Disney unloads a slew of spectacular Disney+ bulletins, declares value hike
Bob Chapek, CEO of the Walt Disney Company and former head of Walt Disney Parks and Experiences, speaks during a media preview of the D23 Expo 2019 in Anaheim, California, Aug. 22, 2019.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg via Getty Images
Disney is pulling out all the stops for its streaming services.
On Thursday, the company revealed a slew of impressive Disney+ announcements, with over 100 movies and shows connected to franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, FX and National Geographic.
The company’s newly minted strategy, which focuses heavily on its year-old streaming service Disney+, is all about “quality not volume,” Disney’s chairman and former CEO Bob Iger said during its Investor Day presentation. Iger, who left the helm of the company nine months ago to focus on content, said “quality holds value.”
During the presentation, Disney offered insight and updates about its trio of streaming services as well as its plan for theatrical releases. It also boosted estimates for its Disney+ subscriber numbers, announced increased investment in original content and reiterated that it will be profitable in 2024.
New shows in the Star Wars universe, including one featuring fan favorite characters Ahsoka Tano, were applauded by fans on social media during the announcement. Three additional Marvel series were revealed as well as a holiday special featuring the cast of “The Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Disney has tapped pop culture icons from in front of the camera and behind it for these projects and for theatrical releases. Notably, Lucasfilm has brought on Patty Jenkins to direct “Rogue Squadron,” a new Star Wars film due out in 2023.
The company has a number of films slated for theaters in the coming years, showcasing its continued commitment to movie theaters. This includes two new Pixar films coming in 2022, a massive slate of Marvel movies and even non-franchise films like “Jungle Cruise.”
CEO Bob Chapek acknowledged that Disney garnered around $13 billion at the global box office in 2019, calling that success “not something to sneeze at.” In fact, Disney had seven films tally more than $1 billion that year.
Chapek said Disney’s content strategy is about “balance” and meeting consumer demand. Of the around 100 projects that Disney shared to the public Thursday, about 80% are going directly to Disney+.
Because of these content additions, the company said it now expects to see between 230 million to 260 million subscribers to Disney+ by 2024. Additionally, Disney plans to increase the cost of the service to $7.99, up $1.
Disney executives also said the company is set to reach peak losses in fiscal 2021 and will achieve profitability by fiscal 2024. Additionally, the company plans to spend between $8 million and $9 billion in 2024, a result of spending more on its five core brands.
Here’s a breakdown of the updates Disney shared Thursday:
Disney+ now has 86.8 million subscribers. That’s up from the 73 million that the company reported at the end of its fiscal fourth quarter.
Kareem Daniel, head of the company’s new media and entertainment distribution group, revealed that Disney+ will become home to 10 Marvel series, 10 Star Wars series, 15 Disney live-action, Disney Animation, and Pixar series and 15 Disney live action, Disney Animation, and Pixar films.
In the world of Star Wars, Disney+ will add two new series from Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau, the masterminds behind “The Mandalorian” — “The Rangers of the New Republic” and “Ahsoka.”
There will also be a series called “Lando” that follows the smooth-talking Lando Calrissian from the original trilogy of films as well as a series called “The Acolyte” which takes place during the final days of the High Republic. It has been dubbed a “mystery-thriller.”
These shows will join already announced series “Andor,” “Kenobi,” and the animated series “The Bad Batch.”
Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, teased fans that Hayden Christensen will reprise his role as Darth Vader in “Kenobi” along with Ewan McGregor in the title role. She also clarified that the series, helmed by Deborah Chow, will take place 10 years after the events of “Revenge of the Sith.”
The Mandalorian and the Child on Disney+’s “The Mandalorian.”
Outside of the Star Wars universe, Lucasfilm is also creating a series based on the Jim Henson film “Willow.”
Marvel Studios already had a stacked slate of TV shows headed to the streaming platform, but head of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige was happy to divulge a few more on Thursday. “Secret Invasion” will follow Nick Fury and the Skrull Talos, “Ironheart” centers around teenage genius Riri Williams and “Armor Wars” features War Machine.
Disney+ will be home to a number of new original series and films based on older Disney properties including “The Mighty Ducks” and “Turner and Hooch.” It will also house live-action versions of “Pinocchio” and “Peter Pan and Wendy” will come exclusively to the streaming service.
“Disenchanted,” a sequel to the hit film “Enchanted,” will also stream exclusively on Disney+ with Amy Adams returning as Giselle.
From Disney Animation comes a series featuring Baymax from “Big Hero Six,” as well as one based on characters from “Zootopia.” There will also be musical comedy series based on “Princess and the Frog” and “Moana.”
From Pixar, there will be series based on “Up” and “Cars” and new original series called “Win or Lose.”
The content slate for Disney+ is impressive, and vast, but executives for the company reiterated throughout the course of the presentation that its strategy isn’t about volume, it’s about quality. It’s also about entering new markets.
Rebecca Campbell, Disney’s head of international operations and direct-to-consumer, said the launch in Latin America was a strong success for the company and Disney+ will launch in Eastern Europe, South Korea and Hong Kong in 2021.
In Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore will have Star integrated into the Disney+ app starting Feb. 23, 2021. In Europe Disney is raising the price to 8.99 Euro and the local equivalent in other markets.
Disney+ is also adding an “opt-in to mature content” feature which will allow older audiences to sign in and watch titles like “Logan,” “Modern Family” and “Atlanta.”
The company announced that it had struck a deal with Comcast to bring Disney+ and ESPN+ to the cable company’s set top boxes and platforms and reach more than 20 million Comcast cable and internet customers.
At the box office
On the heels of rival Warner Bros. announcing that it will release 17 films on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day next year, analysts and investors are keen to see how Disney will maneuver through the uncertainty still poised by a global pandemic.
Daniel said that theatrical release help establish franchises, something Disney has done well in the last decade with blockbusters from Marvel and Star Wars. Chapek echoed this sentiment, as well.
While the company will release the animated feature “Raya and the Last Dragon” on premium video on-demand through Disney+ and in theaters at the same time, it doesn’t plan on making this a permanent box office strategy.
Disney executives said that they will remain flexible about future releases, but made sure to reiterate that titles like “Black Widow” and “Jungle Cruise” will head to theaters as planned.
The company revealed a number of new projects. Notably, Patty Jenkins will direct the previously untitled Star Wars film due out Christmas 2023. The film is called “Rogue Squadron.”
This will make Jenkins the first woman to direct a Star Wars feature film. Victoria Mahoney was the first woman on a Star Wars directing team, having worked as the second unit director for “The Rise of Skywalker.” Deborah Chow, who is helming the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series, also directed and episode of “The Mandalorian.”
Marvel added a few more titles to its packed slate including a “Fantastic Four” film.
Pixar will have two new movies coming in 2022. First is “Turning Red,” a movie about a young teenager that turns into a giant red panda every time she gets excited. The second is “Lightyear,” the story of Buzz Lightyear, the character that inspired the toy from “Toy Story.” Chris Evans stars as this new Buzz Lightyear.
As of Dec. 2, the company said it has 38.8 million Hulu subscribers and Hulu+ Live TV has 4 million paying subscribers, the fifth largest pay TV provider overall. Recently, the company raised the platform’s price to $65, up from $55.
After success of films like “Palm Springs,” “Run” and “Bad Hair,” Disney will use 20th Century Studios and Searchlight to create original movies exclusively for Hulu.
The platform will also be host to a show called “Only Murders in the Building” starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez as well as “The Dropout,” a show about Elizabeth Holmes starring Kate McKinnon.
There is also a limited series called “Dopesick” featuring Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson and Peter Sarsgaard.
David E. Kelley, the writer behind “Big Little Lies” and “Ally McBeal” is heading up a show called “Nine Perfect Strangers” for Hulu that stars Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy and Regina Hall.
The streaming platform will also have new seasons of “Ramy,” “The Great” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The Kardashian family, which are ending their show “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” in 2021 after season 20, will be coming to the platform, the company said. Kris, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie will create global content that will stream exclusively on Hulu in the U.S. This content is expected to debut in late 2021.
The FX channel, which has original content on Hulu, has granted “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has another four seasons and will have new shows called “The Old Man,” starring Jeff Bridges and “Reservation Dogs” from Taika Waititi.
FX will feature an “Alien” series based on the world of the “Alien” movie franchise. The platform will also have a show called “Shogun” based on the best-selling novel by James Clavell.
The company said it expects Hulu to have between 50 million and 60 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024. Disney also anticipates that Hulu will become profitable fiscal 2023.
On Thursday, the company said it had 11.5 million ESPN+ subscribers.
Disney has secured a deal with the SEC to add the Southeastern Conference to ESPN+ starting with the 2024 season. ABC will also become the home for Saturday afternoon games in 2024.
The company is also going to lean into sports betting in an effort to reach younger audiences.
The platform has also given Steve A. Smith getting his own ESPN+ show and is bringing back “Peyton’s Places” for a third season.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of CNBC.