As the streaming wars intensify, Walt Disney (DIS -0.12%) is exploring whether a membership loyalty program like Amazon (AMZN 0.64%) Prime could not only drive more viewers to its Disney+ service, but serve as a vehicle to boost sales at theme parks, resorts, cruises, and stores.
Dubbed "Disney Prime" by insiders, according to The Wall Street Journal, Disney hopes it will allow the company to hit its aggressive streaming service subscriber targets as well as maintain the attendance growth it has achieved at its theme parks, especially if a global recession strikes.
Few companies enjoy the synergies Disney does -- a movie generates toys and theme park rides that creates a long tail of revenue growth -- so by offering discounts and perks in one seamless package, the entertainment giant could keep its sales juggernaut going.
Disney set an early, ambitious goal of signing up between 230 million and 260 million subscribers by the end of 2024, and while Disney+ has wildly surpassed all expectations with 221.1 million subscribers -- making it even larger than Netflix -- the streaming service has had to temper its goals. It now forecasts it will have between 215 million and 245 million subscribers.
The service's popularity allowed Disney to introduce an advertising-supported subscription tier while raising the price for an ad-free experience from $7.99 a month to $10.99 a month. Under Disney Prime (which won't be the program's name if it ultimately does come to fruition) viewers could be given a discount for shopping at one of its stores or visiting Disney World or other parks around the globe, or a chance to attend one of its events held throughout the year.
In fact, Disney is running something very similar to this already, called the D23 Official Fan Club. For either $99 or $129, members get exclusive discounts and offers, such as on merchandise at theme parks; they can attend events, including a biennial convention; they get a dedicated magazine; they're entered into a sweepstakes; and they receive a weekly newsletter (there's a free tier, too).
The DCU, or Disney Connected Universe
So why would Disney need a whole new program? Because D23 is aimed at what it calls "superfans" -- those people who are already deeply invested in the whole Disney ecosystem, much the way Apple has its own diehard loyalists for its products and services.
Disney Prime, on the other hand, would be targeted at the more casual consumer. They might not travel to Disney World every year or get married there, as my friend Dave does and did, but management hopes they might subscribe to Disney+, buy a t-shirt or children's costume, or get accessories tied to TV shows by scanning QR codes on the screen, according to the Journal.
It's a smart play -- not only does it grow incremental sales from the cross-selling opportunities, but it would also give Disney great insights on how those casual consumers spend their money. It could lead to more targeted advertising on the streaming service, or even in stores and at its theme parks.
Amazon Prime is what helped fuel Amazon's growth into the behemoth it is today. It could play a similar role for Disney to grow even larger and more interconnected. It's not about the service itself, but what the entertainment giant can learn about customers. That makes it a good bet on being a good investment.