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Disney+ Subscribers Could Be Double the Company's Initial Forecast

By Danny Vena – Updated Aug 30, 2019 at 1:25PM

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Interest in the upcoming streaming service is soaring, according to a recent survey.

There's little doubt that Disney's (DIS 2.97%) upcoming streaming offering -- Disney+ -- could become one of the biggest players in the industry after the service launches on Nov. 12. There's a great deal of excitement building among fans of the House of Mouse as more details emerge about the long-awaited over-the-top service.

During its investor day in April, Disney estimated that between 20 million and 30 million U.S. consumers would subscribe to its streaming service by 2024, sending the stock soaring in the wake of the company's robust forecast.

Recent research suggests, however, that the company may be significantly underestimating demand for its direct-to-consumer service.

Characters from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic highlight a Disney+ feature ad.

Image source: Disney.

The happiest streaming service on Earth?

UBS Evidence Lab -- the branch of the investment bank that tracks consumer behavior -- recently conducted a study to measure demand for Disney's soon-to-launch streaming service. In a survey of 1,000 U.S. residents conducted in mid-August, 43% of those surveyed said they are "extremely likely" or "somewhat likely" to subscribe to Disney+, which is well ahead of the company's internal forecasts. With an estimated 128 million households in the country, that works out to more than 54 million subscribers -- more than double the 25 million at the midpoint of Disney's forecast.

To put that into perspective, streaming leader Netflix (NFLX 1.53%) -- a top stock in recent years -- has about 60 million U.S. subscribers. If the results of this survey are accurate, Disney could be one of the top streaming services within just a few years of its launch.

That's not all. Of the consumers who plan to subscribe to Disney+, about 57% say they will cancel at least one other subscription service when they sign up. Among the hardest hit would be pay-TV bundles, with 37% of intended subscribers saying they would cancel an existing subscription. 33% said they would forego a video-on-demand (VOD) service, and 19% said they would abandon a premium broadcast network like HBO or Showtime.

Some other findings of the survey will help provide context. Currently, about 79% of all respondents say they have heard about Disney+, while a clear majority of those surveyed (67%) said they would "likely" add Disney+ without eliminating any other services.

The marketing blitz has yet to come

UBS pointed out that the survey was conducted prior to the D23 expo -- Disney's fan convention -- which was held in Anaheim, California earlier this month. This is important, because the company used the event to kick off its pre-launch advertising campaign in advance of the Disney+ debut in November, and "marketing for the service has yet to hit critical mass," according to the report.

The company sought to rally its fans by setting up kiosks that encouraged participants to sign up early for the service. Attendees at the D23 event were offered steep discounts in exchange for multiyear commitments to Disney+. That strategy appeared to bear fruit, as numerous reports indicate.

Disney expects to attract between 40 million and 60 million customers from international locales, for a total of 60 million to 90 million subscribers worldwide over the coming five years.

Giving Netflix a run for its money

Several recent developments show just how serious Disney is about taking on Netflix.

At D23, Disney said the monthly streaming price of $6.99 would include up to four simultaneous streams, 4K video, ultra high definition (UHD), and high dynamic range (HDR) picture quality -- all when available -- while offering up to seven different user profiles. This compares with Netflix's premium pricing plan, which allows you to stream on four devices at the same time, as well as HD and UHD when available, for a monthly subscription price of $15.99 -- more than twice the cost of Disney+.

Disney also recently shared some of the plans for the start of its international rollout, which will coincide with its U.S. debut, and provided a laundry list of devices that will support the upcoming streaming offering.

With an aggressive pricing plan, premium features, and plenty of ways to access the service, Disney is leaving nothing to chance as it makes the quantum leap forward into streaming.

Danny Vena owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short October 2019 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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