The Case for Disney as New Streaming King — and the Case Netflix Never Lost Its Crown

·5 min read

Disney has been anointed the new streaming king after reporting it now counts 221.1 million total subscriptions between Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. That’s about 400,000 greater than Netflix’s Q2 tally of 220.67 million global paid members.

But is The Walt Disney Company truly the new leader in the ongoing streaming wars? An investigation.

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The Case for Disney as New Streaming King Is Pretty Straightforward

As a company, Disney is now home to more streaming subscriptions than Netflix.

Disney+ alone added 14.4 million subscribers in the June quarter, when Netflix lost 970,000 global paid subscribers. (April to June is Netflix’s Q2 but Disney’s fiscal Q3.) Disney+ now has 44.5 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada and another 49.2 million internationally (excluding Disney+ Hotstar).

The Hotstar brand of Disney+ adds another 58.4 million subscriptions, bringing the grand total of Disney+ subs to 152.1 million — a 31 percent improvement from the same quarter last year.

ESPN+ subscriptions jumped 53 percent from the same quarter last year to 22.8 million; Hulu improved subscriptions by 8 percent, and now has 46.2 million subscribers. (Of those, 42.2 million subs are SVOD-only and 4 million add the Live TV service.)

Seems pretty cut and dry, right?

44.5 million + 49.2 million + 58.4 million + 22.8 million + 46.2 million = 221.1 million.

221 million > 220.67 million.

And oh yeah, ad-supported Disney+ is going to beat Netflix’s own AVOD tier to market by months. The End.

Jason Bateman in “Ozark” - Credit: Tina Rowden / Netflix
Jason Bateman in “Ozark” - Credit: Tina Rowden / Netflix

Tina Rowden / Netflix

The End?

The Case for Disney as New Streaming King Is Not at all Straightforward

Wait a second: but Disney’s all-in tally is counting three services to Netflix’s one. It is subscriptions vs. subscribers; those who are signed up for the Disney Bundle — Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu — are therefore triple counted. It’s kind of fair, but also kind of not fair.

The middle service (in terms of subscriber tallies), Hulu, isn’t even fully owned by Disney. Based on their longstanding arrangement, until at least January 2024, Comcast will own one-third of Hulu. (Disney got Fox’s one-third when it bought a significant portion of the company in 2019.) With Hulu growth slowing and the company’s focus being so firmly set on Disney+, Hulu might not even exist in a few years. Or at least, it might not even exist under the Disney umbrella.

Hulu’s saving grace is its profitability, a number that slumped this quarter but still makes it the clear financial standout of the Bundle. Disney executives said Wednesday they expect Disney+ to reach profitability in 2024 — but it’s not there yet and neither is ESPN+. The much older Netflix is.

Netflix is (generally) making much more money off of its members than Disney+. Netflix vs. the Disney Bundle is a different — and more complicated — story. In terms of Average Revenue Per User, or ARPU (Netflix goes with ARM: Average Revenue per Member), Netflix draws $15.95 per month in the United States and Canada. Compare that with Disney+ at $6.27.

Internationally, Disney+ commands 4 cents more per user than it does here. But Disney+ Hotstar only makes $1.20 per subscription, making the global average for the Disney+ products $4.35. Meanwhile, Netflix makes $11.17 per user in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa), $8.67 in LATAM (Latin America), and $8.83 in APAC (Asia-Pacific).

ESPN+ commands $4.55 per member. Hulu SVOD brings in $12.92 per user; with its Live TV service serving as a replacement for a traditional cable subscription, that number (understandably) soars to $87.92 per user. Again, that’s just four those 4 million subscribers though.

Netflix numbers are way up in the trophy case too. Last year, Netflix won 44 Emmys, more than twice the next-largest platform(s), HBO/HBO Max (19 wins). Disney+ had 14 wins; Hulu did not take home hardware and ESPN+ earned its first Sports Emmy win this past May with “Man in the Arena: Tom Brady.”

It would be a bit unfair and irrelevant to go back any further and punctuate the point: Disney+ won its first Emmys in 2020 with “The Mandalorian,” which launched in late 2019 with the platform. Netflix first won with “House of Cards” in 2013.

Currently, Netflix is nominated for 105 Primetime Emmys, Disney+ has 34 noms, and Hulu has 58. The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards take place Monday, September 12.

Tony Shaloub, Marin Hinkle, and Rachel Brosnahan in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” - Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video
Tony Shaloub, Marin Hinkle, and Rachel Brosnahan in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” - Credit: Courtesy of Prime Video

Courtesy of Prime Video

A Third Contender?

Late last year, Amazon revealed that more than 200 million Prime members worldwide streamed its shows and movies in 2021. That was the first (and to date, last) time we learned that Amazon had more than 200 million Prime members.

Of course, the real value draw for most Prime members is still the e-commerce giant’s free, two-day shipping. Still, it stands to reason that if more than 200 million Prime members streamed a show or a movie in 2021, there are currently quite a few more than 200 million Prime members overall.

Does that make this three-horse race an apples to apples (to apples) comparison? No, not really: But you were fine with comparing Disney subscriptions to Netflix subscribers.

Need a real dark dark-horse candidate? Find how many subscribers each major SVOD service now has here.

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