Poor Netflix (NFLX 0.39%) and its investors can't seem to catch a break. If they weren't already worried enough about the Nov. 12 arrival of Disney's (DIS 0.84%) new premium streaming service, an aggressive promotion is making sure that Disney+ launches with a huge audience at a disruptive price point.
The media giant turned heads in April when it announced that Disney+ would hit the market at $6.99 per month, a little more than half of Netflix's monthly fee of $12.99. Now Disney is giving its biggest fans an even better deal for a limited time. Attendees at the biennial D23 Expo for Disney fans, in Anaheim this past weekend, were able to sign up for three years of the service by prepaying for just two years at the discounted annual rate.
Folks at the expo joining what Disney calls the Founders Circle -- and how cool-sounding is that? -- are paying just $140.97 (just $3.92 a month) for three years of service, receiving a commemorative pin in the process. This week Disney is opening up the offer to all D23 members without the pin. D23 is seen mostly as a premium subscription offering Disney buffs print publications, priority event access, and annual keepsakes, but there's also a free general membership available just for signing up.
In short, anyone can lock in Disney+ for less than $4 a month for the next three years -- less than a third of Netflix's rate for its most popular streaming plan. Deal-seekers have until Monday to square away a three-year subscription as part of the Founders Circle, and now that back door into a deeply discounted premium service is making the rounds online.
There won't be just one streaming service winning the war for your living room, and we know that. Folks are kissing their fat cable and satellite television bills goodbye, and that money will go a long way toward signing up for several services. Netflix should remain the industry standard -- the equivalent of basic cable -- and on top of that is where Disney and several other network-specific platforms will fight for eyeballs. However, there are a couple of big reasons why Disney+ needs to be seen as a legitimate threat to Netflix's seemingly insurmountable dominance.
Let's start with the timing of Disney's initial announcement. It took place during Netflix's second quarter, a period that found the market leader growing its membership base by a little more than half of its earlier guidance. It could just be a coincidence that Disney+ was unveiled in a period in which Netflix grew its rolls by 2.7 million, instead of the 5 million net adds that it had been modeling.
Netflix suggests that a sharp price hike that rolled out to its members kept new sign-ups in check and subscriber turnover high, but that brings us to the second thorn on this rose -- pricing elasticity. Disney is coming in at $6.99 a month, and -- for this week only -- a subscription can set you back less than $4 a month if you prepay for three years. The chances of Netflix pulling off another pricing increase, the way it has four times in the past five years, just narrowed substantially.
Disney is blurring the value proposition of a streaming plan, and that's before we even consider the Disney+, ESPN+, and ad-supported Hulu bundle that it will be offering publicly for the same price of Netflix itself. If there was ever a "basic cable" threat to Netflix, that well-rounded combination plate would be it. Netflix was a winner during the last recession as a cheaper alternative to traditional media viewing, but now it's perched at the high end of pricing for the crowded niche.
Disney is hungry. It knows that it has to make up for lost time, and it isn't afraid to discount its upcoming platform so it has a large number of subscribers to announce at the launch of Disney+. Netflix can counter with a multiyear plan, too, and that wouldn't seem to be a bad idea on the surface. There are a lot of compelling services launching, including the ones that recently wrestled Friends and The Office off of its platform. However, once Netflix starts going down that road, there's no turning back.