On Wednesday, Disney announced it added only 1.5 million domestic subscribers this spring to its flagship streaming service, with anticipated higher costs in the year ahead. The company’s market value quickly dipped to a two-year low.
Such weak results seem to confirm the power of a movement among conservative parents to “cancel Disney” after surreptitiously recorded remarks by Disney creative executives about their “not-so-secret gay agenda” spread online. Relaying what he has heard from Christian families about those comments, Erick Goss, head of faith-based streamer Minno, called it “a real breach of trust” in a statement.
Adam Holz, director of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, which provides parental reviews of popular entertainment, said Disney’s embrace of a “progressive agenda” has made some families willing to sacrifice Marvel, Star Wars, and even Disney classics. “We’ve heard from many people who are ready to cut the Mouse House cord, even though it’s still home to some really big franchises,” stated Holz via email. “I say bravo to that.”
Top streamer Netflix, for years a target of parents’ ire due to titles such as “Cuties” among others, has also faced subscriber losses and massive stock declines in recent weeks. Yet streaming services are expected to pick up about 80 million subscribers this year. Will family-friendly streaming alternatives get a chunk of that projected growth?
Popular blogger Entertainment Strategy Guy, a former Hollywood professional who now writes about the industry, said via email that “low barriers to entry” have resulted in a proliferation of smaller streamers. “Oftentimes they start with a clear niche, but they need to go broad and have hit shows and films to survive.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Hallmark Clones
Backed by major studio Sony, which acquired it in late 2020, Pure Flix has the highest name awareness among faith-and-family streamers.
Pure Flix ($8 per month) has been improving under Sony, as originals like crime drama “Vindication” and military chaplain biopic “Indivisible” are rounded out by licensed titles such as comedy “Moms’ Night Out” featuring Patricia Heaton, UPtv’s “Heartland” (also popular on Netflix), early ’90s action flicks “3 Ninjas,” and even Mike Rowe’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” For young kids, there’s “VeggieTales” and “Superbook” along with lots of animal-centric titles.
“This is an exciting time for us because people are really responding to our content,” said Michael Scott, CEO of Pure Flix, in a statement. They have 13 original films and series rolling out this year (with a Karen Kingsbury TV series also in production), a small fraction of what major streamers have planned.
Households seeking innocent-enough romance-centric, inspirational content have other options. UP Faith & Family ($6 per month) has what critics have called a “stellar selection of original movies” including Janette Oke’s popular “Love Comes Softly” film series and some music specials from artists like Carrie Underwood. Or go to the fountainhead of this genre, as Hallmark Movies Now ($4.99 per month) has hundreds of titles — although note some families are wary of a few LGBTQ-centered plotlines present in recent titles.
For a surprisingly wide selection of classic TV shows and faith-based films (alongside some mature titles), consider ad-supported streamer Crackle (free), owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul. Crackle has become known as a hub of forgotten decades-old programs, a rarity in this age of short-shelf-life entertainment. But there’s almost nothing on Crackle for young children.
If toddlers and grade-schoolers are a family’s primary streaming need, two players offer solid options. Minno ($7 per month) focuses exclusively on Christian-based children’s titles, although its kids library is only marginally larger than Pure Flix. CEO Goss, a former Amazon executive, told me they are working with “seasoned Christian creatives whose shows are on Netflix, Disney, Amazon, and Apple TV Plus” on a dozen new shows in production.
Meanwhile, to expand its selection for youngsters, Yippee ($8 per month) has inked deals with a couple dozen YouTube creators into Minecraft and outdoor adventures to complement its “VeggieTales” and faith-based programs.
Overwhelmed By Similar (Limited) Options
Even experts like Holz of Plugged In have trouble telling apart all these similar brands. “I don’t think there’s a one-stop shop of family-friendly, Christian content that rivals the overall spread of genres and content that Disney can,” he said.
But wait — there’s more! A handful of content producers have built streaming services around their small selection of quality programs. Edging into Disney’s strength in musicals, Sight & Sound TV ($10 per rental) features elaborate staged productions with impressive sets, dynamic original songs, and live animals.
Similarly, for those seeking to stream classic “Anne of Green Gables” films and the “Road to Avonlea” TV series, Sullivan Productions’ Gazebo TV ($8 per rental) offers those beloved titles. And RedeemTV (free) from Christian History Institute features their documentaries and animated “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” alongside a few other titles.
Other players target conservative families with differing models. FrndlyTV ($9 per month) is more like a DVR app, allowing users to quickly build up a library of favorite shows from 35 family-targeted channels. While Angel Studios (free) currently has a small slate of shows, several like “The Chosen” and “Dry Bar Comedy” are bona fide hits and they help build a community around each brand — followers who also crowdfund and share in the success.
Even news networks are testing the waters. Driven by current events shows, Fox Nation ($6 per month) features documentaries including “Hero Dogs” and for-the-whole-family sports entries. Meanwhile, Daily Wire ($14 per month), with its own news analysis shows alongside a few dramatic films, plans to invest $100 million in kids entertainment over the next three years.
Will Family-Focused, Faith-Conscious Studios Reach Critical Mass?
Looking broadly at the streaming marketplace, industry pro Entertainment Strategy Guy contends that only four to eight major services with critical mass will last. Could one of those be a family-focused rival to Disney Plus? “Maybe,” he says.
“Would a family-and-faith service be able to stand up to Netflix, Disney, Paramount Plus (Nickelodeon), PBS Kids, and HBO Max? That’s a tough proposition,” says the blogger. “Could it make money and have a core fanbase? Probably.”
Sources familiar with these niche streamers say most are content to serve a small segment of families rather than pursue mergers or other critical-mass strategies. Still, to that end, three well-funded entities have recently made plays in faith-and-family entertainment.
Early this year, Angel Studios (distributors of “The Chosen”) announced that Gigafund — a firm that boosted Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture — has backed Angel in an investment round raising $47 million. However, rather than building a streamer, the studio distributes programs to niche and major partners (like Amazon). Angel’s next projects will be previewed soon.
GAC Media, led by former Crown Media president Bill Abbott, made headlines recently by bringing on Candace Cameron Bure to head up show development for GAC Family, which already features “Fuller House” (formerly a Netflix exclusive), “When Hope Calls,” (a spin-off of Hallmark’s runaway hit “When Calls the Heart”), and other programs in production.
While Abbott has said GAC intends to be “the leader in this space,” it’s unclear whether the network will venture beyond its Hallmark-genre roots into children’s and faith-conscious titles. GAC Media plans for streaming will roll out over the next year, according to a company rep.
Lastly, Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett have discussed the need for a major faith-and-family streamer since Disney Plus launched. LightWorkers Media, their subsidiary at MGM, even produced several shows including “The Baxters” (currently unreleased). With MGM recently acquired by Amazon, the status of that planned streamer is unclear and inquiries were not immediately answered.
With this complex market in major flux, Plugged In’s Holz gives the bottom line: “Most families don’t have the ability to subscribe to a bunch of niche streaming outlets.”
Many people end up reaching for the brand they associate with family entertainment: Disney. Their streaming service has another “Star Wars” entry, the $100-million limited series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” out in a couple weeks — alongside several titles celebrating LGBT Pride Month.
For Holz, a critical-mass alternative cannot come soon enough. “It might be that consolidation among these niche services needs to happen for families to take full advantage of them.”