Disney+ takes on Netflix as 28 million subscribers sign up

The premiere of Lucasfilm's first-ever, live-action series, The Mandalorian, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. on November 13, 2019. The Mandalorian streams exclusively on Disney+.Image copyright
Alberto E. Rodriguez

Image caption

“The Mandalorian”, a Star Wars spin-off, was created for Disney+

Sign-ups for Disney’s new streaming service have shot past expectations, as audiences respond to the offering of Star Wars, cartoons and other classics.

Walt Disney said about 28.6 million people had signed up for Disney+ since it started in November.

The on-demand video service, which costs $6.99 per month, is Disney’s attempt to challenge industry leader Netflix, which has 170m subscribers.

Disney boss Bob Iger called the launch “enormously successful”.

Disney+ now has almost as many subscribers as the firm’s earlier on-demand streaming service Hulu, which was founded in 2007 and offers shows from US television.

“The launch of Disney+ has been enormously successful, exceeding even our greatest expectations,” Mr Iger said on a call with analysts after the release of the company’s quarterly earnings.

Disney also warned investors that its operating income in the next quarter could take a nearly $300m hit due to the closure of its parks in China.

That figure assumes the coronavirus outbreak keeps Disney’s resorts in Shanghai and Hong Kong closed for two months, and takes into account the fact that visitors to Hong Kong had already dropped significantly due to protests there.

‘Accessible’ price

Disney announced in 2017 that it would create its own streaming service, aiming to combat the declining audiences for its traditional business as viewers move online.

Shortly after, it announced a deal to buy the bulk of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox entertainment empire, as it looked to bulk up its catalogue to compete.

“I’m enormously proud of what we have accomplished in a relatively short period of time and believe we are well positioned to not only withstand the disruptive forces … but to thrive,” Mr Iger said.

Most of the current subscribers come from the US and about half signed up directly through the website, he said. He attributed part of the appeal to Disney’s “very accessible” price.

UK launch

International expansion of Disney+ is the firm’s next priority, he added.

The service is currently available in five countries, including the US and Canada. It is due to launch in the UK and other countries in western Europe next month. Mr Iger said the service will also launch in India in March.

Disney said revenues in the quarter were up 36% year-on-year. However profits declined 25% from $2.8bn to $2.1bn, amid heavy spending on its on-demand offerings.

Revenues in its direct-to-consumer unit – which includes Hulu and Disney+ – increased to $4bn, from $0.9bn, but operating loss widened from $136m to $693m.

Disney shares rose more than 2% in after-hours trade.