EDITORIAL: Disney+ Learns From its Errors, Rest of Disney Tech Lags Behind and Should Take Notice
It’s not like I had work the next day, so why not stay up until 3:00 am ET so I can watch the debut of Hamilton? Besides, working as a software developer allows me to work from home during these unpredictable times (bedtimes have evolved to more of what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules when you’re not restricted to a train schedule).
Looking online, I found @Lin_Manuel tweeting as if he were in the play ready for it to debut. It excited me to see the hype on my feed until I remembered about the last time Disney+ had a debut worthy of this level of excitement: its launch back on November 12, 2019, and we all remember how that went.
We even joked at work about how they spent $2.5 billion to acquire BAMTech only for them to fall flat on their face the first day. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of people waited for major releases on Disney+ for movies, such as Frozen 2. Nevertheless, my gut told me that this release could bring more of a load on their technical infrastructure than we had seen since its launch. Up to this point and unlike Frozen 2, Hamilton has had a more limited number of performances, especially with its original cast on Broadway, unlike a massively distributed motion picture.
I pull up Disney+ on my laptop, expecting the worst: some server error page or an endless loading message while the page attempts to connect. What came next surprised me: it loaded fine. Alright, I may have arrived a little bit early. I didn’t see any major marquee on the front page for the play (movie? I’m still not completely sure what to classify it as yet.) I type in the search “hamilton” and there it shows up! Alright, let’s try it! The castle opening begins, and King George’s voice emanates from my speakers. Does it work? It actually works! All right!
Since the launch, Disney+ has discussed how bad the launch went and the actions they’ve taken up to that point and will take in the future to resolve them. While I still laughed about how much of a debacle it had been, I gave the executives the benefit of the doubt. Everybody gets a chance to fail, but only the smart ones learn from that failure and come back stronger.
Ever since that point, my experience with Disney+ could be classified under “mostly harmless”. It learned from its launch and took to its nature that the reliability of its service is paramount to its customers’ user experience. I can only hope that this philosophy was ingrained into the organization by Kevin Mayer before he left for TikTok almost two months ago.
In cloud computing, companies like Amazon (AWS), Google (GCP), Microsoft (Azure), and other companies allow users to rent computing services while they maintain physical resources. With the advent of cloud computing came the ability to spin up instances of a machine on demand. Applications could be brought online in a matter of minutes. Companies didn’t need to acquire their own expensive servers – a risky purchase considering the rate at which technology grows and evolves. The computing “landlords” are in charge of hardware and maintenance. So while most companies use cloud computing to some extent, if not entirely, decisions still need to be made on how much their systems are allowed to scale. While the resources are essentially limitless, scaling still costs money and so budget constraints will restrict the resources that can be utilized. Tools to help do this have emerged such as Kubernetes and Terraform, but the organizations that write the code still hold the responsibility for making it actually work, which brings me back to Disney+ and the rest of Disney tech.
Disney+ should be an example for the rest of the company. They learned from their missteps, listened to their customers, and have come through stronger with more success stories. Hopefully, this will pressure the rest of the technology departments within The Walt Disney Company to follow suit. We are not at all surprised when Disney’s technical resources fail to attain trust and confidence, especially since they had former tech staff members train their offshore replacements. Not only do customers of shopDisney have to deal with checkout errors and multiple charges, but they even expect them to happen during new releases. The site even jeopardizes customer safety with security breaches. The My Disney Experience system suffers from its own user experience limitations, like an artificial limit on the number of active MagicBands associated with an account, and malfunctions in both functionality and reliability. These digital services are so important to the overall guest experience now that there should be no difference in service quality between My Disney Experience and a guest at an attraction in person. But yet, we’ve seen time and again, most recently with the new reservation system for park entry, poor user experience continues to proliferate through their code. We’re still waiting for the Genie recommendation engine, but we certainly don’t expect much considering it will be based on the error-prone and crash-prone My Disney Experience.
A golden opportunity had arisen when the parks closed. With demand extremely limited on many of these subsystems, Disney had the chance to resolve many of these issues. It’s not like Disney had to wait for some technology to be invented. The cloud computing technology required for a fully-functioning app exists and is infinitely scalable.
But alas, it seems that Disney’s IT departments did not capitalize on this opportunity. The Park Pass launch, the AP previews, and the reopening of the dining reservation system all did not go well. We can only hope the rest of Disney Tech will take a page from Disney+. As we learned in Hamilton, I know that greatness lies in you, but remember from here on in, history has its eyes on you.