Disney Plus Hits 50 Million Subscribers

Todd Spangler

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Within five months of initial launch, Disney Plus has signed up 50 million paid subscribers worldwide, the media company said.

Disney last reported 28.6 million Disney Plus paid subscribers as of Feb. 3, meaning it’s packed on more than 21 million net new subs in roughly two months.

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The subscription VOD product got a big boost over the past two weeks when it launched in eight Western European countries — the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, France (after a government-mandated two week delay) and Switzerland. In addition, Disney Plus officially launched April 3 in India, in conjunction with the existing Hotstar service. In less than a week, according to the company, India already accounted for approximately 8 million of Disney Plus’ 50 million paid subscribers.

The 50 million figure is well ahead of the company’s own forecasts — and those of Wall Street. Disney, in unveiling the road map for the streaming service almost exactly a year ago for investors, had pegged a goal of 60 million-90 million global subs by the end of fiscal 2024 (Disney’s fiscal year ends in September). Disney Plus may hit that target four years early.

Meanwhile, prior to the initial launch last November in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands, analysts had ballparked around 18 million Disney Plus customers by the end of the 2020 fiscal year.

Later in 2020, Disney plans to continue expanding Disney Plus throughout Western Europe, as well as across Latin America and Japan, according to Kevin Mayer, chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International.

“We’re truly humbled that Disney Plus is resonating with millions around the globe, and believe this bodes well for our continued expansion” into other territories, Mayer said in a statement Wednesday. He added, “Great storytelling inspires and uplifts, and we are in the fortunate position of being able to deliver a vast array of great entertainment rooted in joy and optimism on Disney Plus.”

The Mouse House previously had said it wouldn’t release Disney Plus figures outside of its quarterly financial reports. But the huge response the streamer received in the eight new European countries and India — reflecting pent-up demand in those markets — clearly prompted Disney to brag about the news of hitting the 50-million milestone as soon as possible. Disney’s shares popped more than 6% in after-hours trading Wednesday.

Indeed, Disney Plus may be one of the only bright spots for the media conglomerate in the first three months of 2020, given the economic upheaval of the coronavirus crisis. Disney’s theme parks are closed indefinitely; ESPN has lost all traditional live sports; and the movie studios have pushed back their theatrical-release slates and halted production.

Meanwhile, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could present near-term problems for Disney Plus by crimping its pipeline of fresh content. While millions of consumers around the globe have been lured by Disney’s strong library in initial market launches, Disney Plus will need to serve up new material to persuade them to keep paying for it in the coming months.

Subscriber retention will become even more critical for Disney Plus as millions of U.S. users roll off the free-for-one-year offer from Verizon, starting at the end of 2020. In February, then-CEO of Disney Bob Iger said about 20% of Disney Plus users came through Verizon. The telco is bundling Disney Plus for no extra charge with all unlimited wireless plans and new 5G broadband and Fios Internet accounts. Verizon is offering the deal to eligible customers through June 1, 2020, and is paying Disney a per-subscriber fee for the promo.

Disney Plus is the dedicated streaming home for movies and TV shows from all of the media conglomerate’s brands, including Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars. The content lineup includes more than 500 films; some 350 television series, including 30 seasons of “The Simpsons”; and a slate of more than two dozen originals, including Jon Favreau’s Star Wars-set live-action series “The Mandalorian.”

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