It's 7:30 p.m., you've just sat down on your couch after a long day, and you're ready to stream something to watch. What service do you choose? Is it Netflix (NFLX -0.66%), the trailblazer in the industry that has over 195 million paying subscribers? Perhaps it's Disney+, the charming, nostalgic, and content-rich offering from the $251 billion entertainment behemoth that is Walt Disney (DIS 2.46%)?
While the ongoing streaming wars have hit the traditional cable industry hard, they are a clear boon for consumers. It obviously depends on your preferences, but viewers should be prepared to face this dilemma of what to watch for a long time. Outside of live programming, the cable companies are increasingly no longer top of mind for consumers when it comes time to press play. It's evident that streaming is taking over, but what's less certain is if there's a true winner among the growing list of options.
There will probably be multiple winners in the streaming wars, and Netflix co-founder and co-CEO Reed Hastings is ready to face the challenge from the House of Mouse, his biggest direct competitor at the moment.
Disney+ launched on Nov. 12, 2019, and in less than nine months reached 60 million monthly subscribers. That is an impressive accomplishment, given that Netflix started its streaming service in the U.S. in 2007 and didn't reach the 60 million mark until 2015. The goal for Disney was to achieve this subscriber level by 2024. Talk about a pleasant surprise!
Fueling adoption of Disney+ is a strong content catalog, featuring hits from Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm (maker of Star Wars), and Marvel film studios. The popularity of these brands is a big draw for viewers, who now have a one-stop-shop to watch these collections.
In addition to a tailwind from shelter-in-place orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney+ could be thriving simply because of the low-hanging fruit that is a passionate and loyal fanbase. Netflix's success whetted the appetites of these consumers as they waited for Disney to release its service.
"Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, we've continued to build on the incredible success of Disney+ as we grow our global direct-to-consumer businesses," said Disney CEO Bob Chapek in the company's third-quarter earnings release.
In a recent interview on CNBC, Hastings admitted that he expected Disney+ to only hit "20 million [subscribers] at best" in its first year. He highlighted Disney's undeniable brand strength as a key advantage. But he isn't shying away from this challenge, and instead sees a massive opportunity for Netflix to attack.
"We want to get better than Disney in family entertainment," Hastings said. This is an audacious goal, one that will require the Netflix brand to resonate with kids as much as the Magic Kingdom does.
Hastings' comment draws parallels to what then Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in 2013 about another rival: "The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us." It's probably safe to say Netflix hit this goal, as evidenced by its 160 Emmy nominations this year and 24 Oscar nominations in 2019.
I wouldn't doubt the streaming pioneer's ability to attract the attention of younger viewers, something a budding animation slate in coming years will certainly help it achieve.
The consumer wins
The streaming wars are heating up, which will undoubtedly benefit the consumer the most. Due to the varying types of content available from the different services currently offered, this is not a winner-take-all market. Just like today, there will be multiple streaming options to choose from when you decide to wind down and relax.
As the industry matures, branding will continue to matter. Investors should pay close attention to the progress Hastings' company makes in family entertainment, as this is Disney's crown jewel. If history is any guide, Netflix will be just fine.