The Walt Disney Co. stunned Wall Street Feb. 9, revealing that its flagship Disney+ streaming service added 11.8 million subscribers in the quarter, bringing its total to nearly 130 million, far outpacing even the most optimistic of Wall Street estimates.
So while Netflix stumbled last quarter, with its subscriber growth slowing, Disney was able to step on the gas. And Disney CEO Bob Chapek believes the company can keep that momentum going. “We are not nearly tapped out in each of our major franchises,” Chapek said of the core Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel brands that underpin Disney+ … but he added that the company is beginning to lean into more adult fare as well.
“The biggest opportunity though in terms of significance is with general entertainment being added to the service,“ Chapek said on the company’s earnings call, adding that there “will be a trend of us taking more general entertainment and moving it over to Disney+,” whether from ABC, Hulu or elsewhere.
And so the company has added the ABC shows The Wonder Years, Grown-ishand Black-ish to Disney+ (they also stream on Hulu), and has been experimenting with other more adult-focused fare.
For example, the nominations for the 2022 Academy Awards quietly and without fanfare streamed live on Disney+ for those that were logged on in the early morning hours, (Disney said it was “a test for livestreaming capabilities on Disney+” in another hint of what may be to come).
And Disney had also quietly added Jimmy Kimmel and Norman Lear’s Live In Front of a Studio Audience episodes to the service last month, testing the waters for sitcoms. The sitcom fare and awards nomination show join adult programming already on the service like the music documentaries Summer of Soul and The Beatles: Get Back.
With more than 50 percent of Disney+ subscribers not having kids, per Chapek, the need to add more content to appeal to their tastes rises. But the strategy risks alienating Hulu, which has long been the home of general entertainment network fare, and which has leaned into more adult programming through the FX brand since Disney’s acquisition.
Disney and Comcast are in arbitration over Hulu, and once that is resolved (and Comcast receives its payout), the company will have even more flexibility to shift its programming around. In the meantime, Disney has begun to break down just how much money it is spending on programming and production for its streaming services.
The company spent $920 million on Disney+ in the last quarter, compared with $427 million on ESPN+, and $1.8 billion on Hulu (driven by its live TV service). And it plans to increase its streaming content spend by up to $1 billion in the current quarter alone.
All told, Disney plans to spend $33 billion on content in fiscal 2022, of which about $22 billion is going to be on entertainment fare, with the rest related to sports, according to CFO Christine McCarthy.
And if the latest corporate moves are any indication, a good deal of that entertainment content will end up on Disney+ sooner or later.