There were several indications Disney (DIS -0.70%) would have a massive launch for its highly anticipated Disney+ streaming service. A pre-launch promotion led to a server crash. Survey after survey indicated extremely high consumer interest. And in the first few hours of the service's debut on Tuesday, Disney faced serious technical failures.
The results are in. Disney counts over 10 million sign-ups for its brand-new streaming service -- well beyond anyone's expectations.
To be sure, many of Disney's early subscribers are on discounted plans. They may have signed up for the discounted 3-year promotion Disney ran over the summer, or they may have qualified for a free year through their Verizon subscription. In addition, others may have signed up for the 7-day free trial just to see what all the hoopla's about and don't plan to stick around next week. But there's no doubt 10 million sign-ups is an extremely impressive debut.
This is just the start
That 10 million sign-up figure is likely concentrated in the United States.
Disney+'s November 12 launch took place in just three countries: the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands (where it ran its beta test). Australia and New Zealand (along with U.S. territory Puerto Rico) will gain access a week later, and western Europe will launch at the end of March.
In April, Disney said it expects to reach 60 million to 90 million global subscribers by the end of 2024. And it expects roughly one-third of those subscribers to come from the U.S. It's almost halfway to the low end of its five-year outlook, and there's still about 4 years and 364 days left for it to get there.
It should've been obvious Disney was underestimating the potential for Disney+. Hulu already has 28.5 million paid subscribers, and it's only available in the United States. Management expects Disney+ to be more popular than Hulu long term, which suggests its U.S. subscribers will eventually exceed that 30 million mark. And the launch numbers are a good indication it'll get there.
Disney also saw mostly favorable reviews of its original series including The Mandalorian, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Marvel's Hero Project, and The World According to Jeff Goldblum. That compares to the mixed reviews of Apple TV+'s originals from earlier this month. The positive press should lead to increased consumer interest in signing up for the service over the next month or so. (Disney's next slate of series won't arrive until January.)
Should the competition be afraid?
Netflix (NFLX 2.85%) saw its shares decline on the news of Disney+'s successful launch. Many people see Disney+ as its biggest threat, and consumers have said they plan to ditch their Netflix subscriptions in favor of the less-expensive Disney+.
It's impossible to tell what kind of effect Disney+ will actually have on Netflix and other incumbents in the streaming space. That said, it's more likely Disney+'s low price makes it attractive in addition to Netflix and other streaming services, especially as an alternative to the cable bundle.
Right now, there's no need to panic for Netflix investors. 10 million subscribers represents a large chunk of Netflix's 60 million U.S. subscribers. There's bound to be some overlap. In a couple of months, we can find out what kind of impact the Disney+ (and Apple TV+) launch had on Netflix's domestic subscribers. That should give investors a better idea of how it'll affect Netflix's international subscribers, which is where the vast majority of its subscriber growth comes from.
Disney+'s successful launch is great news for Disney investors. These early results bode well for its ability to reach its long-term subscriber goals, perhaps breaking even earlier than anticipated.
While the competition should pay attention to Disney+'s subscribers, it's hard to say what kind of affect it'll have at this point. Early success for Disney+ shouldn't change how anyone felt about Netflix before the launch of Disney+.