Disney (NYSE: DIS) reported its fiscal first-quarter results last week, and the beats on profits and revenue were both worth applauding. But the media powerhouse is in the midst of some aggressive moves into the world of streaming, and while those can hardly avoid making a splash, what remains unclear is how well they will make a profit.
In this segment from MarketFoolery, host Chris Hill and Head of Motley Fool Asia David Kretzmann discuss the streaming subscriber growth of ESPN+ and the methods the company has been using to lure customers in; the surprising delay of the Disney+ launch; and the costs involved with that big push into streaming, from the lost Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) revenue to the hefty expense of churning out fresh original content for its own streaming platforms. They also consider at least one area investors can feel optimistic about: Disney's movie studios.
A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on Feb. 6, 2019.
Chris Hill: Walt Disney Company's profits and revenue both came in higher than expected in the first quarter. You tell me what your headline is. One thing that's getting a lot of attention is the number of subscribers that Disney has for the ESPN+ streaming app.
David Kretzmann: Yeah, ESPN+ fits into this new direct-to-consumer strategy. Now, they're even breaking it out as a direct-to-consumer segment. It includes their new direct-to-consumer streaming offerings, the theme parks. That's a direction Disney should be moving. ESPN+ has been their first foray specifically from Disney. They've also had that stake in Hulu; now it's a bigger stake.
Obviously, for me, I think we all should be watching Disney+, which is getting kicked down the road. Later in 2019, they're going to debut some of the original content for it and some of the features at an investor presentation in April. I was anticipating Disney+, which is their direct-to-consumer streaming offering, to launch earlier in 2019. I was expecting that they would be ready to go as soon as they pulled that content off of Netflix, which happened at the end of last year, that they'd be ready to launch that. But it's like, "What? Seriously? You're waiting until the end of the year?" That's a head-scratcher for me.
Hill: You're not the only one!
Kretzmann: [laughs] I know you and Emily talked about it yesterday.
Hill: Emily and I talked about this. You're absolutely not the only one who's looking at that and saying, "OK?" Just to give a little bit more context, this is not the first delay that we've seen for this project for Disney. Look, I'm a longtime shareholder, so I'm willing to continue to be patient. I want them to get it right. If they get it right, then a year from now, two, three years from now, nobody's really going to care all that much that it came later in 2019 as opposed to earlier. But they really had better get it right.
The ESPN+ streaming numbers, I feel like you could argue either way on the success of that. On the one hand, it launched last April, they've doubled the number of subscribers. They're up to 2 million subscribers. That's nothing to sneeze at. On the other hand, it's hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction to immediately compare that to Netflix subscribers and say, "OK, 2 million subscribers."
Kretzmann: What's the price point on ESPN+? Are you a subscriber?
Hill: I'm not.
Kretzmann: Me neither.
Hill: I'm pretty sure it's single digits.
Kretzmann: Yeah, I feel like low to mid-single digits.
Hill: Yeah, like $6.99 a month, maybe. For some reason, that number sticks in my head. I'm sure there's at least one listener right now who's yelling at his or her phone, saying, "No!"
Kretzmann: "You guys should know this!"
Hill: One thing that they have done, I think pretty effectively, and it'll be interesting to see if they continue to do this, is that they've pulled some pretty nice promotional levers to get people into the ESPN+ streaming app. I think that the bet that they're making there is a smart one, which is essentially, "Look, if we get people to try this, we feel like the experience is going to be good enough that they're going to stick with it. And then, we get that recurring revenue month after month." It's not a bad approach. When you think about all of the sporting events that they've got under their umbrella, there are a lot of levers they can pull there.
Kretzmann: Yeah. An optimist would look at it -- and I put myself in that camp. I'm with you, I'm a shareholder. I've been a little disappointed of the pace of the change here. [laughs] I feel like they're moving in the right direction with this focus on direct-to-consumer. It's like, OK, with ESPN+, you have a couple of million subscribers. It's a much lower price point compared to Netflix. But ESPN+ is also more of a niche offering. Along with that, Disney+ should have a much wider array of content. Once Disney+ comes, that'll be able to be offered at a higher price point. I would hope within a couple of quarters, you'd be able to get to 2 million subscribers with Disney+.
Disney is being squeezed a bit now because they're no longer getting the licensing fees from Netflix for the content that they had on Netflix. That's $150 million that Disney isn't getting right now. In the meantime, they're also investing in original content for Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+. They're going to be squeezed on an earnings level throughout 2019.
Now, from a long-term perspective, these are absolutely the investments they need to make. But as a shareholder, you do have to be aware that this isn't going to be a year of earnings growth for Disney. 2019 will be a year of reinvesting back in the business, reinvesting particularly in these direct-to-consumer offerings.
I was just surprised. I feel like by now, they would at least have a launch date ready for Disney+. But they're still being very ambiguous with that. Like you said, they do need to get it right. Even if they do push this back further, the content is so strong and compelling there that they will be able to attract people, but I would hope that they would be able to do it sooner. Keep in mind, Netflix launched the online streaming in January 2007. Disney has been very slow here. But, better to be slow and get it right than rush it out and botch the tech, botch the content. For me, that'll be the main thing to watch through the rest of the year.
Hill: It will be interesting to see at that investor day in April when they're unveiling some of the content if they also choose to share the launch date then, assuming they have it by then.
One other thing. This is getting a little bit in the weeds. The stock is basically flat today, as it's been basically for the last 12 months. It's in that $105 to $115 range that it's been in for a while now. I think you're right, this is going to be a year of investment for them. But, also worth noting that movie studio revenue for this quarter down compared to the previous year, because the previous year had a Star Wars movie, had Thor Ragnarok. You think about what's coming in the last three months of 2019, what's going to be baked into the earnings report in terms of the movie studios 12 months from now -- you're going to have another Star Wars movie. If they had a tough comp this time around, 12 months from now, it's going to be an easy comp, and I'd go ahead right now and bet on them to beat that.
Kretzmann: Yeah, this should be a strong year for movies. We have the live-action Lion King coming out this summer, we have Star Wars in December, and that's just a fraction of the names.
Hill: Yeah, two Avengers movies coming in the next couple of months.
Kretzmann: Those will probably do all right.
Hill: Yeah, they'll do fine.
Chris Hill owns shares of Walt Disney. David Kretzmann owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.