Mickey Mouse has won the latest battle in the streaming wars—but at a big cost.
Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. surpassed Netflix in total subscribers after signing up way more customers than expected during its most recent quarter. The strong growth helped boost the company’s share price in after-hours trading on Wednesday and signaled that the streaming market isn’t nearing saturation yet—despite the recent doom and gloom surrounding the business.
Yet Disney also lost $1.1 billion on streaming during the fiscal third quarter, much more than the roughly $300 million lost this time last year. That’s likely a big reason why the company also announced price hikes for Disney Plus—its flagship streaming service— as the entertainment giant tries to generate more revenue from the money-losing business.
Disney Plus added 14.4 million subscribers, bringing the platform’s total to 152.1 million. Counting sister services Hulu and ESPN Plus, Disney now has 221 million global subscribers, slightly more than the 220 million customers Netflix reported in July.
Disney’s results beat analysts’ expectations and bucked the negative trend facing streaming lately. Netflix has been reeling this year, losing more than 1 million customers and planning big changes to its business. Comcast’s Peacock added no new paying subs during the previous quarter. And Warner Bros. Discovery is reversing course on streaming under its new management, canning original films for HBO Max.
Wall Street has largely changed its mind about streaming. After rewarding media giants with higher stock prices for investing in streaming services, investors are now reportedly more concerned about profits and return on investment. Several media companies, including Disney, are losing hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter to invest in streaming, hoping the profits come later. Investors have generally sent media stock prices tumbling this year.
On Wednesday, however, Wall Street was happy with Disney. The company’s share price was up nearly 7% to $120.05 as of 2:20 p.m. PST in after-hours trading.
The surge in subscriber growth was somewhat overshadowed by the growing financial losses from the online business and the new plan to raise prices. The company blamed higher costs for programming technology and marketing. Disney also lowered its subscriber forecast for 2024.
Like Netflix, Disney plans to release an ad-supported tier later this year to give customers a cheaper option. But it turns out that’s a bit of a bait and switch, as the version with ads won’t cost less than what customers are currently paying.
Disney plans to charge $7.99 per month to stream with ads, the same price the company currently bills for ad-free service. The cost of Disney Plus without ads will increase $3 per month to $10.99 as of Dec. 8. The price of Hulu without ads is also going up, from $12.99 to $14.99. Hulu with ads is increasing $1 per month to $7.99. These price hikes come on the heels of ESPN Plus’ cost increase from $6.99 to $9.99 per month.
Raising prices could make the streaming business more sustainable, but hiking subscription costs comes with some risk. Consumers are feeling the pinch from inflation and have already signaled that they’re willing to cancel a “costly” subscription.
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