How Disney overtook Netflix in subscriber numbers

The group has surpassed its growth expectations and taken the plunge to raise prices in the United States

Disney+ has 14.4 million subscribers.Dado Ruvic (REUTERS)

Disney has overtaken Netflix to become the TV streaming service with the highest number of subscribers. On Wednesday, the company announced that its three platforms – Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu – had 221.1 million subscribers worldwide, compared to Netflix’s 220.67 million.

“We had an excellent quarter, with our world-class creative and business teams powering outstanding performance at our domestic theme parks, big increases in live-sports viewership, and significant subscriber growth at our streaming services. With 14.4 million Disney+ subscribers added in the fiscal third quarter, we now have 221 million total subscriptions across our streaming offerings,” said Bob Chapek, chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company in a press release.

It is, however, difficult to compare Disney and Netflix: the former has several services, while the latter has just one. According to the press release, Disney+ has 152.1 million subscribers, up 31% since last year, with most new subscribers outside the United States. ESPN+, which specializes in sport broadcasts, has grown 53% in one year, reaching 22.8 million subscribers. While, Hulu, which mainly broadcasts TV shows, has 46.2 million subscribers, a rise of 8%.

Disney’s rise to the top, however, may be short-lived. The total number of subscribers includes 58.4 million subscriptions to the Disney+ Hotstar service in India. This platform has lost the rights to broadcast cricket league matches, the country’s top sport, and analysts believe this could cost Disney millions in subscribers. In fact, the company downgraded subscriber forecast for September 2023, from between 230 million and 260 million to between 215 million and 245 million.

How much revenue Disney receives per subscriber varies greatly according to the service. Disney earns an average of $4.55 and $4.35 per customer for ESPN+ and Disney+, respectively. The latter platform includes the Hotstar service in India, which generates just $1.2 a month per subscription. In the United States, Disney earns an average of more than $6 per subscriber.

Disney has announced an ad-supported subscription offering of Disney+. The service will be available from December 8, and cost $7.99 a month. Meanwhile, the cost of the ad-free Disney+ platform has increased to $10.99 a month. Hulu subscriptions have risen from $13.99 to $14.99 month, while its ad-supported offering will cost $7.99. For all three platforms, the monthly cost is $19.99 or $12.99 ad-supported subscriptions.

Both Netflix and Warner (HBO Max and Discovery) have announced plans to offer lower cost subscriptions, either supported by ads or that have a more limited offering.

Disney theme park revenues have also skyrocketed due to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, with Disneyland Paris already recording pre-pandemic revenue. Disney also recorded an increase in theatrical distribution result due to box office hits such as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In the third quarter, Disney’s total revenue rose by 26%, to $21.5 billion, while net income shot up 53% to $1.5 billion, according to the company.

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