Oct 23, 2019 - Economy

Iger brushes off competition as Disney+ nears launch


With Disney+ less than a month away from its U.S. launch, the company is making the case to consumers and investors that its streaming service will take off.

Driving the news: The company said Tuesday that it brokered a new partnership with Verizon to give unlimited wireless customers free access to Disney+ for a year. It announced an exclusive Marvel podcast partnership with SiriusXM and it debuted the new trailer for its upcoming Star Wars film "Rise of Skywalker."

Why it matters: Just weeks ahead of its U.S. launch of Disney+, the family-friendly subscription streaming service that Disney believes will be the future of its business, CEO Bob Iger didn't seem to worried about mounting streaming competition.

  • "We’re very, very different than the other services out there. So, while we view the others as competition, we’re not fixated on the competitive side of things here," he said in an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin Tuesday.

Details: Earlier on Tuesday, Iger appeared on stage at Vanity Fair's New Establishment conference in Los Angeles, where he said that the company had quietly launched a beta version of its app in the Netherlands but without original content. He also said that the company would be available in all major markets within the first two years of its debut.

  • Yes, but: Pressed later on television by Boorstin about the number of sign-ups so far, all Iger revealed was that the reaction to the product in Netherlands in terms of the sign ups "has been robust." Disney has previously indicated that it aims to reach 60-90 million subscribers by 2024.

Be smart: Those numbers may be easier to reach now, thanks in part to the partnership that was announced with Verizon Tuesday morning.

  • According to Iger, the partnership is a wholesale deal, meaning that Disney+ will be paid by Verizon, although it's likely Disney will receive less money than it would if it sold the subscriptions to consumers directly.
  • Iger says he thinks the deal will "have a significant effect" in terms of jump-starting subscriptions, as Verizon will help Disney market the new service. Disney will gain roughly 50 million temporary subscribers from the deal, per Reuters.

The big picture: The Verizon partnership follows a similar playbook that's being used other rival streaming services: Give out as many subscriptions for free to boost your numbers, and worry about up-selling them later. Cases in point:

  • Amazon offers video to subscribers as a part of its broader Amazon Prime subscription, which also includes free shipping and other benefits.
  • Comcast says it will provide its ad-supported new streaming service Peacock, set to launch in April, to its cable customers for free.
  • Apple will offer new iPhone buyers a year of its AppleTV+ subscription for free when it launches November 1st.
  • Netflix is included for some T-Mobile customers as part of their mobile subscription.

Between the lines: Iger's press blitz occurred just weeks after the chief executive released his new book "The Ride of a Lifetime" about his experience leading Disney. In his Vanity Fair interview on Tuesday, he offered more details about some of the statements he made in the book. For example:

  • Iger clarified his reasoning for not buying Twitter to Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones, saying that owning a tech company "would've been an enormous distraction for us" at Disney.
  • He also explained that he never actually spoke with former Apple visionary Steve Jobs about Apple buying Disney, but said that if Jobs were alive they probably would've "ended up in discussion and ended up in a deal."

The bottom line: Disney has spent billions of dollars in recent years adding Marvel, "Star Wars," "The Simpsons" and other big-name franchises to its content empire, most notably through its $71 billion acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox last year.

  • Its content business is considered one of the most expansive in terms of recognizable franchises and family-friendly titles. but Iger stressed Tuesday that Disney+ isn't a volume play: "It's not about how much we're making. It's about what we're making."
  • And while some services, like AppleTV+, will be cheaper than Disney+ at launch, Iger says he's "not really worried about competition" in terms of pricing, "because we have such a unique product."

Our thought bubble: Disney's fledgling streaming business will be key to making those expensive content bets pay off.

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