UPDATED with latest total: Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Tuesday during the company’s earnings call that there are now 60.5 million global subscribers to Disney+, the direct-to-consumer streaming service launched last November.
He also said today that Mulan, long in limbo amid the COVID-19 pandemic, will debut September 24 on Disney+ for $29.99, a new wrinkle for the streamer. Disney also announced it will launch a new streaming service internationally under its Star brand and using Disney’s own content, starting in September.
After rising from 54.5 million subscribers as of the beginning of May, Disney+ reached 57.5 million subscribers by the end of June before surpassing the 60M mark in the last couple of days. It is now at the low end of the 60 million-90 million range it told investors it would get to by 2024.
Hulu, the company said in its fiscal third-quarter earnings report, now has 35.5 million subscribers to its on-demand service and live TV bundle combined, while ESPN+ is now at 8.5 million, more than triple its level a year ago.
The streaming numbers were a bright spot during an otherwise gloomy quarter reflecting the full impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has shuttered movie theaters, quieted tourism and blown the whistle on live sports — all areas of specialty for Disney.
Disney has already reached its five-year target for Disney+ global subscribers less than nine months after launching the $7-a-month service. While it is a far more targeted offering than Amazon Prime Video or Hulu, it has quickly vaulted into the subscription streaming game. For all of its strides, Disney+ has less than one-third of the paying customer base of Netflix, which has nearly 193 million global subscribers.
Hamilton was a major draw for new subscribers toward the end of the quarter, though its July premiere came just after the end of the quarter. The film compiled from multiple performances of the original Broadway production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, was initially ticketed for a fall 2021 release in movie theaters. Once COVID-19 and racial protests altered the 2020 landscape, executive chairman Bob Iger led negotiations to shift it to Disney+. The company halted all promotional offers, forcing anyone signing up in June to pay full freight.
Chapek also touted the response to Beyoncé’s Black Is King movie, and the success with tentpoles like Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has given it the confidence to debut the long-waiting Mulan to the streamer along with planned theatrical releases in territories where theaters are available.
He called Mulan a one-off — though he said they are planning to use it to “learn” from the unique offering, especially consumer response to its $29.99 price point.
When the company reported its last batch of quarterly results in May, Disney said it had 54.5 million Disney+ subscribers, up from 33.5 million as of March 28. Hulu, which Disney has controlled since the spring of 2019, had 32.1 million total subscribers at the end of the March quarter.
Asked about plans moving forward for direct-to-consumer streaming, Chapek said the focus will be on keeping the original programming pipeline “cranking.” New originals, he noted, are the most potent tool for acquiring new customers.
The rollout of Disney+ in France was delayed two weeks due to COVID-19, with the territory lighting up April 7, two weeks after other European territories and the UK.
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