Last April, Disney (NYSE:DIS) executives forecast Disney+ would reach between 60 million and 90 million subscribers by the end of 2024. Thirteen months later and about seven months after launching, Disney+ had 54.5 million subscribers.
The early success and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic led one analyst, Digital TV Research's Simon Murray, to increase his long-term estimate for Disney+. He now sees the streaming service attracting 202 million subscribers by 2025, up from his previous estimate of 126 million. While that number certainly exceeds anyone else's forecast for Disney's flagship streaming service, it's not entirely unreasonable.
Disney's CFO Christine McCarthy refused to provide an updated subscriber outlook during the company's second-quarter earnings call.
Still launching in new markets
Disney+ is currently only available in fewer than two dozen markets. By comparison, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is available in 190 countries. That means there's still a lot of pent-up demand for Disney+ that hasn't been realized yet.
Disney+ will launch in Japan in June; the Nordics, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Portugal in September; and Latin America by the end of the year. It'll still have the rest of Europe, Asia, and Africa to launch in 2021. If launches in new markets are as successful as Disney's early launches, it'll easily reach the top of its 2024 guidance by the end of next year.
Netflix has seen substantial subscriber growth since finishing its global expansion in January of 2016. Since the end of 2015, Netflix has added over 100 million new subscribers.
It's not unreasonable to expect Disney to see similar results from its expansion over the four years following the completion of its global expansion. There are several reasons Disney could grow just as fast as Netflix did between the end of 2015 and today.
Disney's path to 200 million subscribers
Disney will have an easier path than Netflix in attracting subscribers because it's not tasked with pioneering the format. Netflix had to educate many consumers about subscription streaming video before it could convince them to pay for it. On top of that, connectivity has drastically improved since the start of 2016, so Disney is starting with a larger addressable market.
Disney also has the benefit of an established global brand. In the early days of Netflix's global expansion, much of its marketing efforts went toward branding. Disney already has a brand, so it merely needs to let consumers know they can get everything Disney by signing up for Disney+.
Disney's brand should make its marketing much more efficient than Netflix's early international efforts. It's worth pointing out that Netflix saw a significant increase in subscriber net additions in 2018 and 2019 after establishing its brand in international markets.
A third reason Disney should see rapid subscriber growth is it has more cross-selling opportunities than Netflix. Netflix has one product. Disney is a massive media company with several operating segments and products that lend themselves to various cross-selling opportunities for Disney+. We already saw Disney's ability to upsell India's Hotstar subscribers on a Disney+ Hotstar subscription. About 8 million consumers signed up shortly after it launched.
Disney can offer coupons for Disney+ with its park tickets. It can advertise the service on its television networks. When it launches Hulu internationally next year, it can offer subscribers a bundle, which has been very successful in the United States. With more potential touchpoints than Netflix, Disney should be able to get Disney+ in front of more consumers.
While 200 million seems like a huge out-of-reach number, it's actually not that crazy of a prediction. Disney has a lot of things working to its advantage, and Netflix has already shown what's possible in its path over the last four-plus years.