Disney has big international plans for Disney+ following its triumphant launch Stateside that include rolling out the streaming service to a dozen or more countries starting this spring. India will get the service on March 29 in a debut timed to cricket season.
On a conference call following its fiscal first-quarter earnings release Tuesday, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger confirmed a push into Western Europe on Mach 24, when the service will launch in the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. He said Belgium, the Nordic nations and Portugal will follow this summer.
In December, Disney+ inked a deal with leading French pay TV operator Canal Plus and is in talks with other potential distribution partners throughout the region.
Iger said he is particularly excited about India, where the service will debut March 29 at the start of the Indian Premier League Cricket season, which airs on Disney’s Hotstar streaming service there. Disney will combine and rebrand Disney+ with Hotstar’s VIP and Premium offerings to create Disney+Hotstar. “We see this as a great opportunity to use the proven platform of Hotstar to launch the new Disney+ service in one of the most populous countries and fastest growing economies in the world,” he said.
Iger, while brimming with enthusiasm about the rollout, cautioned that while Disney brands are strong internationally, “interest in streaming in general in those markets is not as high as it has been in the United States. So we have more of a marketing effort and more of a challenge.”
Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said on the call that Disney expects “subscriber growth in the near term to come primarily from outside the U.S., with the next meaningful phase of subscriber growth likely to coincide with the release later this calendar year of highly anticipated original content from Marvel and Season 2 of The Mandalorian.”
The streaming services are all under the umbrella of the Disney division called Direct-to-Consumer & International. Investment in Disney+ along with the consolidation of Hulu and red ink at ESPN+ widened operating losses at the unit to $693 million last quarter from $163 million the year before. That could rise to a loss of $900 million in the second quarter.
The ESPN+ loss was primarily due to higher programming costs, primarily for Ultimate Fighting Championship rights, and an increase in marketing spend, partially offset by subscriber revenue growth and UFC pay-per-view fees.
Disney consolidated 100% of Hulu revenue and expenses when it gained control of the service in March of last year.