Walt Disney (DIS 0.31%) will report fiscal 2021 second-quarter earnings on Thursday, May 12. The entertainment giant continues to rebound from the devasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic when it had to temporarily shut down all its theme parks, resort operations, and cruise ships as well as delay the release of several highly anticipated movies from its various film studios. Still, Disney is far from operating at full strength, with many of the attractions it operates running at limited capacity or still closed and its film lineup only now beginning to return to theaters.

It may well be 2022 before Disney is again firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, its streaming services are thriving as people flock to entertainment options that can be safely consumed at home. If Disney can show progress with its various streaming operations, the stock could continue doing well. That's why when the company reports earnings on Thursday, this is one metric investors will want to know. 

The Disney+ app displayed on a smart TV.

Disney+ has 94.9 million subscribers. Image source: Disney.

Can Disney maintain robust subscriber growth? 

In its first-quarter earnings release back in February, Disney reported having a total of 146.4 million subscribers across its three streaming services (Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+). Disney+ was the leader with 94.9 million, followed by Hulu at 39.4 million and ESPN+ at 12.1 million. Disney released updated Disney+ totals on March 9 and now counts more than 100 million subscribers. Interestingly, while Disney+ has more than twice the Hulu subscribers, the latter generates more revenue for Disney.

That's mainly because Disney+ is offered at a lower monthly price. Additionally, Hulu offers a premium version that comes with Live TV, from which Disney is generating an average revenue per user of $75.11. While Hulu may be the top revenue producer in the lineup right now, Disney+ will eventually overtake it in terms of overall contribution.

Hulu is only available domestically, while Disney+ is an international service. Disney management projects that by 2024, Disney+ will have 230 million subscribers, and Hulu will have 50 million.  

The streaming subscriber results will be significant this quarter because Netflix (NFLX 0.83%) recently reported a slowdown in its subscriber additions. So what was the reason for the slowdown? Netflix attributed it to the surge in signups in 2020 pulling forward demand from 2021. That's why when Disney reports earnings next week, the subscriber total is one thing you'll certainly want to know. 

What this could mean for investors 

Analysts on Wall Street expect Disney to report revenue of $15.86 billion and earnings per share of $0.28, which would be decreases of 12% and 53.3%, respectively, from last year. With its theme parks and resorts at least partially reopened, its films again being scheduled for release in theaters, and streaming services thriving, this may be the last quarter of revenue decreases for Disney.

Investors looking to start a position in Disney will be best served by spreading out their desired allocation over the next several months. That way, you are better protected against any adverse changes in its progress, reopening theme parks, and other operations that require people to come together.

Indeed, over 32% of people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated as of this writing. However, this dreaded virus has shown unpredictability, and as an investor, it's preferable to protect your money from adverse events if you can.