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Before Disney Plus: Disney's First Streaming Service- 'Disney Life'

Disney have been preparing for the big launch of their Netflix rival, Disney Plus for a couple of years now. But as we wait for the impending launch (November in the US, Canada and Australia) did you know that it's not the Mouse House's first foray into streaming? Disney already has an established service called Disney Life that's only available in the UK and Ireland. It's been available since 2015, but you'd be forgiven for not knowing about it even if you live in one of those countries- it's received barely any promotion. Still, it's apparently successful enough to be the UK's fourth-biggest subscription streaming site, behind Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sky's Now TV.

What exactly does Disney Life offer- and what clues might it offer us about what to expect from Disney Plus when it's up and running?

It's competitively priced at £4.99 a month (about $6.20) compared to Netflix's local price of £8.99 and Amazon at £7.99.  It doesn't offer as many apps as many of its rivals- there's mobile apps for iOS and Android, Amazon devices and Apple TV or you can access via the website. You can register up to 10 devices and create six profiles. The lack of console apps is a definite disappointment (but one that Disney Plus should rectify).

It's got all of Disney's theatrical animated releases from Snow White and The Seven Dwarves up until Moana and Pixar's from Toy Story up until Coco. On top of that, there's the video original sequels (such as The Lion King 2, Aladdin 2 etc) Disney Channel movies, Disney's live-action films, TV specials and a selection of Muppets movies.

On the TV side, there's access to live-streaming of the UK versions of The Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior, as well as a full library of shows ("box sets") from all three channels. Current and recent hits include DuckTales, Big Hero 6: The Series, Big City Greens and Milo Murphy's Law, and complete series such as Gravity Falls, Motorcity, Phineas and Ferb, Star Wars Rebels and Wander Over Yonder. As an unexpected bonus for adult fans, there's also classic shows from back in the day- including the original DuckTales, Chip 'N' Dale Rescue Rangers, Gummi Bears and even Gargoyles.

There's also an impressive library of shorts- from classic original Mickey Mouse theatrical shorts to their modern incarnation, as well as Pixar and Disney shorts and specials. There's also trailers for upcoming releases and behind the scenes extras and documentaries.

The mobile app also gets you access to a digital library of books and music. The archive of albums contains all the soundtracks you would expect and is impressively extensive. It's got some really deep cuts too- including soundtracks to shorts and TV shows that you wouldn't expect. There's also audiobooks that may come in handy for parents.

When the app first launched it also boasted access to games and other apps, but it's since been dropped.

While Disney Plus will feature the full forces of the big four Disney brands: Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel, Disney Life is very much focussed on the first two. Marvel and Star Wars are represented only by their animated shows, as well as a handful of trailers and soundtracks.

I get the impression that Disney Life was designed as a mobile app first, with the website more of an afterthought. It's designed to be kid-friendly too- you can browse by character, represented by big colourful pictures, so younger viewers can find the series or films they want easily.  I'd expect some of this to be carried over to Disney Plus (possibly via a Netflix style 'kid's mode'). In my experience, the web version is pretty clunky and buggy. When it works though, the video quality is pretty good and looks great on a big screen. The Amazon TV App is also not the best experience (and seems to have inferior video quality too). From what we've seen though, Disney Plus should be a much smoother experience.

The UK launch of Disney Plus is expected for 2020, but it's not yet known if it will replace the current app. It would be a shame to lose the extras (soundtracks and so on) but there's also going to be a lot offered on the new service that Disney Life is lacking. Just under a fiver a month for all this is an impressive deal for any Disney fan- we're just not sure how much longer it's going to last.

Disney currently has a first broadcast deal in the UK with Sky. The original plan was that Disney would become Sky's new owner (as they were being acquired by Fox, who were then acquired by Disney) but Comcast stepped in and outbid them at the last minute. This makes the UK launch of Disney Plus complicated, as they may need to wait for the deal to expire.

And for readers outside the British isles, how much does Disney Life teach us about what we might expect of the new service? Although Plus is likely to differ in many respects, the fundamental idea behind it is the same. We can't say for sure that exactly the library offered here will be carried over- but it does seem pretty likely. And the inclusion of those classic Disney Afternoon shows will be a big bonus for fans who grew up on them. And some shows, such as Gargoyles, haven't been available anywhere for years.

There's been no mention in any of the promotion that Disney Plus will include a music library or digital books, so we'd assume that it won't. But if it did, that would make the service even better value.

Disney Life is available for £4.99 a month (with a 7-day trial) in the UK and Ireland. Disney Plus launches on November 12 in the US, Canada and the Netherlands, with the Australian and New Zealand launch coming a week later on November 19. It's expected to launch in all markets within two years.