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Bad News: Disney CEO Says Disney+ Is Facing 2 Headwinds

By Parkev Tatevosian, CFA – Sep 29, 2021 at 9:24AM

Key Points

  • Disney+ has had a slow start in its Latin America launch.
  • To succeed, Disney+ must retain customers whose annual subscriptions are due to expire.
  • The long-term health of this segment of Disney's business remains good.

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Disney management is still learning the ropes of the streaming business.

Most analysts would agree that Walt Disney's (DIS -0.01%) entry into the streaming category has been a success. Disney+ entered the streaming wars in November 2019 and it has already accumulated subscriber totals that make it competitive with veteran rival Netflix (NFLX -2.04%)

The House of Mouse boasts a robust content library and has a huge established fan base around the world. So its early success may not have been that big of a surprise. But what Disney is beginning to discover is that maintaining its strong growth in the streaming segment is not all that easy. Recently, at an investor conference, Disney CEO Bob Chapek highlighted two challenges directly in its path to winning the streaming war. 

The Disney+ app displayed on a smart TV.

Image source: The Walt Disney Company.

Disney+ has a slow start in Latin America

The first difficulty arose around the launch of Disney+ in Latin America. This region has an estimated population of 617 million and that sheer size makes it a lucrative opportunity zone.

Netflix has been live with its service in Latin America for several years and has amassed 38.66 million subscribers. To put that figure into context, Netflix has a total subscriber base of 209 million, so Latin America makes up 18.4% of its total. Moreover, Netflix is generating an average revenue per user of $7.50 from Latin America.

Looking at the region's population total and the results Netflix is achieving highlights the potential for Disney. Thus far, The House of Mouse has 116 million subscribers on Disney+ in at least 61 countries. It launched its services in 18 Latin American markets in November 2020. Because Disney+ is earlier in its development, Latin America could be a more significant market for Disney than it was for Netflix.

It was bad news for shareholders to hear Chapek discuss the slow rollout in the region, as the company had difficulty finding partners to help speed up the process. Still, the CEO seemed confident that things would move along quicker in the not too distant future.

Disney+ HotStar in India 

The second difficulty relates to Disney's efforts in India. At the investor conference, Chapek noted that Disney+ HotStar subscribers in India tend to be on annual subscriptions. Further, the company is not allowed to set up auto-renewal for subscriptions in the region. Therein lies the challenge facing Disney+ in India; the large cohort of members it signed up over the past year have expiring subscriptions coming due. The company will need to put forth a significant marketing effort to retain those customers, and it's unlikely that Disney will be 100% successful in those efforts.

That could be a significant headwind as management has mentioned the segment accounts for over 40% of Disney+ subscriber totals.

Disney+ will have a slow quarter now and again

Overall, the CEO said he expects Disney+ to have a slow quarter and add a net new subscriber total in the low-single-digit millions. That admission of slower growth isn't also saying the long-term prospects of the segment have diminished. It only says that Disney+ is facing headwinds in the near term that are causing some volatility to its growth trajectory. 

At an investor day in November of 2020, Disney guided investors to look for it to grow total streaming subscribers to over 300 million by 2024. This quarter's results will remind investors that the path to reaching that total will not be a linear one.

Parkev Tatevosian owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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