Baby Yoda + lots of Disney, Pixar, and Marvel movies = 28.6 million subscribers in three months.
That’s the headline from Disney’s newest earnings numbers, which highlighted the initial success of its Disney+ streaming service. That’s the company’s very expensive bet that it can go head to head with the likes of Netflix, Apple, and HBO in the newly launched streaming wars.
So far, so good: Wall Street and analysts had expected Disney to report that it had signed up at least 25 million subscribers for the service, which has a list price of $6 a month but is available at discounted rates, or for free, with different limited-time promotions. (Disney’s earnings release, which came out Tuesday afternoon, reported that the company had signed up 26.5 million subscribers by the end of December 2019; in the company’s subsequent earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger updated those numbers and said the company had signed up 28.6 million people through Monday, February 3.)
This is the first time Disney has provided numbers on its streaming service since the day after it launched, on November 12; Disney said then that it had signed up 10 million users for the service.
By contrast, Netflix has 167 million paying subscribers worldwide and 61 million in the US. Apple, meanwhile, launched its Apple TV+ service a few days before Disney but has not disclosed any user numbers.
Disney+ has been primarily marketed to Americans, though it is also available in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand.
Later this spring, Disney, Apple, and Netflix will be joined by AT&T’s WarnerMedia, which is launching HBO Max, and Comcast, which is launching Peacock. Other entrants in the fight include Amazon and Quibi, an upcoming service from Hollywood veteran Jeffrey Katzenberg that will only be available on mobile phones.
All of the services differ in content and tactics. Most want to sell themselves directly to consumers for a monthly fee. Amazon, however, bundles its offering with its Prime shipping subscription service, and Peacock is meant to attract consumers who are willing to watch ads in exchange for free videos. Still, all of these streaming video services are trying to compete for consumers’ attention.
And all of them are also aimed at a land-grab their backers expect to find as consumers stop paying for cable TV — or those who never sign up at all. That trend, which big media companies refused to acknowledge for years, is now undeniable. In the last three months of 2019, four companies representing two-thirds of the pay TV market — AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Verizon — lost 1.67 million video subscribers, per analyst Michael Nathanson. Nathanson estimates that the pay TV business will have seen its numbers drop by 6.8 percent by the time all the major companies report even more.
Disney, like most of its big competitors, says it expects to lose billions in the first few years of its streaming push, but predicts it will break even by 2024. By then, it expects to have 60 million to 90 million Disney+ subscribers, with two-thirds of that total coming from outside the US.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect Disney+ subscriber numbers released during the company’s earnings call.