Disney Plus Signed Up 24 Million U.S. Subscribers in November and Took Bite Out of Netflix, Analysts Estimate

Disney Plus had snagged an estimated 24 million U.S. subscribers as of the end of November — and the strong debut for the Mouse House’s new streaming package boosted cancellations among Netflix customers, according to a new Wall Street analysis.

The estimates come from the research team at Cowen & Co., based on a census-weighted survey of 2,500 U.S. consumers conducted last month. Per the survey, 21% of total respondents said they signed up for Disney Plus in November, suggesting the 24 million customer base exiting the month. That would blow away previous Wall Street forecasts for Disney Plus, which had pegged less than 20 million subs worldwide for 2020 even after factoring in expected lift from the one-year-free offer from Verizon for certain customers.

While some research has indicated Disney Plus has had minimal impact on Netflix, Cowen & Co. estimated that Disney Plus will result in about 1 million additional U.S. Netflix customers cancelling service for the fourth quarter of 2019. All told, about 5.1 million Netflix subs in the States will bail in Q4, but the higher churn “appears manageable” for Netflix, Cowen analysts led by John Blackledge said in the report issued Wednesday.

“The incremental churn uptick [for Netflix] appears reasonable given the Disney+ launch, which has been highly publicized and includes various marketing programs, including a Verizon promotion that offers Disney+ for free for one year,” the analysts wrote.

For Q4 2019, Netflix forecast 7.6 million global paid net adds, comprising 600,000 in the U.S. and 7.0 million for the international segment. Cowen’s current estimates put Netflix net adds for the current quarter at 500,000. The analysts pointed to Netflix’s “strong” content slate for Q4 as helping minimize the blow from Disney Plus, including high-profile originals like “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “6 Underground,” “The Two Popes” and “The Crown” Season 3.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that a large swath of Disney Plus users in the U.S. are currently not paying for the service.

About one-third (34%) of Disney Plus’ U.S. customers — or 8 million as of the end of November — are on one-year-free offer from Verizon for certain customers, while the remaining 66% are on paid plans, Cowen’s analysts estimated. It’s possible Disney Plus could see a tsunami of churn once the Verizon freebie deals roll off in late 2020. In addition, the Cowen survey data indicated there were about 19.4 million consumers who subscribe to both Netflix and Disney Plus, implying an 80% overlap between the services.

Disney last month said over 10 million users had signed up for Disney Plus as of Nov. 13 (the day after launch). The company said it doesn’t plan to release any additional Disney Plus subscriber data outside of quarterly earnings calls.

Netflix’s subscriber growth in the U.S. — its most mature market — has slowed in recent quarters. The streamer this week released its first breakdown of the international business by region, showing strong growth and potential upside in Asia-Pacific especially. Netflix’s penetration in Latin America is higher than Wall Street previously believed, with 29.4 million customers in the region (30% of its international base) as of the end of Q3.

With big new rivals coming to market, Netflix has sought to reassure investors it can weather the storm. “Many are focused on the ‘streaming wars,’ but we’ve been competing with streamers (Amazon, YouTube, Hulu) as well as linear TV for over a decade,” the company wrote in its Oct. 16 letter to shareholders. “The upcoming arrival of services like Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, and Peacock is increased competition, but we are all small compared to linear TV.”

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