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Why Disney+ Will Drive Disney’s Growth Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis

By Adria Cimino – Updated Jun 15, 2020 at 12:23PM

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Content for the whole family and a renewed interest in at-home entertainment should keep Disney+ sparkling.

As Walt Disney (DIS 2.37%) prepares to reopen more of its theme parks, the company is on its way to recovering some of that revenue -- although with the restrictions on normal operations, Disney is unlikely to see much growth there until the coronavirus crisis has passed.

But there still may be some magic left for the company in these times of crisis and beyond. I'm talking about Disney+. Launched in the U.S. in November, the streaming service had already garnered 54.5 million subscribers as of May 4. The company had said it expected Disney+ to achieve profitability in 2024, and it set a goal of 60 million to 90 million subscribers by that time. Now, after only about six months, Disney+ has almost reached the lower end of that range.

To further put that growth into context, streaming leader Netflix, which launched its service in 2007, has 183 million paid memberships worldwide.

A young family smiles while sitting on the couch and watching a movie.

Image source: Getty Images.

The key to growth

This is still just the beginning of the Disney+ growth story. The service launched in Western Europe in March, then in India. It's rolling out in Japan this month, followed by additional European countries in September and then in Latin America by year end. Disney's new CEO, Bob Chapek, said in the most recent earnings call that the direct-to-consumer business, which includes Disney+, is the "top priority" and key to growth.

The direct-to-consumer and international business, which also includes video-on-demand service Hulu, is already proving its value. In the second quarter, while park segment revenue slid 10% due to the temporary shutdowns, direct-to-consumer revenue and international revenue surged 260% to $4.1 billion.

That kind of growth doesn't come without investment. And costs related to the Disney+ launch were part of the reason the segment's operating loss increased more than 110% to $812 million. But that is to be expected this early into the game. In fact, Disney said last year at an investor day that aggressive investments to set Disney+ up for long-term success would result in peak operating losses between this year and fiscal 2022.

Why is Disney+ a hit?

So why is Disney+ such a hit? Some may say stay-at-home orders in the U.S. and extensive lockdowns in Europe have only temporarily boosted memberships, and Disney+ will face a number of cancellations as adults return to work and kids return to school in the fall. To a certain extent, that's possible, but I wouldn't expect a significant trend.

The coronavirus crisis has put a focus on at-home entertainment, and the depth of concern regarding contamination may linger for quite some time. As people get used to enjoying movies at home, they may not be so quick to give up this new routine.

Disney+ also has the kind of content kids want to see -- over and over. "Won't they get bored with movies they've already seen in the theater?" some might ask. The excitement about unlimited access to favorite films may actually put Disney+ on kids' wishlists. My daughter watched her Frozen DVD about 100 times. And the general vibe from fellow parents is, yes, we adults all know these films by heart for one good reason.

60 original projects

Still, Disney isn't taking risks in the content department, and that makes the Disney+ package a winner. The new and original will be joining the much-loved classics. And this diverse content may appeal to kids as well as adults. Artemis Fowl, initially slated for theaters, debuted exclusively on Disney+ this week. And Broadway hit Hamilton is scheduled to stream on Disney+ in July. In its fiscal 2019 earnings call, Disney said its goal is more than 60 original projects per year by the fifth year in operation.

The growth at Disney+ is going to be expensive for the company in the coming year or so. And one big challenge will be delays of Disney films in theaters due to the coronavirus crisis, which will result in delayed releases on Disney+. But consumers' renewed interest in watching movies at home, and Disney's efforts to offer old favorites and fresh content are reasons to believe strong gains in Disney+ membership can continue. And in the long term, investors looking to big names for healthy returns may reap the rewards.

Adria Cimino has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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