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Apr 11, 2019

Disney surges to record on US$7 streaming service that rivals Netflix

Disney+ makes 'aggressive move' by undercutting Netflix subscription price

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Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N) surged to an all-time high on enthusiasm for its coming Disney+ streaming service.

The platform, which debuts Nov. 12, is priced at US$7 a month in an aggressive challenge to rival entertainment giant Netflix Inc. and others in the crowded field.

Investors cheered the strategy, sending Disney shares up as much as 11 per cent -- the biggest intraday gain since May 2009 -- to a record US$129.85 in New York trading Friday. Netflix dropped as much as 2.1 per cent.

The company unveiled the service Thursday on a sound stage used to make the original “Mary Poppins,” delivering an Apple-style presentation of the online product. The platform will be several dollars less than Netflix’s most popular plan, which runs US$11, and will weigh heavily on Disney’s finances. Disney+ isn’t expected to break even for about five years.

Beyond the price and technology, the service will live or die based on its content -- and that’s where Disney made a big statement. Disney+ will feature an arsenal of kid-friendly programming, including 13 classic animated movies, 21 Pixar features, original series, and material from its Marvel and Star Wars franchises.

“We are confident this is a product people are going to sign up in droves to have,” Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Emily Chang.

Disney+ will begin rolling out to the U.S., western Europe and Asia in the first fiscal quarter, near the end of the calendar year. It will then arrive in eastern Europe and Latin America a year later.Disney plans to spend US$1 billion on streaming programming in the next year, and it doesn’t expect to make a profit until fiscal 2024, when the platform could have 60 million to 90 million customers. Two-thirds of those subscribers will be overseas, the company predicted.

Disney’s Iger: We feel confident people will sign up in droves for Disney+

Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive officer at Walt Disney, discusses the details of the company’s new streaming service with Bloomberg’s Emily Chang.

Disney+ also will include “The Simpsons,” acquired in Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox Inc. entertainment assets last month. Borrowing the show’s cheeky tone, Disney presented a clip of the Simpsons family with a statue of Darth Vader on one side and Iger on a pedestal nearby. A signed photo of Rupert Murdoch -- the billionaire mogul behind Fox -- was in the trash. There was a “Welcome Synergy” sign above.

“I salute our new corporate overlord,” Bart Simpson told his family, while holding Disney mouse ears. “Put on those ears.”

Disney’s newest theatrical films will head to the new streaming platform after their runs in movie theaters and home video. That includes “Captain Marvel” and the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” “Aladdin” and “Toy Story 4.”

The company previously had deals with Netflix and others to offer its content, but Disney gave up those partnerships -- and the revenue -- to make its own service more desirable.

Iger’s Finale

For Iger, Disney+ is a bit of a swan song. The company’s longtime steward reiterated Thursday that he expects to step down as CEO at the end of 2021, when his contract expires.

During the presentation to investors, Disney gave a peek at how the service will work. It features five tiles devoted to key Disney brands, including Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. The 4K-resolution content will be available on internet-connected TVs, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

The look and feel of Disney+ isn’t radically different from Netflix’s design. But Disney is betting that its devoted fan base will find reason to add another streaming service.

DC Edge

At US$6.99, Disney+ also is beating a comic-book rival: AT&T Inc.’s DC Comics introduced a service at US$7.99 a month that includes material from characters like Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman.

The new product isn’t Disney’s only streaming platform. It acquired majority control of the Hulu TV service with the US$71 billion Fox deal, and it’s now considering whether to expand that product overseas.

A Hulu price cut, which lowered its entry-level, ad-supported version by 25 percent to $6 a month, helped bring a surge of customers, Disney said. Hulu expects to double its ad revenue over the next few years.

“Hulu is doing just great,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international operations. “We are really pleased.”

ESPN+ Expansion

Disney also has the ESPN+ online sports service, which will get a Latin American launch, the company said. As it expands, that product will have losses of US$650 million in the next two years.

“You can figure that we will bundle ESPN+ and Disney+ fairly soon,’’ Iger said.

With Disney+, the company learned lessons from its U.K. launch of DisneyLife, which featured online access to albums, games and publications.

“The consumer was mostly interested in movies and TV,” Iger said. “No other types of media.”

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

“Disney’s aggressive US$6.99 price for its Disney+ streaming service and a 60-90 million global subscriber target by fiscal 2024 speaks to the power of its brands and their market appeal. Yet investors must brace for earnings pressure on significant content investments and rising operating expenses.”

Geetha Ranganathan, entertainment analyst Click here to read the research.

Netflix, meanwhile, may face more pressure to justify its higher price. But the company has managed to raise rates in markets all over the world during the past few years, without much consequence.

Its latest U.S. price hike, announced in January, increased the cost of Netflix’s most popular plan by 10 per cent to US$11. Given Netflix’s grip on households, especially in the U.S., analysts expect customers to take the increase in stride.