Disney+ will launch in the U.S. on Nov. 12, 2019, and will cost $6.99 per month, the company announced — nearly half Netflix’s standard $12.99 plan.
The subscription VOD service represents Disney’s biggest and most aggressive move into the video-streaming wars. By pricing it well below Netflix, the Mouse House is betting it can rapidly drive up Disney+ customer base with a mélange of content that appeals to multiple demographics, including movies and TV shows from its Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney brands.
The company announced the pricing, launch date, and other details Thursday at Disney’s 2019 Investor Day in Burbank, Calif. Asked by an analyst about why it set the $6.99 price point, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said, “This is our first serious foray in this space, and we want to reach as many people as possible with it.”
Disney+ in the U.S. also will be available for an optional annual plan for $69.99 per year (which works out to $5.83 monthly).
In 2018, Disney movies grossed more than $7 billion, selling 900 million tickets globally, and “we believe that demand will translate to Disney+,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International business segment. “We’re confident consumers are going to love the service.”
In the first year after its launch, Disney+ will include 7,500 episodes of current and off-air TV shows; 25 original series and 10 original movies and specials; 400 library movie titles; and 100 recent theatrical film releases, according to Agnes Chu, senior VP of content, Disney+. That includes exclusive rights to all 30 seasons of “The Simpsons,” which Disney obtained through the acquisition of 21st Century Fox. In year five of Disney+, the company expects to have an annual production slate of some 50 originals, Chu said.
Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said it expects 60 million to 90 million subscribers for Disney+ around the world by end of fiscal 2024 (two-thirds outside the U.S.). Disney+’s peak operating losses are expected be between fiscal years 2020-22 and is targeted to achieve profitability in fiscal 2024, McCarthy said.
In fiscal 2020, Disney will spend $1 billion in cash on original programming for Disney+, while it will have just under $1 billion in operating expenses, according to McCarthy. Spending on originals is mapped out to rise to around $2.5 billion by 2024.
Disney+ will be an ad-free service, supported solely by subscription fees. It’s going to have a wide platform footprint, spanning the web (at disneyplus.com), game consoles, smart TVs and connected streaming devices, including Roku and PlayStation 4, said Michael Paull, president of Disney Streaming Services (formerly BAMTech).
Within two years, Disney is aiming to have Disney+ rolled out virtually everywhere in the world. After the initial North American launch in the fourth quarter of 2019, the service will roll out to Western Europe and in Asia-Pacific regions starting in Q4 and into early 2020 and in Eastern Europe and Latin America starting at the end of 2020. The international expansion will be staged as Disney’s rights return to the company from licensees, according to Paull.
The new details on Disney+ come nearly two years after Disney announced the end of its exclusive output deal with Netflix in the summer of 2017 and originally revealed plans to launch its own direct-to-consumer streaming rival. The company last fall announced the Disney+ name (echoing its ESPN+ subscription offering) and previously said the SVOD service would launch in the U.S. in late 2019.
Disney+ will be the exclusive SVOD home for new releases from Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel beginning with the 2019 theatrical slate, which includes “Captain Marvel,” “Toy Story 4,” “Dumbo,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “Frozen II,” the live-action remakes of “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” and “Star Wars: Episode IX.” It also features a lineup of original series and films.
The service will also offer access to Disney’s film library — including, within the first year of Disney+’s launch, all of the Star Wars films, according to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. Also in the Disney+ lineup at launch will be 250 hours of NatGeo content, including documentary films “Jane” and Oscar-winner “Free Solo,” and hundreds of episodes from Disney Channel shows as well as a brand-new “Phineas and Ferb” movie featuring many of the same voice cast.
At some point, Disney will “likely” deliver a discounted bundle combining Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu, according to Mayer. But he didn’t provide any specifics. Disney+ content will all be available to download for offline viewing and will be available in 4K format, he added.
Disney is going out with three separate subscription-streaming products — with the potential of bundling them — to give consumers more choice, according to Iger: “A fat bundle … would not be the right thing to do in this space.”
In addition to forecasts for Disney+, McCarthy projected Hulu will have 40 million-60 million subscribers by end of fiscal year 2024 with operating losses to peak at $1.5 billion in FY 2019 (and Hulu achieving profitability in FY 2023 or 2024). ESPN+ is expected to have 8 million-12 million subs by FY 2024, she said.
Disney is planning to market Disney+ with “a synergy campaign of a magnitude that is unprecedented in the history of the Walt Disney Company,” said Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing for Disney+. He said the goal is to achieve 95% brand awareness for Disney+ among its target audience.
Now that Disney owns 60% of Hulu (through its acquisition of 21st Century Fox), it’s exploring the launch of Hulu in international markets, Mayer said. Disney has been in active discussions with AT&T to acquire the 10% stake that WarnerMedia owns in Hulu, Variety reported.
At the Investor Day event, the company screened clips of content coming to Disney+, including “Frozen II”; “The Mandalorian,” a big-budget series set in the Star Wars universe written and executive produced by Jon Favreau; and Disney Channel’s 10-episode “High School Musical: The Series” based on the movie franchise. It also previewed Disney+ original movies “Noelle,” a movie starring Anna Kendrick as Santa Claus’s daughter and Bill Hader as her brother, and “Stargirl,” starring Grace VanderWaal, and provided a behind-the-scenes look at the live-action remake of “Lady and the Tramp.” (However, on its webcast, it blacked those out, citing “rights issues.”)
Mayer also briefly demo’d the Disney+ app in front of the audience of analysts and media, noting that users will be able to navigate through the service by brand. Disney+ subscribers will be able to create custom profiles with personalized experiences based on past viewing and preferred content. The service also includes age-restricted parental controls.
Iger had previously said Disney+ would be “substantially cheaper” than Netflix, and analysts had speculated that Disney could charge $5-$8 per month for the service. By comparison, Netflix’s standard two-HD plan is $12.99 per month after a price hike, while HBO Now costs $14.99.
Wall Street generally has been bullish on the Disney+ strategy — although there have been looming questions of how the economics of the service will work.
Analyst projections for Disney+ subscribers have been far more conservative than those Disney laid out Thursday. In an April 8 note, Morgan Stanley’s Ben Swinburne forecast 5 million Disney+ subs by end of 2020 and 30 million by 2024. He estimated that Disney will spend $2 billion to $3 billion in content associated with Disney+ (which includes around $1.2 billion in forgone content licensing revenue).
Citing Disney+ as a major catalyst, BMO Capital Markets’ media and internet analyst Daniel Salmon upgraded Disney shares to “outperform” (from “market perform”) and set a 12-month price target of $140 per share on the stock. “We continue to like [Netflix] and [Amazon] more than [Disney], but are comfortable recommending all three, as we expect them all to be long-term winners in global [direct-to-consumer] streaming,” Salmon wrote in a note published prior to Disney’s Investor Day briefing.
Over the past several months, Disney has announced a slew of programming it’s queuing up for Disney+. That includes “The Mandalorian”; a prequel to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” starring Diego Luna; the next season of Star Wars animated series “Clone Wars”; and a new series based on Pixar’s “Monsters Inc.” called “Monsters at Work.”
In addition, Disney+ is set to get several Marvel live-action series, including one centering on Loki (starring Tom Hiddleston); “WandaVision,” with Elizabeth Olsen returning as Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany reprising his role as The Vision; and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” starring Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Sebastian Stan as Winter Soldier. In addition, shows are in the works featuring Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Hawkeye, with Jeremy Renner set to reprise the role.
Disney earlier this week announced a slate of nonfiction series, including Kristen Bell’s “Encore!”, in which she reunites members of high-school musicals re-stage the productions, and a docu-series from director and producer Leslie Iwerks chronicling Walt Disney Imagineering’s 65-plus year history.
Disney+ also will include several behind-the-scenes production documentary series, for “Frozen II,” the Favreau-directed live-action “The Lion King,” and various Pixar and Star Wars productions, as well as “Marvel’s What If…?” animated series (adapted from the comic book series of the same name) that explores alternative histories for characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.