Shares of Disney popped as much as 10% in early trading Wednesday, as investors rallied around the media conglomerate’s fast-growing streaming footprint and aggressive expansion strategy.
Disney on Tuesday reported that its direct-to-consumer streaming services collectively surpassed 100 million paid subscribers worldwide. That includes 60.5 million for Disney Plus as of Aug. 3, just under nine months after the service first took flight and hitting a target the company had previously forecast reaching by 2024. The filmed version of “Hamilton” and Beyoncé’s “Black Is King” visual album provided an accelerant for Disney Plus signups last month.
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Investor enthusiasm also was buoyed on Disney’s plans to release its “Mulan” live-action remake on Sept. 4 on Disney Plus, priced at $29.99 a pop (on top of the $6.99 monthly subscription fee), though CEO Bob Chapek called the release strategy a “one-off.” In addition, the Mouse House said it will launch a new global streaming service under India’s Hotstar brand in 2021.
“Out of both success (Disney Plus) and necessity (COVID-19 disruption), Disney is moving to push its streaming strategy to new levels of investment and growth,” Morgan Stanley’s Ben Swinburne wrote in a research note. The analyst reiterated the firm’s “overweight” rating on Disney’s stock: “Execution in both content and technology will remain keys to share outperformance, but we like its hand.”
Chapek “put his first stamp on [Disney] by doing exactly what long-term holders crave: pushing faster to streaming,” added BMO Capital Markets analyst Dan Salmon, who maintained an “outperform” rating on the stock.
Netflix shares were down slightly, dipping less than 1% in early trading Wednesday, on Disney’s cranked-up over-the-top push.
On Tuesday, Disney announced two big new steps to expand its DTC streaming business: the “Mulan” Premiere Access test case and the global launch of a streaming service under the Hotstar brand next year (with Hulu remaining a U.S.-based brand, standing at 35.5 million total subs, including 3.4 million with a live TV package, as of June 27).
The “Mulan” launch “is an interesting example of Disney using its premium [intellectual property] to drive its DTC business and monetize its content in a window with more (or in this case, all) of the economics accruing to Disney versus a third party,” Swinburne noted. “It is an opportunity that is fairly unique to Disney.” The release of “Mulan” on Disney Plus will help the company understand consumers’ willingness to sign up for Disney Plus to access premium first-window titles, while in other markets (including China), “Mulan” will be launched theatrically.
Meanwhile, the announcement of launching Star as a global streaming service was more of a surprise “as we assumed that the financial pain of this current crisis would make Disney more conservative in the near-term,” MoffettNathanson’s Michael Nathanson wrote in a note to clients.
“As seen by the size of Netflix’s international sub base, the long-term opportunity [for Disney] is there, but it won’t come as cheaply as Disney Plus did,” Nathanson wrote. He added that “we would not be surprised to see the stock grind higher as anticipation builds” ahead of Disney laying out the details for what a global Star streaming service will look like.
The strong streaming storylines overshadowed a massive hit to Disney’s theme parks business, with its properties largely shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, the Walt Disney Co. reported a 40% plunge in revenue to $11.7 billion, while earnings per share plummeted 94% year-over-year for the June 2020 quarter. That was driven by losses in the theme park business, which resulted in a $3.5 billion hit to operating income.
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