In the summer of 2017, Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) made a surprise announcement that it would be launching two direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming services. ESPN+, an extension of the company's pay-TV ESPN channels, would launch in early 2018, and Disney+, a collection of the company's films and shows (and original content exclusively for the service), would debut in late 2019, management said at the time.
More than two years later, the company's early 2018 launch of ESPN+ now has 3.5 million paid subscribers, and the long-awaited Disney+ streaming service is finally here.
Walt Disney's biggest bet yet on DTC
On Tuesday, Walt Disney's long-awaited Disney+ finally went live. The service features 500 films from iconic Walt Disney-owned film studios, including Marvel, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, and its namesake Walt Disney Studios. In addition, the service features 7,500 episodes of television series and new exclusive original content.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Disney+. It signals a new era for the company as Walt Disney accelerates its transition to a DTC model.
Disney is pricing the service aggressively, ensuring millions of consumers will sign up. Customers can get access to Disney+ for $6.99 a month or $69.99 per year. Alternatively, consumers can sign up for a bundle that includes Disney+, ESPN+, and the ad-supported version of Hulu for just $12.99 a month.
Looking ahead, Disney seems to be sparing no expense on the service. The company plans for the Disney+ library to expand to 620 movies and more than 10,000 TV shows within five years.
"[A]ll creative engines across our Company including the teams of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, Disney Channel, and Walt Disney Television studios are focused on creating compelling original content for Disney Plus," said Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger in the company's quarterly earnings call last week.
Further, the service will go global quickly. Disney+ is initially launching in the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands. Over the next few weeks, Disney+ is launching in Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. On March 31, 2020, the service will debut across Western Europe. Further, Disney says it will roll out the service to most major global markets within its first two years.
Will consumers' appetite for the service match Walt Disney's ambition and ultimately create value for shareholders? Given the company's long history of success and the clout of its powerful movie franchises, it's safe to expect Disney+ to morph into a major streaming service. More importantly, the impressive breadth and scale of the service looks poised to help the company accelerate its transition to a DTC model in an evolving media landscape.