Verizon lured more wireless subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2019 than expected — its highest wireless net adds in six years — thanks in part to its pact with Disney to offer Disney Plus free to unlimited wireless customers for one year.
Verizon reported a net addition of 790,000 postpaid wireless customers, topping the average Wall Street estimate of 525,000 net adds, per FactSet. The one-year-free Disney Plus offer, available to eligible Verizon customers through June 1, 2020, was one of the factors for the lift, CFO Matt Ellis said on Verizon’s earnings call Thursday.
“We are extremely pleased with the early uptake on Disney Plus and the ability to partner with an iconic consumer brand and content company, to bring even greater value to our unlimited customers,” Ellis said. However, he didn’t shed light on how many Verizon customers signed up for the streaming service.
Analysts have previously estimated that about one-third of Disney Plus’ initial sub base has come via the Verizon partnership. About half of Verizon’s wireless customers are on unlimited plans, Ellis told analysts; he has previously said about 17 million wireless customers were eligible for the Disney Plus offer.
All told, the company reported 94.5 million retail wireless connections as of the end of 2019 (of which 90.5 million are on postpaid plans). Verizon said postpaid phone subscriber churn was 1.13% in Q4, up from 1.08% in the year-earlier period.
Disney Plus is regularly $6.99 per month. Verizon and Disney haven’t disclosed the terms of their partnership but the telco is likely paying a per-subscriber fee to Disney under the deal.
Overall, the telco topped Wall Street revenue estimates for Q4 but missed on earnings. Verizon’s wireless revenue for the quarter was $25.3 billion (versus consensus estimate of $24.4 billion) and wireline revenue was $7.07 billion (below consensus estimate of $7.12 billion). The company reported adjusted earnings per share of $1.13, below Wall Street forecasts of EPS of $1.15.
Verizon’s wireless revenue growth of 3.5% year over year was driven by a 2.7% increase in service revenue.
For Q4, the telco took a $236 million impairment charge related to the write-down of goodwill in the Verizon Media, which includes Yahoo, AOL and other digital media businesses. In the fourth quarter of 2018, Verizon recorded a $4.6 billion charge for the media unit, which wiped out nearly all of the goodwill value of the Yahoo-AOL group.
Total Verizon Media revenue in Q4 2019 was $2.1 billion, “nearly flat” year over year, according to the company. Verizon called it “a meaningful improvement from the decline reported at the beginning of the year,” and touted gains in native advertising and demand-side platform advertising.
Meanwhile, Verizon’s long-declining wireline division revenue of $7.1 billion was down 4.1%. Fios revenue grew 0.8%, as the telco added a net 39,000 Fios Internet customers and dropped 51,000 Fios Video subs “reflecting the ongoing shift from traditional linear video to over-the-top offerings,” the company said.
Earlier this month, Verizon shifted its Fios go-to-market strategy, eliminating contracts and bundles. The change is to give our customers “more optionality” in how they buy broadband, TV and phone services, CEO Hans Vestberg said on the earnings call.