Disney Plus nets 103 million global subscribers

Hulu and ESPN Plus also added subscribers, with the latter nearly doubling the number of customers served since last year.
(Video frames courtesy the Walt Disney Company, animation by The Desk)

Less than two months after crossing the coveted 100 million subscriber mark, the Walt Disney Company announced on Thursday that its blockbuster streaming service Disney Plus now has 103 million global paying subscribers.

The number, which was accurate as of early April, indicates that Disney Plus is growing at an average rate of around 3 million subscribers each month, marking a slowdown from its momentum at launch but still putting it ahead of other fledgling streaming services offered by competitors Comcast, AT&T and ViacomCBS.

The subscription figure was released on Thursday as part of Disney’s overall earnings report.

“We’re pleased to see more encouraging signs of recovery across our businesses, and we remain focused on ramping up our operations while also fueling long-term growth for the company,” Robert Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Last year, Disney reorganized its company with a specific focus on its streaming businesses. Groups were organized around creating, distributing and promoting content among Disney’s four primary digital products: Disney Plus, the adult-oriented Hulu, sports-centric ESPN Plus and the international streamer Star.

Like other media companies, Disney suffered economically from the coronavirus health pandemic, particularly in its theme park and other tourism-based businesses. Streaming helped the company weather the effects of the pandemic, with Disney Plus offering new full-length films at a premium cost when movie theaters were unable to screen them due to public health orders.

Disney also offers a bundle of its three domestic streaming service (Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus) at a discount, and has inked content distribution and sports broadcast agreements that have made Hulu and ESPN Plus more attractive products for streaming households who are increasingly moving away from traditional, but expensive, cable and satellite packages for cheaper online offerings.

Disney currently charges $8 a month or $80 a year for Disney Plus, with Hulu demanding a base price of $6 a month with support from ads. ESPN Plus costs $6 a month.

This quarter, Disney said its revenue from direct-to-consumer operations like its streaming services increased to $4 billion while its operating loss decreased to $300 million.

In a press release, Disney said the narrowing of that gap was due to an earlier decision to charge Hulu subscribers more to access a service that offers live streams of local channels and cable networks. The package currently costs $65 a month. It also said an increase in subscribers to Hulu and ESPN Plus were among the reasons for its increase in direct-to-consumer revenue..

To date, Hulu has attracted over 41 million paying subscribers, an increase from  32 million last year. That number includes nearly 4 million customers who are paying for Hulu’s live television service, the company said.

ESPN Plus doubled its year-over-year subscriber count from just under 8 million last year to nearly 14 million this year. Disney said the company’s recent offering of pay-per-view bouts from the Ultimate Fighting League franchise helped drive its subscriber growth.

Disney Plus weighed down some of the company’s potential revenue: Though the amount of subscribers increased compared to last quarter, any added revenue was offset by the company’s commitment to spend heavily on the development and distribution of new movies and TV shows for the streamer.

“The increases in subscribers and costs reflected the ongoing expansion of Disney Plus, including launches in additional [countries],” the company said.

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