The launch of the long-awaited Disney Plus direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming video service is “just days away,” and the company is supporting it with an “unprecedented marketing campaign drawing on every existing connection The Walt Disney Company has with consumers,” according to Disney CEO Robert Iger.
That campaign is an “historic effort to raise awareness and drive demand, one that reflects our all-in commitment to the strategic initiatives and our determination to launch big and scale fast,” he said Nov. 7 on an earnings call for Disney’s fourth quarter and fiscal year (ended Sept. 28).
Disney is “very pleased with the consumer enthusiasm we’re seeing, as well as the interest from partners” including Verizon, which, as recently announced, will be offering a free year of Disney Plus to many of its customers.
The Disney Plus launch will mark the “culmination of four years of planning, organizational transformation and a lot of hard work, and we’re excited to be on the verge of this new era,” according to Iger.
In preparation for the Nov. 12 U.S. launch, Disney tested the technology being used for it in the Netherlands, “giving consumers free access to a curated collection of library content, and we’ve been very pleased with the results, including the technical soundness and reliability of the platform,” he told analysts.
The user feedback has been “extremely positive,” including “praise for the elegance and ease of the interface and the quality of the overall experience,” according to Iger. The ability to download Disney Plus content has “also been a big hit, and the brand-centric navigation” that’s easy to use was “well-received by users,” he said, adding: “Viewing patterns in the Netherlands test were also encouraging. Even without access to our full library or any original content, the service connected with users across all four quadrants — male and female, adults and kids — driven by the breadth of our content and the affinity people of all ages have for it.”
As announced, Disney Plus will also launch Nov. 12 in Canada and the Netherlands, with Australia and New Zealand following one week later.
The service will also launch March 31 in markets across Western Europe, including the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Spain and several other countries in that region, Iger disclosed on the call.
At launch, Disney Plus subscribers will get “immediate access to more than 500 movies including all” of Disney’s “beloved titles and more than 7,500 episodes of library television content, including 30 seasons” of Fox’s “The Simpsons,” he said.
Iger predicted that, “by year five, this growing collection will include more than 620 movies and more than 10,000 television episodes, along with countless shorts and features.” As planned when Disney “first conceived this service, all creative engines across our company,” including the teams of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, Disney Channel and Walt Disney Television Studios, are “focused on creating compelling original content” for Disney Plus, he noted.
At launch, the company will offer 10 original movies, specials and TV series exclusive to the platform, including its previously announced “The Mandalorian,” he said. That first live-action “Star Wars” series is “unlike anything audiences seen before on any platform and it’s a strong indication of the quality in the storytelling that will define Disney Plus,” he noted. Disney recently screened a “significant portion” of the first episode of that show and the “extremely positive reaction is driving tremendous buzz around” it, he told analysts.
“Within a year of launch, the amount of original content on Disney Plus will increase to more than 45 series, specials and movies and will expand to more than 60 original projects per year by year-five,” he said.
As recently announced, consumers can directly subscribe to the service for $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year at disneyplus.com. Starting Nov. 2, consumers can also access the service via a “growing variety of partners and platforms,” including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Sony and Roku, and “today we’re pleased to announce additional distribution partnerships with Amazon Fire, Samsung and LG,” Iger said. Disney Plus will also be available in a bundle with ESPN Plus and ad-supported Hulu for $12.99 a month.
Disney’s first DTC initiative was ESPN Plus, and that service now has “over 3.5 million paid subscribers,” Iger told analysts. It was an “immediate hit with sports fans when it launched last year and continues to deliver steady growth,” he said.
The company, meanwhile, sees “numerous interesting opportunities to expand ESPN Plus’s live and original program offerings and to steadily grow subscribers,” he told analysts.
As Iger previously said, Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox was “largely driven by the value it brought to our overall DTC strategy, adding a number of critical elements including control of Hulu, which opens numerous growth opportunities domestically and internationally,” he said Nov. 7.
Disney also gained a large library of quality film and TV content from the Fox purchase, he noted, adding this “collection of IP and talent will contribute significantly to Disney Plus and Hulu and, with that in mind, beginning in March, Hulu will become the official streaming home for FX Networks.”
FX on Hulu will include all seasons of more than 40 FX series and offer episodes of current and new FX series immediately after they air on the linear network, Iger said. FX will also produce original series exclusively for FX on Hulu, starting with four new series in 2020: “Devs” from Alex Garland, “Mrs. America” starring Cate Blanchett, “A Teacher” starring Kate Mara, and “The Old Man” starring Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow. The FX “presence on Hulu, combined with original production from our ABC and Fox Television studios and our Fox Movie studios, including Searchlight, will greatly enhance Hulu’s consumer proposition,” Iger said.
Disney’s Q4 revenue jumped 34% from a year earlier to $19.1 billion. While Media Networks revenue grew 22% to $6.5 billion, Studio Entertainment revenue soared 52% to $3.3 billion. But profit from continuing operations fell 66% to $785 million from $2.3 billion.