Disney began this year with close to 146.4 million paid subscribers to its steaming services.

As of January 2, Disney+, which includes Disney+ Hotstar in India and Indonesia, accounted for 94.9 million, up from 26.5 million as of December 28, 2019.
ESPN+, on the other hand, had 12.1 million (+83%) and Hulu 39.4 million (30%). Hulu’s total was made up of SVOD only at 35.4 million (+30%) and live TV and SVOD at 4 million (+25%). Significantly, Disney+’s ARPU fell by 28% between the two dates, from $5.56 to $4.03. This was in part due to the inclusion of Disney+ Hotstar, which has a significantly lower ARPU in India and Indonesia. Meanwhile, ARPU for Disney+ increased by 1%, from $4.44 to $4.48 due to an increase in retail pricing, partially offset by a higher mix of subscribers to the bundled offering available in the US.

Disney notes that DTC revenues for the quarter increased 73% to $3.5 billion and operating loss decreased from $1.1 billion to $466 million. The decrease in operating loss was due to improved results at Hulu, and to a lesser extent, at Disney+ and ESPN+.Commenting on the results, Bob Chapek, CEO, The Walt Disney Company, said: “We believe the strategic actions we’re taking to transform our Company will fuel our growth and enhance shareholder value, as demonstrated by the incredible strides we’ve made in our DTC business, reaching more than 146 million total paid subscriptions across our streaming services at the end of the quarter. “We’re confident that, with our robust pipeline of exceptional, high-quality content and the upcoming launch of our new Star-branded international general entertainment offering, we are well-positioned to achieve even greater success going forward”.

Disney+ Hits 94.9M Subscribers

Disney+ continues to lead the pack of new streaming services, reaching 94.9 million subscribers in the quarter ending January 2, but average revenue per user plunged 28% from year-earlier levels. The subscriber growth was at the high end of analysts’ estimates. ESPN+ is now at 12.1 million subscribers, nearly double the amount of a year ago, and Hulu rose 30% to 39.4 million subscribers across its on-demand service and the Hulu + Live TV bundle. With 4 million subscribers to the live bundle, Hulu is now the fifth-largest pay-TV operator in the U.S.

Average revenue per user, a key metric in the streaming business, has long been a concern internally and among some investors — thus the planned price increases for Disney+ next month. In the last quarter of 2019, when Disney+ launched, its ARPU was $5.56. The inclusion of the service as a no- or low-cost option for existing Hotstar subscribers has turbocharged its global growth but also put limits on revenue, at least for the near term. Disney got control of Hotstar in the $71.3 billion Fox deal and has positioned the South Asian media powerhouse as a key to its growth plans. The Disney Plus Hotstar bundle includes the Disney+ offering for less than two dollars a month in one popular subscription plan, and indications are that up to one-third of the 94.9 million Disney+ subscribers come in through Hotstar.

It’s fair to say the first quarter – of the fiscal year ending in Sept. – was groundbreaking as Disney+ took the stage. As a testament to how dramatically streaming reshaped the business, the company is splitting its financial report into two major areas – media and entertainment and Disney parks, experiences and products.

Disney Keeps Streaming Data Close To Vest

More than a year after launching Disney+, a clear success with just shy of 94.9 million global subscribers, Disney has so far reported the least amount of viewership data of any major streaming competitor.Soul, for instance, has been tracked in the U.S. by Nielsen, and downloads of the Disney+ app have been monitored by third-party mobile research firms like Sensor Tower, linking it to certain key releases. But Disney has not offered anything other than a few brief adjectives about the Christmas release of Soul, or any other film or series to hit Disney+ since it went live in November 2019. “We were absolutely thrilled in terms of what that brought to our business,” CEO Bob Chapek said of Soul during the earnings call, “in terms of both acquisition and retention. I would say it was a big hit with our subscriber base.”

He said “individual decisions” would continue to be made as to release patterns, based on many variables. Some movies – like, for now, Black Widow — will remain theatrical and others will go straight to Disney+. Some titles could well end up serving as “another data point in our exploration of Premier Access day-and-date with theatrical.”

‘Black Widow’ Still On Course For Theatrical Release

While Disney CEO Bob Chapek remains flexible about release strategies for movies between the big screen and the studio’s streaming service Disney+, he said today that Marvel’s long-awaited feature Black Widowis still set to be a pure theatrical release as mentioned back at the company’s December investor day. However, “we’ll be watching to see the reopening of theaters and consumer sentiment in terms of going back to theater” said Chapek today on the studio’s FYQ1 earnings call.

Black Widow is currently scheduled to kick off summer on May 7. Chapek was asked about the success of Soul in relation to Mulan, the difference between the strategies being the former Pixar movie went straight to the streaming service (with foreign theatrical distribution) on Christmas Day, while the latter was a premium Disney+ play in the states (with an offshore Asia release). In regards to Soul, Chapek didn’t reveal any viewership figures, but merely said “we thought it was a nice thing to do for the consumers and subscriber base.” As far as Mulan goes, Chapek says “it was successful to the extent that we’re also using that strategy on Raya and the Last Dragon.” Raya, which had a Super Bowl trailer on Sunday, is a bit different because it will be available on Disney+ for a premium rate in the states and theatrical. Mulan did not have a theatrical U.S. release, just offshore where it fizzled with $69.1M due to the Covid closure of theaters abroad. Raya debuts on March 5 in theaters and for the extra Disney+ premier price of $29.99.

Essentially, Disney will experiment with different release strategies as they try to hit certain data points. In addition says Chapek, whether a theatrical title goes on Disney+, “depends on our slate of titles and whether we need to put something on the service.”

Disney’s bundle that includes Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and ad-free Hulu is widely available

Disney’s latest bundle combining Disney Plus, ad-free Hulu, and ESPN Plus for $18.99 per month is now available. This package was first announced in December 2020, and it actually first started rolling out for new subscribers to Hulu. The news today is that the sign-up page is accessible to more people looking to subscribe. The cheaper bundle that includes Hulu with ads sprinkled in is still available for $12.99 per month.This is a good value for people who’ve been patiently waiting (since Disney Plus launched in late 2019) for a bundle that includes the ad-free version of Hulu. With this one, you’ll save about $6 per month by getting all three of these services. Purchased outside of a bundle, Disney Plus costs $6.99 per month, ESPN Plus is at $5.99, and ad-free Hulu is $11.99 each month. So, it’s like you’re getting the ESPN Plus service for free.

Pluto TV Launches in France With 40 Channels Featuring Local, International Content

ViacomCBS Networks International is launching Pluto TV, its free streaming service, in France today (Feb. 8) with 40 original channels featuring French and international titles spanning films, series and factual programs.The slate of channels in France comprises Pluto TV Ciné, Pluto TV Drama, Dossiers FBI, Pluto TV Crime, Tortue Ninja, People Are Awesome, Pluto TV Cuisine, Pluto TV Paranormal, Pluto TV Nature, iCarly, FailArmy, Pluto TV Kids Junior, Pluto TV Kids Animation, the Gaming TV channel and Pluto TV Extreme. The service will also boast popular French series including “Plus Belle La Vie,” “Les Cordier, Juge et flic” and “Louis La Brocante.”Pluto TV, which doesn’t require a registration, is the first free ad-supported television service to launch in France and is now available on all major streaming devices via the Pluto TV browser, or via Apple TV, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV, among others. The service previously launched in the U.K., Germany, Spain, as well as 17 countries across Latin America. Pluto TV now boasts a presence across three continents and 24 countries with almost 36 million active users worldwide. The service is next planning to launch in Italy in late 2021.

Icon Film Channel launches on Amazon Prime in UK

Over 150 new and classic film titles will be available when The Icon Film Channel launches on Amazon Prime Video on March 18. Additional titles, both catalogue and new, will be added to the service monthly, and its launch will be supported by a multi-platform marketing campaign. Spencer Pollard, CEO at parent company KFilm said: This is an exciting new step forward for a long-standing and much-loved brand in the UK. We plan to further significantly develop the offering in coming months with additional quality catalogue acquisitions, plus the addition of exclusive brand new releases and the expansion of places where you will be able to access the Icon Film Channel”.

Viaplay hits target of 3m subscribers

Nordic streaming service Viaplay passed its target of 3 million subscribers in 2020. The NENT-owned platform added an additional 749,000 subscribers during 2020, to reach 3,020,000. The company is forecasting an additional 650,000 more paying subscribers will be added during 2021. The company has reported an increase in sales of 6% at SEK 3.182 million. Viaplay represents 31% of sales and also saw a 30% annual increase on the back of the increased popularity for its originals, along with live sports and acquired content.“During the year, we will continue to increase our content investments, which will include 40 Viaplay original premieres, a slate of additional acquired content and a range of exciting new sports rights this year. As a result, we are planning to introduce price adjustments during this year,” admitted Group CEO Anders Jensen. Last month NENT gained approval for another SEK 3.5 billion that will fund further expansion of the Viaplay platform.

MENA to add 18m SVOD subs

The 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will have 32.65 million SVOD subscriptions by 2026. This, according to the latest report by Digital TV Research, will be up from the 14.16 million recorded at the end of last year. Turkey will remain the market leader by a considerable distance, with nearly 14 million subscriptions by 2026.Commenting on the findings of the report, Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research, said: Netflix and Disney+ will account for about half of the region’s total by 2026, despite Disney+ only starting in 2022 in a limited number of countries. Due to exclusive deals with Disney+, HBO and Paramount+, OSN will quickly gain subscribers”.

Comscore cookie-free connected TV targeting comes to Europe

Comscore has announced plans to expand its Predictive Audiences targeting service into Europe.The GDPR-friendly system enables advertisers to reach audiences based on granular connected TV viewership through a series of privacy-friendly contextual signals. Comscore has created cookie-free CTV viewership segments for advertisers by leveraging a set of data assets comprised of its opted-in digital panel, rich behavioral data, connected TV ad exposure and viewership data.It’s the first time the full service has been made available in Europe and debut in Germany and Italy.

Entertainment One to Cut Film, TV Workforce by 10 Percent

The loss of around 60 jobs follows the studio being acquired by toy maker Hasbro. Hasbro acquired eOne in 2019 as part of a $4 billion all-cash transaction.

Disney to Shutter ‘Ice Age’ Animation Studio Blue Sky

Disney is shutting down Blue Sky Studios, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based animation studio best known for the Ice Age franchise.The studio was owned by Fox until 2019 when the Walt Disney Co. acquired 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets

Cinema chains benefit from Reddit-fuelled ‘short squeeze’

The value of AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has risen from $5 per share at 4pm EST on Tuesday, January 26, to $19.90 at 4pm by the same time the following day. The US company owns AMC Theatres, the world’s largest cinema chain by number of venues with 978 cinemas; as well as Odeon Cinemas Group, Europe’s largest cinema operator with over 360 cinemas including 120 in the UK. The value of shares in UK-based Cineworld Group have risen from £63.84 per share at 2.30pm GMT on Monday to a high of £85.26 at 9.30am on Wednesday. The share price was £75.32 at the time of writing (12pm on Thursday, January 28).The rapid increases – known as a ‘short squeeze’ – are caused by individual investors and ‘non-professional’ stock buyers, many of whom use the messageboard r/wallstreetbets on Reddit. Individuals are buying up stock in response to ‘short selling’ by hedge funds – a practice by which traders borrow stock they expect will decrease in value, sell them quickly then rebuy them once the price has dropped.