US entertainment giant Disney on Wednesday blew past expectations for new subscribers to its flagship streaming service, as its big studio muscle brings the fight to rival Netflix.
Disney+ reached 129.8 million subscribers worldwide, some five million more than analysts had predicted, resulting in a roughly eight percent jump in the firm’s shares in after-hours trades.
“Our unmatched collection of assets and platforms, creative capabilities, and unique place in the culture give me great confidence we will continue to define entertainment for the next 100 years,” Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said in an earnings statement.
The company, with an empire that stretches from movies to theme parks and also includes streamers Hulu and ESPN+, reported profit that topped forecasts on revenue which surged to $21.8 billion in the final three months of 2021.
Disney+ subscriber numbers boomed under the lockdown lifestyles brought about by the pandemic and have become ever larger in the rearview mirror of streaming giant Netflix. But the platforms’ fortunes have diverged somewhat since.
Netflix ended the year with 221.8 million subscribers, a massive number, but it announced slowing growth that drew immediate market punishment — leaving its shares about 20 percent lower in recent weeks.
Analysts pointed to Disney’s broad brand power as helping its streaming platform’s growth.
“These results speak volumes for Disney’s storied brands and its ability to rise above the competition in an increasingly crowded digital media market,” wrote Insider Intelligence analyst Paul Verna.
Disney parks bounce back
Disney chief Chapek told analysts that Disney+ still has plenty of room to grow in the United States and internationally.
The company is also snatching a page out of Netflix’s playbook, looking beyond Hollywood to invest in local content “that appeals to the unique tastes of those international markets.”
“We have created a new organization in the company to shepherd development of that content” and hope to get “some global hits” out of locally produced content.
Netflix has made that work, backing original blockbusters such as “Squid Game” from South Korean and “Lupin” from France.
Some 340 programs are in the works outside the United States and are expected to be delivered in the next 18 to 24 months, Disney said.
While Disney took in more money from its stable of streaming services, it saw its overall operating loss climb due to increased costs.
Disney also took in more money from its parks and experiences divisions, as well as its media distribution unit.
Disney Parks, Experiences and Products revenues doubled to $7.2 billion compared to the same period a year earlier.
Disney operations hampered by the pandemic have been steadily ramping back up, according to the earnings release.
“Our domestic parks and experiences are generally operating without significant mandatory Covid-19-related capacity restrictions,” Disney reported.
“However, we continue to manage capacity to address ongoing Covid-19 considerations with respect to guest and cast health and safety.”
Disney film and television productions have generally resumed, although it is still seeing disruptions in some places depending on local circumstances, according to the company.
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