released, four years later and after the show has ended. The podcast Talking Simpsons speculated the delay might’ve been due to behind-the-scenes squabbling between Groening and Disney over Simpsons publishing rights, complicating Groening’s plans for a comics app.
Disney Parks chairman Josh D’Amaro claims they have enough space in Anaheim “to build another Disneyland there if we choose to do that.” Might The Simpsons find a home there if the Universal contract is not renewed?
Remember when you watched The Simpsons in syndication and you could just enjoy a random episode, without the burden of having to consciously pick one? What if instead of being limited to one episode per evening (or perhaps two or even three depending on your TV market), the show was constantly airing 24/7? Well, that could become a reality sooner rather than later if streaming analysts’ predictions hold true.
Now that the streaming business model has imploded, the studios have realized that the linear TV model it disrupted wasn’t so bad after all and are eager to recoup their lost revenue by getting into FAST (free, ad-supported television) channels, which are essentially fake TV channels with commercials you can stream, many of which are dedicated to one show. Some even have their own services featuring these channels: Paramount has Pluto TV and Paramount+, Fox Corporation has Tubi, NBC Universal has Peacock, and Amazon has Freevee. Warner Bros. Discovery is launching their own service later this year. Even Netflix has hinted at getting in the game.
Disney has had an ABC News Live channel for years, and in May they added a few FAST channels on the ABC app, but so far they haven’t made any major waves in that space. Streaming analysts have mused on the viability of Disney embracing the FAST market and posit that a Simpsons channel would be a no-brainer.
The real question around Disney’s decision to launch an ad-supported Disney Plus offering isn’t whether it’s a good move. Rather, it’s when are they going to take the next step and launch a free ad-supported streaming TV service (FAST) that can compete with Paramount’s Pluto TV, NBCU’s Peacock and Fox’s Tubi?
Of course, the other possibility here is that rather than go for a quick buck now and sell to outside ad-supported platforms, Disney could just launch its own FAST service, as Warner Bros. Discovery is exploring. I don’t think it would make much sense to put anything too obviously Disney on such a platform as it might cheapen the brand. But a service which leaned heavily on the 20th titles, as well as content from ABC (including ABC News), could be a winner.
The first 10 seasons are widely regarded to be the show’s best and would make perfect fodder for a dedicated single-series FAST channel. Disney+ could keep newer seasons behind a paywall, and still have plenty of content for such a channel.
What’s interesting about The Simpsons in particular is that they already were on FAST-like channels, as FX president John Landgraf mentioned in an interview:
When we bought The Simpsons, we built an app called Simpsons World that had every episode ever made in a perfectly searchable system. Then it had so-called channels, which were linear streams of Simpsons episodes. Eighty percent of the consumption was from the linear playlists, and 20 percent was on demand.
The Simpsons is already the most popular show on Disney+. Imagine what those viewership numbers would be if they added a channel that allowed you to drop in and just watch a random episode, freeing you from the tyranny of choice.
It is unclear at this point whether Chapek, 61, can execute a reset with Disney staff and creative partners. A cartoon hanging in the production offices of The Simpsons seems to suggest an opinion: It has Chapek in the “In Memoriam” section of the Oscars show.
First of all, what a fuckin’ lame cartoon. Second of all, who cares. Some comedy writers made light of authority, stop the presses.
Well, apparently the Simpsons TOP BRASS care, because the article was updated later in the day to include this parenthetical disclaimer:
(The Simpsons top brass, including Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean and Matt Selman, deny that that there was such a cartoon in the office. “For the sake of the simple truth: No notice concerning Bob Chapek has been on the walls of any Simpson’s office. Since March 2020 all our work has been done remotely due to Covid. Nobody has been in the offices for two years now. We do miss the snack room,” they wrote in a joint statement. The source who spoke with THR said that the circulated cartoon was in fact subsequently taken down.)
That FOUR executive producers felt the need to issue a joint statement about this stupid doodle that may or may not have actually existed is bewildering and pathetic. Do they think they’re going to get sent to the principal’s office? Maybe they’re right and they’re just really concerned about the spread of Fake News. In that case, why not just have one guy deny it, why did they need all four? Was this really an “all hands on deck” scenario? Also, I guess maybe there’s a world of difference between “production office” and “studio,” because this doesn’t look like somebody’s home to me.
Whatever happened, their emphatic denial makes them sound like they’re absolutely terrified of their boss’s wrath, which seems very silly because The Simpsons was once known for biting the hand that feeds them (albeit with the hand’s permission) and other parts of the company haven’t exactly been shy expressing criticism of their leadership lately.
Who knows, maybe years from now we’ll read in DisneyWar 3 about how this absolutely set Chapek off and made him angrily tear up the plans for Simpsons Land at EPCOT or whatever.
Later this year, Disney+ will finally give users the option to watch The Simpsons as it was originally meant to be shown: with commercials.
The service recently announced the addition of a new lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, which has been a long-time feature of its streaming sibling Hulu. It will launch in the US in late 2022 and expand internationally in 2023. Pricing has not yet been announced.
Lowering price and jamming in ads does not feel like the answer to driving usage — if anything it feels like it will have the opposite effect. Disney needs to focus first and foremost on delivering more must-watch, buzzy content on Disney+.
Sure, some might gripe about paying for commercials you can’t skip, but this is great news for Simpsons simps. When Disney+ first launched, much ado was made over the fact you couldn’t watch the pre-HD episodes in their proper 4:3 aspect ratio. They eventually rectified this oversight by letting you toggle between aspect ratios, allowing you to watch the show the way the artists originally intended it to be shown. By adding commercials, Disney+ is furthering their commitment to artistic integrity by presenting the show as it was meant to be viewed when it originally aired on regular TV. With commercials, the meta jokes from “And Maggie Makes Three” and “Treehouse of Horror VI” will hit harder, act breaks will have more dramatic weight, and you’ll stay informed of new products. Best of all, it will cost you less money than the ad-free tier, and with the money you saved, you could potentially purchase something you saw in one of the ads. It’s a win for everybody, but especially for Simpsons fans craving a more authentic viewing experience.
As Disney+ Day turns into Disney+ Night, I thought I’d toss off some thoughts about The Big D’s lackluster non-event.
Why wasn’t there a livestream? A few weeks ago DC Comics had their second annual “FanDome,” a multi-hour livestream that touched on all the company’s upcoming projects and culminated in a new trailer for The Batman. Disney couldn’t have done the same? Instead they just dripped out new announcements in a Twitter thread, and then there were a couple short presentations from Pixar and Marvel added to Disney+. Oh, and they mentioned the wrong Will Smith, who continued to be tagged in every subsequent tweet. Weirdly amateurish for something that was supposedly a big deal for the company. Apparently they went all out at the theme parks and had giant balloons in major cities to promote this???
As for the new Simpsons short… eh, whatever. Seems like maybe it could’ve been a decent series of commercials back when Disney+ launched. “Look, all your favorite characters are together in one place.” Why wasn’t that their marketing campaign? Ah well. Also, I suspect they were using a fake mockup of the service as reference and nobody ever bothered to correct them.
In general, I feel David Silverman’s talents are being squandered on these shorts. Disney+ should just give him a huge budget and let him go hog wild.
Speaking of Simpsons shorts, where are the original shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show? I know it’s a long shot but I was kind of hoping for an announcement. Back when FXX launched Simpsons World, they tried and failed to get them. Disney+ should do what Simpsons Worldn’t: figure out what’s going on with the rights, fire their giant money bazooka at the problem, and get them out there. Now that would be a Disney+ Day miracle.