In less than 11 months, Walt Disney's (DIS 0.72%) flagship streaming service, Disney+, amassed a whopping 73.7 million subscribers. That's the number that's making all the headlines, but diving deeper into the earnings report and management's comments during the earnings call can provide investors with a much better understanding of the streaming business and what it means for the direct-to-consumer segment going forward.
Here are three things we learned about Disney+ from the company's fourth quarter earnings report.
1. Disney+ Hotstar is extremely popular
Disney rolled out Disney+ in India in April by bundling it with its Hotstar streaming service. Previous Hotstar Premium subscribers were automatically upgraded to Disney+ Hotstar at launch, but that was an estimated 3 million or so subscribers. Less than a week after launch, Disney said it had 8 million subscribers in India.
Disney+ Hotstar is priced well below Disney+ in the rest of the world. Consumers can subscribe for about $20 per year, and receive even more content than Disney+. Competing streaming services like Netflix (NFLX 2.00%) have taken a similar approach, offering low-priced plans in South Asian countries like India. Disney rolled out Disney+ Hotstar to Indonesia at the start of September.
The impact on Disney+'s subscriber numbers is notable. CFO Christine McCarthy says Disney+ Hotstar subscribers account for over a quarter of total subscribers. That's seen in its average revenue per user of $4.52 per month in the third quarter. Without Disney+ Hotstar subscribers, the 55 million standard subscribers paid an average of $5.30 per month. That's still well below Netflix's average revenue per user, but McCarthy has discussed Disney's potential pricing power before.
2. The bundle is working
The 73.7 million Disney+ subscribers is an impressive number, but what's equally impressive are the 10.5 million ESPN+ subscribers Disney reported. That's an increase from 3.5 million a year ago and 8.5 million at the end of June. Last April, Disney's long-term goal for ESPN+ was 8 million to 12 million subscribers by the end of 2024.
The bundle also shows up in continued Hulu subscriber additions, although it's not as noticeable. Hulu added about 8.1 million total subscribers over the past year, 1.1 million in the last quarter. That suggests that a lot of existing Hulu subscribers are signing up for the Disney+ bundle and adding ESPN+.
The biggest value of bundled subscribers is the reduction in churn. Disney+ just lapped its one-year anniversary. It's now facing higher churn risk, as customers' annual subscriptions expire. Disney+ also got an early boost from a promotion from Verizon for a free year of the service, which accounted for about 5 million subscribers in the first few months after launch. Strong adoption of the bundle suggests Disney should be able to keep churn low, which will make it easier for Disney to continue producing strong net additions across all of its streaming services.
3. Premier Access is still in the plans for Disney+
Disney experimented with Premier Access -- premium video on demand through Disney+ -- when it released Mulan in September. Subscribers could pay an additional $30 to gain access to the feature film about three months earlier than the rest of subscribers.
Management didn't provide any details on the results of Mulan, except to say they were pleased with the results, but they were hurt by controversy surrounding the film. Importantly, CEO Bob Chapek said, "[T]here's going to be a role for [Premier Access] strategically with our portfolio of offerings."
Disney realigned its operations last month in order to create more flexibility with how it distributes content from its studios. Some content may be better suited for Premier Access than it is for a theatrical release or instant inclusion in the Disney+ catalog. Such releases could lead to a spike in sign-ups, like Disney saw with the release of Hamilton this summer, as well as additional revenue for the Studio segment.
Investors will have to stay tuned for more details on plans for Premier Access and the rest of Disney's streaming portfolio. The entire portfolio of products -- Hotstar, Hulu, ESPN+, and Premier Access -- is showing immense strength, underlying the 73.7 million Disney+ subscribers Disney's amassed so far. The media company will provide an additional update on its streaming plans at an investor day on Dec. 10.