disney+ technical difficulties

The “Streaming Wars” are here, that much is sure. With an insane number of streaming services launching this and next year, and license deals for library content shifting around in the wake of the new platforms, everyone is theorizing over what will be the biggest draw going forward. Is it original content like The Mandalorian or The Morning Show? Is it having that one show you play on the background after a long day of work like Friends or The Office? Is animation becoming a new battle ground with Studio Ghibli movies and Nickelodeon becoming hot properties for HBO Max and Netflix respectively?

For many families, none of those will be what helps them decide what service to go for. One thing that really matters but is never brought up in all the streaming service comparisons is simply being able to watch something that the entire family can understand – with the help of subtitles.

My family is originally from Venezuela, so Spanish is our native tongue, but we have been living in Norway for the past eight years. Even though my siblings and I are fluent in Norwegian by now, the same cannot be said for my parents, who still have trouble watching certain movies and shows in English even if they can perfectly hold a conversation in that language. Like millions of people around the world, we have Netflix. The problem is that Norwegian Netflix doesn’t even offer English subtitles for most of its library content, and most Video-On-Demand services don’t specify the available subtitles for their titles until after you rent or but them. This makes finding something to watch that the whole family can enjoy a bit of a hard task, forcing us to wait months for physical media imported from another country, or even pirate the content we already pay for just to find Spanish subtitles online.

Subtitles Are Severely Underrated and Vital

Subtitles are a feature that not many people really think about in the streaming era. For immigrant families moving to a new country, or even people wanting to learn a new language, having subtitles is an incredibly useful feature. It’s both a way to stay connected to your roots and not forget your mother-tongue, and an entertaining way of learning a language. The problem is that for the most part, streaming services (and even VOD sites) only offer subtitles of the language of the particular country the user finds themselves in, and maybe also English. 

The “Unofficial Netflix online Global Search” engine uNoGS, allows the user to see what Netflix region include a particular title, and also in what languages you can watch it. A quick glance will show that for the most part, titles are only available with their original language, and an option to watch in the language of the region you are. The exception being in Europe, where a few countries include subtitles for the language of their neighboring countries. For example, most titles in Spain’s Netflix library also include dubbing and subtitles in Portuguese, German, and sometimes Italian and French.

In order to avoid pirating content, and to go around this issue, a VPN has become a powerful ally. It allows my family to subscribe to a number of streaming services that, at the very least, offer English subtitles and hopefully some content in Spanish. We pay for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and now Disney+, but unless we watch the original content in each platform, it is only Latin American (or Spain’s) Netflix that guarantees Spanish subtitles for its library of content.

The big exception to this is original content. Netflix, and now also Apple TV+ offer a multitude of subtitling (and in Netflix’s case, dubbing) for their original content in the language of every region they’re available in. Even Hulu offers Spanish subtitles for all their original TV shows and movies, but Amazon Prime doesn’t (at least in the US – Prime Video is hit or miss internationally). If the appeal of subscribing to a streaming service is the ease of access, why is it so hard to be able to enjoy the content without having to pause and explain to someone who isn’t fluent in English what the hell is going on? Everyone has talked about the death of DVD bonus features in the streaming era, but seldom have we talked about how the time when you could have a wide variety of subtitles on a DVD release is also coming to an end.

Is Disney+ the Answer?

This brings me to Disney+. At time of launch, the new streaming service offers a mix of audio and subtitles in English, Spanish, Canadian French, and Dutch, which makes sense given that the Netflix-competitor is only available in the US, Canada and the Netherlands for now. All their original content offers both audio tracks and subtitles in those languages, but it’s their library of older titles that is the most surprising. Much of their animated content, like Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Gravity Falls, Recess and The Simpsons don’t offer subtitles, but audio tracks in Spanish, Canadian French and Dutch, presumably because those never aired subtitled back in the day and Disney didn’t want to commission entirely new subtitles. Even if one of the shows presumably wasn’t dubbed when it first aired, the platform counters this by offering subtitles instead. The classic Fox Kids show X-Men: The Animated Series doesn’t offer Dutch dubbing, but it does have subtitles. Curiously enough, while the platform isn’t yet available outside of the listed countries, quite a number of older titles already have Italian and French subtitles available.

This is especially useful when it comes to family-friendly content, which seems to be Disney’s focus. All their animated movies and shows can be seen dubbed, allowing audiences to both experience the content as they did in their childhoods, and preserving their mother tongue. When it comes to Spanish subtitles in particular, it seems Disney has been concerned about presenting options for a while, at least in the US. Even before the launch of Disney+, all Disney movies on US Netflix offered the choice of both Spanish audio tracks and Spanish subtitles, just as they do on DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

As more streaming services start debuting, and the fight for new original content continues, it will be the older library content that matters most. Even if Apple TV+ has a bunch of new shows with A-list talent attached, they don’t have anything that can help pass the time between new episodes. Netflix became the titan it is today not only because of their original shows, but because of the huge library of titles. Disney+ only releases new content on Fridays, but it is the vast number of older titles that is the platform’s biggest appeal. 

While these new shows do have subtitles and audio tracks that reflect the variety of its viewership, it is the older content and its subtitle offers that may become the definitive battle ground for the upcoming streaming wars. Almost every Netflix region has Friends available for the time being, yet you can only watch it in the language of the country you’re in. Meanwhile, Disney+ allows you to enjoy the insanity and weirdness of Fuzzbucket in whatever language you want. Will HBO Max follow suit? And what the hell is Quibi going to do? Only time will tell, but here’s hoping Disney+ subtitle feature becomes the norm, rather than the exception.

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