By now, you’ve probably heard all about Disney+, the new streaming service home to iconic Disney movies, Pixar favorites, the Star Wars franchise and more. In the last few days, Disney+ captured headlines for more than one reason. Yes, it’s the lastest obsession for Disney fans. It was also a worldwide technical crisis. Earlier this month, Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, was pretty confident about the launch of the Disney+ streaming service. Honestly, we’d be bragging too if we were about to release a streaming service with everything you could ever want to watch from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic!
Unfortunately, Disney’s plan to “Launch big and scale fast” quickly became more like “Launch big and fail fast.” It became quite clear that Disney vastly underestimated the streaming service’s demand when it began to crash just hours after its big debut. The internet did not respond kindly to the many issues users experienced, from login issues to streaming failures – among other frustrations.
One of the more brutal responses is courtesy of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah:
Damn these error messages on Disney+ are pretty rough pic.twitter.com/BITm7cauuy
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) November 12, 2019
How does a business with Disney’s resources fail so obviously? “A streaming service like Disney+ has multiple moving parts, and any one of them can become a point of congestion.” The problems users experienced in the first hours of Disney+ were not related to the video streaming infastructure, industry sources told Variety. Disney hands that task off to content-delivery network providers like Akamai Technologies. The problems seemed to be rooted in Disney+’s authentication systems.
What can we learn from Disney+’s misstep?
Disney made two sizeable mistakes. The first was to plan a big and splashy software launch. The Obamacare exchange crash taught us that it’s a good idea to start with a soft launch. Then, you can execute a big, public launch after the software has a chance to settle in.
The second mistake was leaving a single hiccup in their system’s architecture. The system’s authentication choke point led to an uncontrollable amount of login errors and disappointed users. Disney utilized its in-house authentication services in both its own apps and third-party devices. This infrastructure lacked the horsepower to meet the unexpectedly high demand.
Authentication services are what allow a viewer to use one set of login credentials to access multiple apps and websites. Rather than each individual app managing user logins, many big apps use authentication servers to handle the logins. Authentication servers also handle Identity Service, or letting the app know that users are who they say they are. With authentication servers, everything that requires user logins becomes easier to build and manage, since Identity Service comes from outside of the app. Disney tried to handle Identity Services by itself and it didn’t work out too well.
Could this have been avoided? Besides the obvious need for a soft launch, it might have been possible for Disney+ to utilize external authentication services, such as OKTA, to serve as a backup to Disney’s in-house authentication services.