Disney+ subscriber growth restores investor faith in streaming

Walt Disney Co’s Disney+ subscriber growth restored faith in the future of streaming video and strong attendance at US theme parks added lustre to its quarterly results, lifting shares 8% after hours on Wednesday.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he still believes the streaming service, home to hits like The Mandalorian and Black Widow, will have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by 2024. The company added 11.8 million Disney+ subscribers in the first quarter.

And the company forecast stronger subscriber growth in the second half of its year than in the first half.

Read: Disney+ to launch in South Africa ‘this winter’

US parks and resorts delivered revenue above pre-pandemic levels, but Disney expects international parks to be impacted by Covid for weeks to come.

The company’s overall revenue rose 34% to $21.82-billion in the quarter ended 1 January, topping analysts’ estimate of $20.91-billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Disney+, the company’s two-year-old streaming service that is not yet profitable, kept revenue flowing when the pandemic disrupted its legacy theme parks, resorts and cruise operations. Its subscribers have grown 37% in the past year.

Excluding items, Disney earned $1.06/share, blowing past Wall Street’s estimate of 63c

Now, the relaxing of government restrictions and pent-up demand has led to strong attendance at US theme parks as Omicron fears have receded.

Excluding items, Disney earned $1.06/share, blowing past Wall Street’s estimate of 63c

“This marks the final year of the Walt Disney Co’s first century, and performance like this coupled with our unmatched collection of assets and platforms, creative capabilities, and unique place in the culture give me great confidence we will continue to define entertainment for the next 100 years,” said Chapek.

Disney+ subscribers stood at 129.8 million at the end of the first quarter, compared to Factset estimates of 129.2 million. Investors are watching the streaming service’s growth trajectory as it relates to its ability to reach fiscal 2024 guidance.

Direct to consumer

Disney has poured billions into creating new programming to grab a share of the online video market dominated by Netflix, staking its future on a direct-to-consumer strategy.

Its much-anticipated Obi-Wan Kenobi series will launch on Disney+ on 25 May, Chapek said.

During the first quarter, Disney+ released the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, about the Star Wars bounty hunter; The Beatles: Get Back documentary series from filmmaker Peter Jackson; and Hawkeye, about the Marvel superhero.

Disney announced in November that it would offer a bundle of its three streaming services, Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, for $13.99/month.

In January, Netflix forecast weak first-quarter subscriber growth, which sent shares down nearly 20% and erased most of its remaining pandemic-fueled gains from 2020.  — Eva Mathews and Helen Coster, (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP

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