Disney looks like a genuine Netflix contender

Disney’s streaming service is off to a flier as the team boasts of 28.6 million paid subscribers during the latest earnings call. Could this be the genuine Netflix challenger the industry has been promising?

Amazon Prime, HBO, YouTube and countless others have promised to lodge a challenge to the market dominance of Netflix, but few can say they come close. Netflix is still by far and away the leader in the market, but the early signs from the first three months of Disney+ suggest it could be the most likely contender to challenge for the title.

“While this seems to be a good start, it is still early days,” said Paolo Pescatore, founder of PP Foresight and Telecoms.com Podcast number one fanboy.

“The service is starting from scratch. Flagship programming has helped drive awareness and subscriber uptake. Disney will certainly be able to maintain this is the short to medium term, but it still has a long way to go before it is a true challenger to Netflix which is the global paid streaming service leader.”

One takeaway from this early success is that Disney seems to have priced the subscription correctly. The numbers speak for themselves, though the team believes the service will break even between 60-90 million subscribers. This might not account for additional marketing activities or increased spend on original, localised content, but it is a useful milestone to bear in mind.

Interestingly enough, the team expects the immediate gains to be in the international markets.

“In the near-term, we expect subscriber growth to come primarily from outside the US, with the next meaningful phase of domestic subscriber growth likely to coincide with the release later this calendar year of highly anticipated original content, including episodic series from Marvel and Season 2 of The Mandalorian,” said CFO Christine McCarthy during the Walt Disney Company first quarter earnings call.

While this is the opposite from the way in which Netflix produced success in the early years, it does make sense. Netflix is an incredibly popular brand in the US, entrenched in the lives of the consumers already. Netflix is currently focusing on demonstrating the value of the service to international audiences.

This is where Disney might be able to experience more success in the short-term. In terms of validating the value of the brand, Disney perhaps has an advantage over Netflix in some international markets. Disney is one of the most internationally recognised brands after all and it is a simpler task to acquire first-time customers as opposed to wrestling them away from the iron-like grip of Netflix.

After launching in the US last year, the team hoovered up more than 1 million paying subscribers in the first day. Since then the service has been launched in Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico. Disney+ will make its debut in various European markets over the next few months.

The international markets, aside from a couple, are not as enthusiastic for paid streaming services as the US, so there will be a lot of marketing to demonstrate the value of the proposition. As CEO Bob Igor has pointed out, Netflix has begun seeding these markets with the value of streaming, but it will not be as easy to pry open wallets as it will be in the US.

While the Disney brand certainly holds credibility in the eyes of the international consumer, partnerships will play a vital role in securing subscriptions. The tie-up with Verizon is working well in the US according to the management team (20% of subscriptions are linked to this partnership) and connecting with Canal Plus in France should also be viewed as a positive. In the UK, rumours have been circulating surrounding a partnership between Disney and Sky, which would be a significant win for both parties.

For Disney, bundling the service with the most successful paid TV brand in the country and a prominent ISP makes sense. It is a direct link to the consumer, through an established brand which already has a billing relationship. For Sky, if it is able to embed the service in its interface (as it has done with Netflix), the proposition looks attractive as an aggregator to the consumer, building on its reputation for providing a high-quality content experience.

India is a market which is also on the horizon, with the team launching the service through its Hotstar service on March 29. This is a massive market for any content business, thanks to a significant population and a huge appetite for video content. Disney already has existing operations and a link to the consumer in India, so this could turn out to be a very profitable market, one which few US companies have had genuine success in.

These partnerships will be key to success, key to prying open the wallet of cash-conscious consumers and key to eroding the influence of Netflix on the subscription streaming market. It is certainly early days for the Disney streaming brand, but all indicators are green right now.

Disney+ to launch March 24 in Europe

Disney will be entering the European streaming wars on March 24 will an offer which undercuts industry leader Netflix.

Launching a week earlier than initially forecast is an interesting bit of news, but ultimately it doesn’t necessarily mean anything material. Plans might be moving a bit quicker than expected or it could just be a ploy to attract more headlines. That said, the beginning of the streaming wars is now one week closer than we originally thought.

Interestingly enough, Disney+ will come into the market noticeably cheaper than its rivals. At 5.99/€6.99 a month, or £59.99/€69.99 for an annual subscription, Disney will undercut Netflix currently charges UK subscribers £8.99 a month, while Amazon Prime is £7.99.

“Let the battle commence,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“This service ticks all the boxes for households; a broad range of content will be available across numerous devices at an attractive price. However, distribution will be important, and Disney must secure deals with partners including telcos.”

While the variety, quantity and quality of the content will ultimately decide who gains an upper hand in the streaming wars, pricing will obviously play a key role. Disney has decided on an intriguing price-point, as undercutting Netflix by a couple of quid perhaps tempts users into a trial period for the service.

This is the challenge which Disney will face over the coming months; stealing subscriptions off Netflix. The video-on-demand (VoD) market is starting to become very congested and priced at such a point that consumers will have to make decisions. It is becoming too expensive to simply subscribe to everything, but Disney is the cheapest available. It is not inconceivable for consumers to trial Disney+ for a couple of months at £5.99, which allows it to prove value.

Disney+ is an unknown for many customers today. If the objective was to go head-to-head with Netflix from the outset, it would lose; Netflix is a trusted and popular service. Some might elect for Disney+ over Netflix, but not as many as Disney would hope for. Setting the price this low, allows for some to dip their toe into the Disney waters, and a couple of months might be enough to either hold onto them as subscribers, or turn them away from Netflix.

The question which remains is how many services can a household tolerate? There are now three main players (Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney) which would cost a subscriber £22.97 a month to gain access to all three. Then there is Sky, a dominant player in some markets, Viaplay, HBO, Movistar, TimVision and a host of others. The wallet can only be stretched so far.

As Pescatore notes above, partnerships will be key to gaining leverage in a very competitive market and also a more direct link to the consumers wallet. Telcos offer a trusted service to consumers, and therefore are a logical choice, but Disney is yet to announce deals in Europe. Both Amazon Prime and Netflix have partnerships in place, and this will be a very important aspect of the battleplan should Disney want to capitalise on the momentum it is building in the US.

Looking at Sensor Tower’s estimates for the period leading into Christmas, Disney can be very encouraged. It was the most popular app to be downloaded in the US with 30 million, taking in more than $50 million in revenue in the first 30 days. This would suggest Disney can be a very viable threat to Netflix’s dominance in the SVoD market.

With a recognised catalogue of content, heavy investments into new titles and a brand which is known, and trusted, throughout the world, Disney is starting to look like a genuine threat to Netflix.

2019 app economy: TikTok ran riot as Disney got off to a flier

The older characters in the room might not get the appeal of small(est) screen entertainment, but the app economy is real and generating some serious revenues today.

Although gaming is the most obvious segment of the app economy to act as the poster boy, apps are now spanning the breadth and depths of our daily lives. From healthcare to banking and messaging to shopping, if you can think of it, there is probably an app for it.

With 2019 now firmly in the rear-view mirror, Sensor Tower has completed its analysis of the final quarter and the biggest stories over the course of the 12 months. And starting with the top-line figures, the app economy is booming.

Across the 12 months, Sensor Tower estimates there were a total of 114.9 billion app downloads, a 9.1% year-on-year increase, with Apple’s App Store collecting 30.6 billion at 2.7% growth and the Google Play Store at 84.3 billion with growth rate of 11.7%.

Looking at the breakdown of where users are most interested, three areas dominate as most would have expected. Social media, in which we are going to include the messaging applications, video and gaming.

WhatsApp once again claims the title of most downloaded application throughout the year, though TikTok has completed a whirlwind year by claiming second place. While it is undoubtedly a popular application, there has been plenty of negative press to dissuade people from downloading.

In October, Republican Senator Tom Cotton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer requested a national security investigation into the app, while the US Army and Navy both banned the use of the device on government-owned devices. To make matters worse, TikTok then had to announce it had fixed a vulnerability which allowed hackers to manipulate user data and reveal personal information.

While all of these incidents tarnish the reputation of the app, it wasn’t enough to stop users downloading. Even for the final quarter, the period where TikTok’s credibility came under the spotlight, it was the second-most downloaded application on the App Store and the third most popular on the Google Play Store.

Another remarkable statistic is India accounted for 45% of the total downloads, while Brazil was the second largest market for TikTok. Revenues for the app are already on the increase, there was a 700% sequential increase for the final quarter, but the remarkable popularity in two of the worlds most attractive developing markets will make this app a very interesting proposition for marketers moving forward.

Looking at the gaming section, Call of Duty publisher Activision demonstrated it is possible to successful take a game from traditional gaming consoles onto mobile. The game led downloads during the final quarter worldwide with 30 million downloads in the US and almost 50 million in Europe.

Gaming will always be the poster boy of the app economy, perhaps because it is the most obvious way revenues are generated through apps. What will be interesting to see over the next couple of months is how many of the traditional gaming titles, those which were designed for gaming consoles, are buoyed by the success of Call of Duty and attempt to crossover.

The final area worth noting from the report is the continued success of video content on mobile, most notably, Disney+.

While there are still questions about the depth of the content library, it cannot compete with the Netflix breadth and depth, the Disney brand and the current assets have produced excellent results after the launch in the fourth quarter. The Disney brand is one of the strongest worldwide therefore there was always going to be good uptake, though it needs to capitalise on this momentum, investing heavily in diversified content, if it is to be a genuine threat to Netflix.

Looking at the downloads, it was the most popular app to be downloaded in the US with 30 million, taking in more than $50 million in revenue in the first 30 days. In Q4, Disney+ accounted for 34% of video content downloads, with Netflix and YouTube tied for second on 11%.

This success was also translated into the revenue share. Sensor Tower estimates Disney claimed 16% of the total revenues across the quarter, just leading Netflix which claimed a 15% share. What should be noted however, Netflix has shifted payment from the app stores and onto online channels.

However, one swallow does not a summer make. We suspect numerous subscribers were downloading the app out of curiosity, therefore a much more telling picture of Disney will be in 12 months’ time. Unless the current content assets are supported by new, and varied, titles, we suspect churn might be considerable. Netflix is still content king for the moment, but Disney could not have gotten off to a better start in its challenge.

Disney revenues surge as world waits for streaming service

Revenues at ‘The House of Mouse’ have surged more than 34% for its final quarter of 2019, collecting more than £69.5 billion for the full year.

While investors will certainly be happy with the news, perhaps the best is yet to come. Next week, Disney’s own streaming service will enter int frame for the first time, while it has also been confirmed the service will launch in the UK on March 31. With analysts expecting more than 15 million subscribers in the 12 months, 2020 could be a very profitable year.

“Our solid results in the fourth quarter reflect the ongoing strength of our brands and businesses,” said Robert Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company. “We’ve spent the last few years completely transforming The Walt Disney Company to focus the resources and immense creativity across the entire company on delivering an extraordinary direct-to-consumer experience, and we’re excited for the launch of Disney+ on November 12.”

Fourth Quarter Full Year
Total Revenue $19.1 billion $69.5 billion
Costs $16.8 billion $57.7 billion
Net Income $1.05 billion $11.05 billion

Despite costs climbing 49% for the three months ending September 28, share price in overnight trading climbed more than 5%. With the launch of the $7 streaming service only days away, it is clear Disney is not shy about spending some cash to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime on a global scale.

Iger as bet big on the streaming service to lead a new wave of revenues at Disney, and for the sceptics out there, there are now several interesting partnerships to back-up an already packed content library.

On the telco side, Disney has teamed up with Verizon to offer free subscriptions to customers who have an unlimited data tariff, while iLifers will receive a free subscription for 12 months when purchasing a new Apple TV.

Although the content world is certainly looking congested already, Disney looks like a service which could challenge the leading pair. Disney has the brand awareness, content library and aggressive investment strategy to make it work, though delivering effective customer experience will be critical. November 12 will be the day customers first get the opportunity to taste Disney+, so judgement will be reserved until this point.

Verizon banks on Disney for SVOD credibility

US operator Verizon has done a deal with Disney to offer its new Disney+ subscription video to its customers.

Rival AT&T has gone all in on video through its acquisition of Time Warner, which enables it to offer things like HBO Max to its loyal customers. Verizon has no offsetting video assets of its own and its digital content efforts in general seem to be struggling, so it’s compelled to look for partnerships if it wants to remain competitive.

So today we have the news that Verizon is the exclusive wireless carrier partner of Disney+ and will offer all 4G and 5G customers a year’s access to all those lovely cartoons and super hero movies, which includes Fios Home Internet and 5G Home Internet subscribers. Assuming Verizon customers attach some value to Disney+, this is effectively an $84 discount on their phone bill for a year.

“Giving Verizon customers an unprecedented offer and access to Disney+ on the platform of their choice is yet another example of our commitment to provide the best premium content available through key partnerships on behalf of our customers,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg. “Our work with Disney extends beyond Disney+ as we bring the power of 5G Ultra Wideband technology to the entertainment industry through exciting initiatives with Disney Innovation Studios and in the parks.”

Vestberg may have been making a nod towards a few minor 5G announcements it had drip-fed over the past few days. You can read an excellent summary of them on Light Reading here, which is testament to the conscientiousness of its writers. Verizon also seems to be focusing its efforts on densely populated environments such as sports arenas.

While it remains highly debatable that operators will ever make significant profit from content, it does at lease serve as a good sweetener to current and prospective customers. Verizon couldn’t afford to lose too much ground to AT&T in this area after its Time Warner acquisition, so partnering with Disney makes sense. But Verizon’s negotiating position will have been weak so it has probably paid a heavy price to retain SVOD credibility.

Apple and Disney belatedly sever corporate ties

Disney CEO Bob Iger has been on the Apple board for eight years but, with the two companies now competing directly in the SVOD market, he has resigned.

Last week Apple officially launched its Apple TV+ subscription video on demand service last week, thus placing it in direct competition with Disney, which is also set to get into the SVOD game with, you guessed it, Disney+. For some reason the two companies left it until the very last minute for Iger to clear off, despite the two competing service having been in development for months.

“On September 10, 2019, Bob Iger resigned from the Board of Directors of Apple Inc,” said the abrupt, unsentimental Apple SEC filing. The Hollywood Reporter got a bit more comment on the matter, with Iger saying how great Apple is and Apple returning the compliment, which is nice. Whether relations will remain so cordial when they’re trying to steal SVOD market share from each other remains to be seen. For some reason Iger is still isted as a board member on the Apple site.

While Iger has been on the Apple board, links between the two companies go a lot further back than that. Apple founder Steve jobs was also the founder of Pixar Animation and thus become one of the largest Disney shareholder when it bought Pixar in 2006. Jobs also joined the Disney board at that time and stayed until his death in 2011.

As companies Apple and Disney have a lot in common. They both position themselves as premium consumer brands and invest heavily in their brand image. They also have a reputation for wanting to control everything around their product offering and image, so it’s not at all surprising that they would want to have their own SVOD services offering only their own stuff rather than rely on third parties for distribution or content.

One other big thing they have in common is a desire to be viewed as wholesome, family companies, which creates the possibility that they will end up producing fairly similar content. Right now Disney is mainly about feature-length movies while Apple seems to be focusing more in TV-style stuff. But that distinction could easily change over the years and, if it does, these two American icons will be fighting for the same wholesome dollar.

Disney+ to launch in November as streaming segment starts to look crowded

Disney has announced it will launch its video streaming service in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands alongside the US in November, but how much appetite is there in the market?

This is the big question which the streaming world is facing; how many streaming services can be introduced before saturation point is reached in the profitable segment?

Alongside the likes of Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Now TV, YouTube, Fubo, Sling TV and several other niche services such as Nickelodeon and Fox News, Disney+, HBO Max and Apple TV will be fighting for the consumers attention. With so much fragmentation, you have to wonder whether the first-golden age for the streaming segment is coming to a close.

Today, Disney+ has given concrete plans for its launch, while Apple has been the subject of rumours. At Disney, the streaming service will debut in the US at the beginning of November, in Canada and the Netherlands on 12th November and in Australia and New Zealand on the 19th November.

Looking at the launch, Disney does seem to be ticking the right boxes in terms of content, it already owns an impressive library and has got some promising commitments to original titles, but you have to wonder about everything else.

Let start with experience. The likes of Hulu, Netflix and Prime Video have been honing their platforms for some time, and this could be one of the defining feature when it comes to winning the scrap for long-term subscribers. One of the attractive elements of OTT streaming services are the month-by-month commitment; customers can up and leave very quickly should they find issue with the service and getting them back will be tough.

Disney does not have any experience when it comes to creating or managing these platforms, whereas rivals have got years behind them. This could be a very important factor, especially when it comes to mobile.

Another challenge Disney will face, and we are surprised it hasn’t done more to address it on launch, is the brand awareness of the service. Fighting for eyeballs is a very expensive and tricky game to play, and while Disney has one of the most prominent brands on the planet, it has zero credibility when it comes to the delivery of digital content. Some might also question the breadth and depth of content which the library will contain.

This is why we are surprised Disney isn’t launching the service through local partnerships. Netflix and Amazon have already shown how powerful partnerships can be, embedding services in existing content aggregator platforms is an excellent way to win eyeballs and tempt subscriptions. This would have been an obvious route to take, leaning on the credibility and billing experience of a local partner, a telco for example.

That said, it is not too late. The service will be expanded to every major market by the end of the year, Disney claims, and there certainly are some multi-national telcos who could help generate exposure and credibility in some major markets. Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom could offer excellent exposure across Europe, as would Telefonica, as well as the LATAM markets. These partnerships could offer a direct, trusted and validated link to local consumers.

Another element to consider for the telco partnerships is the delivery of content over mobile. This is a different dynamic than the traditional means of viewing content, and few can offer the same expertise as the telcos. Mobile could be a significant tool for the armoury moving forward, and it will be interesting to see how the experience is received by consumers.

However, this does not address the wider issue which is lurking on the horizon; customer fragmentation.

When there were only two or three major services available, consumer wallets might have been able to tolerate numerous subscriptions. However, it is quickly getting to a point where choices will have to be made, as these services are not priced that cheaply anymore.

£6.99 or £10.99 isn’t realistically that much, however the quality of the services might decline. In years gone, these services were aggregators, but with the content owners clawing back titles off rival platforms, the libraries will get smaller. With Disney for example, all the Marvel content will be taken back, and with HBO’s service, titles like Friends will be removing from wider distribution.

What is worth noting is that original content could replace some of these titles, however, the pursuit of the next Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones is a perilous pursuit; not everything will be a winner, or appeal to a wide enough audience. There is a risk the quality of content could degrade as the streaming segment becomes more fragmented.

This is of course a negative view on the quality of content, the increased competition might welcome in a new era of quality programming. However, there are a lot of duds which are launched onto the unsuspecting world.

It is also worth noting that there is plenty of room for growth across the world. Markets like the US, UK or Germany might not present much greenfield growth for new subscribers, but there are still a few more hundred million in developed and developing markets to capture profits from.

Since Netflix changed the entertainment world with its streaming offering, hoovering up revenues, many have tried to replicate the success. You have to wonder how many services the segment can tolerate and remain the bountiful bonanza which many investors have been promised.

Disney complicates video streaming market with $13 per month bundle

Content giant Disney has unveiled what it presumably hopes will be a Netflix-busting bundle of Disney+ ESPN+ and Hulu in the US.

Disney+, the core streaming service for Disney movies and other video content, had previously been announced at a cost of $7 per month. Disney also owns the majority of sports content network ESPN, and general TV content service Hulu, so it’s bundling them together with Disney+ for a grand total monthly cost of $13 – five bucks less then they cost individually and coincidently exactly the same as regular Netflix costs in the US.

“I’m pleased to announce that in the United States, consumers will be able to subscribe to a bundle of Disney+, ESPN+ and ad-supported Hulu for $12.99 a month,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger on the company’s recent earnings call. “The bundle will be available on our November 12 launch date.”

Commentary on this seems to be universally positive, with many observing that it’s very good value for money.

“The move throws down the gauntlet to Netflix and other rival services,” said Tech, Media and Telco Analyst Paolo Pescatore. “For sure it is competitively priced and seeks to reduce fragmentation. Initially, it seems that Disney is looking for scale but will need to increase revenue to recoup the significant investment. Consumers have some tough decisions ahead as they can’t sign up to all the streaming services.”

Streaming platforms are starting to become less attractive

Netflix started as a platform where old-series could be relived, but now with rivals aiming to replicate the success of the streaming giant, the content world is becoming increasingly fragmented.

The big question which remains is how big is the consumers appetite for content? How many streaming subscriptions are users willing to tolerate?

The news which hit the headlines this morning concerned Hulu. Disney has come to an agreement to purchase Comcast’s stake in the streaming service, for at least $5.8 billion, in a divorce proceeding which will take five years. This transaction follows the confirmation AT&T sold its 10% stake in Hulu to Disney last month.

Disney consolidating control of Hulu is not much of a surprise to those in the industry, but fan favourites disappearing from the various different streaming services might shock a few consumers.

AT&T has also confirmed it will be pulling WarnerMedia content, such as Friends and ER, from rival’s platforms. The Office, one of the most popular titles on Netflix, will be pulled by owner NBCUniversal. The series, and other NBCUniversal content, will also be pulled from Hulu in favour of parent-company Comcast’s streaming service which will launch next year. Disney will also be pulling its headline content, the Marvel movie franchise for example, back behind its own paywall. Amazon Prime has its own exclusive originals, and YouTube has ambitions with this model as well.

Over the next 12-18 months, content will be pulled back away from the licensing deals to reside only on the owners streaming platform. Users will find the content world which they have come to love is quickly going to change. Some might have presumed the cord-cutting era was one of openness, a stark contrast to one of exclusivity in traditional premium media, but it does seem to be heading back that direction.

It is perfectly reasonable to understand why this is being done. These are assets which need to be monetized, and the subscription model is clearly being favoured over the licensing one. WarnerMedia, 21st Century Fox, AT&T, Comcast and Disney might have had an interest in the licensing model in by-gone years, but following the consolidation buzz, it has become increasingly popular to create another streaming service to add into the mix.

The issue which may appear on the horizon is the fragmented nature of the streaming world; consumers wallets are only so thick, how many streaming services can the market handle?

The test over the next couple of months, or years, will be the quality of original programming. Netflix grew its original audience through a library of shows other content companies were ignoring, but today’s mission is completely different; original and local content is driving the agenda.

The question is whether other providers will be able to provide the same quality? With subscription revenue being spread thinner across multiple providers, will there be enough money flowing into the coffers to fuel the creation of this content? Will the pressures of increased competition decrease overall quality?

Today it is very easy to find the best and deepest range of content available. You might have to subscribe to more than one service, but at the moment consumers are able to afford it. Tomorrow might be a different case. The more streaming services in the market and the more fragmented the content, the more decisions consumers will have to made. Having 4/5 services is probably unreasonable. And we’re only talking about quality of experience, the mess of different discovery engines is another topic.

The question which remains is whether the economics of a fragmented content segment can support the original content dream which has been promised to consumers, or whether the old-world of low-quality, low-budget, limited and repetitive content returns. Soon enough Disney+ will launch, as will Comcast’s streaming service, to add to Hulu, Netflix, DirecTV, Amazon Prime, YouTube’s premium service, and any others which might be in the mix.

Content will become fragmented, thinner on the platforms, before consumers wallets become strained. How long the budget for content will last in this scenario remains to be seen as executives look to cut corners and increase profitability. It’s hard to see how current trends are going to benefit consumers.