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Disney+ Is Gaining on Netflix

By Danny Vena - Feb 26, 2021 at 11:00AM

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After just one year, the House of Mouse is quickly catching up to the streaming pioneer.

When Disney (DIS 3.51%) reported first-quarter earnings last week, strength in streaming video helped the company deliver a surprise profit. Subscribers to Disney+, the company's flagship streaming service, came in at nearly 95 million; 21 million were added over the preceding three months alone. This means that in just over a year, Disney+ has added nearly half as many subscribers as Netflix (NFLX 1.98%) added in a decade.

On this clip from Motley Fool Live recorded on Feb. 12, "The Wrap" host Jason Hall and Fool.com contributor Danny Vena hit some of the highlights from Disney's results and what they mean for the future.

Jason Hall: Let's shift over to the House of Mouse. The partially closed House of Mouse, I guess this year. The virtual House of Mouse has been crushing it, Danny. What's going on with Disney?

Danny Vena: I have to say first that I'm a little sad today. A little despondent over the fact that the Annual Passholder refund hit my account today. Disney sent it back saying, "Sorry, you're not going to get to use that annual pass this year and we're going to try to eek more money out of you next year." [laughs] That's part of the reason that I have hope for the future.

When you look at Disney's growth, a lot of eyes have been on the growth of its streaming service, Disney+, and Disney did not disappoint. New members were attracted by recent hits like season 2 of The Mandalorian and Marvel's WandaVision based on the characters from The Avengers. I went to look these up, each of these has a 93% positive score on [review aggregation site] Rotten Tomatoes. This is from the customers, not the critics. So people who are watching these shows really like them.

That led to Disney+ subscribers that grew to just short of 95 million. Now, that's 21 million just in the last quarter alone. To give that a little perspective, Netflix (NFLX 1.98%) only added 8.5 million in the fourth quarter and it grew its total to 204 million. So Disney+ has nearly half, in just over a year, nearly half the number of subscribers as Netflix has.

The total Disney streaming services, including Disney+, ESPN, and Hulu grew to 146 million subscribers. Pretty impressive. ESPN grew to about 12 million, which is up about 83% year-over-year, and Hulu grew to just over 39 million, up about 30% year-over-year.

Now, why this is important is because streaming really helped carry the day for Disney. Their revenue was $16 billion, which was down 22% year-over-year, but it was up sequentially from $14.7 billion in the third quarter.

Now, just to look at the segments really quickly. Direct-to-consumer segment, which handles all of the streaming, $3.5 billion in revenue, up 73% year-over-year. The broadcast and cable TV, which is held in the linear network segment, was actually just up about 2% year-over-year to $7.7 billion.

Of course, Disney's perennial problem here lately has been parks and experiences and products because Disneyland is closed, Hong Kong Disney was closed part of the quarter, and Disneyland Paris was closed part of the quarter. So revenue from the parks slipped about 53% to $3.6 billion.

Now, the good news was that because of the strength in streaming, Disney actually generated a profit and that was not what folks expected. They put up a net income of $17 million or earnings per share of about $0.02. Now, that was still down roughly 98% compared to the prior-year quarter.

Disney talked about it more on the conference call, essentially saying we have been really leaning into the streaming video. They are putting more and more of their precious resources to work to build out that streaming library because frankly this is the future, Disney knows that and they are leaning into that just as much as they can. They are doing at a time where there's not much they can do to help out what's going on at the parks, California is just closed. I'm sad about that, but I'm glad that Disney's streaming helped to save the day.

Jason Hall: Yeah. I think it shows the immense value of this business and really the optionality that they have is they've been able to still generate really strong cash flows while part of their business that's their most recognizable part of their businesses has essentially been closed for the better part of a year at this point. Danny, thank you for sharing.

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