Apr 16, 2019

Disney's plan for the theme park of streaming services

Disney’s long-awaited plan to bring it into the 21st century is finally beginning to reveal itself.

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Data: Company and analyst reports; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Its acquisition of AT&T's minority stake in Hulu shows that the entertainment giant is more invested in bundling its services as an attractive alternative to Netflix, rather than building a standalone Netflix killer.

Between the lines:

  • In a must-read piece for Vulture, Josef Adalian argues that Disney's plan is to use Disney+ as a gateway to create other streaming destinations that may one day cater to different types of audiences around the world.
  • This, Adalian argues, is not too far off to the theme park model Disney uses to showcase its mega-franchises, like Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars.
  • Hulu, of course, would be one of those destinations, as would its sports subscription bundle ESPN+ and its Indian streaming behemoth Hotstar.
  • The company said last week that it might sell Hulu as a part of a bundled service with Disney+ and ESPN+.
  • AT&T said Monday that it's selling its minority stake of Hulu into Hulu's streaming video joint venture, giving Disney a total of 66% ownership of Hulu and Comcast/NBCUniversal a 33% ownership.

Be smart: Pricing matters, and analysts are bullish on Disney's $7 monthly bill.

  • BTIG Analyst Rich Greenfield explains in a note to clients that Disney's price points look attractive compared to some of its premium cable counterparts, like Showtime and Cinemax.
  • As for WarnerMedia's pricing plans: "Even if we can justify HBO’s existing premium price point of $14.99, with Disney+ in the marketplace at just $6.99, it would appear to make the launch of a premium to HBO-priced WarnerMediaFlix service challenging," Greenfield writes.

Yes, but: For now, it's worth noting that everyone is losing money in the streaming wars.

  • A recent analysis from MoffettNathanson projects that Disney won't start making money off Hulu until 2023, and it won't make money off of its other services by then either.
  • Netflix raised its long-term debt last year by another $2 billion.
  • AT&T says it will use the proceeds from the Hulu transaction to reduce some of its massive debt load that it incurred from the Time Warner deal last year.
  • Disney told investors it thinks it can get 60–90 million global subscribers in the next five years. That's still a far cry from Netflix's 139 million global subscribers, and the company projects that it brought in another 9 million last quarter.

The bottom line: Via Adalian: "People need to stop thinking of the streaming wars as a zero-sum game — but it will have some serious and legit competition among folks who want to cut the cord and programming costs."

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