Disney+ subscriber growth slowed notably in latest quarter, putting pressure on the company.

Disney is beginning a new marketing blitz to promote its all-important streaming service.


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Disney+ subscriber growth slowed notably in latest quarter, putting pressure on the company.

Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, had tried to prepare investors for weak Disney+ growth.Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated Press

Nov. 10, 2021, 4:26 p.m. ET

Disney+ needs to get hot again.

Disney may be the world’s largest entertainment company, with vast theme park, sports television and consumer products divisions, but the only business that has come to matter in Wall Street’s punishing gaze is streaming — specifically “subs,” or the number of subscribers. And Disney+ has started to lag.

On Wednesday, Disney said that its flagship streaming service had added 2.1 million subscriptions in the recent quarter, sharply fewer than analysts polled by FactSet had forecast. After a dazzling introduction in late 2019, Disney+ has encountered numerous headwinds, including a pandemic-related shortage of new shows, an increasingly competitive streaming environment, the delay of Indian Premier League cricket games and difficulties rolling out in Latin America.

The new membership additions bring the Disney+ worldwide paid base to 118.1 million. Disney+ added 12.4 million subscribers in the previous quarter, resulting in total membership of 116 million as of June 27. Slower growth is a concern because it makes it harder for Disney+ to achieve the 230 million to 260 million paid subscribers promised by the company by the end of the 2024 fiscal year.

Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, had tried to prepare investors for weak Disney+ growth in the quarter. Speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor conference in September, he said subscriber rates would be in the “low single digits of millions,” by far the slowest increase to date. Mr. Chapek has also emphasized that Disney is new to streaming and thus learning about subscriber behavior. “We’re finding out there’s tremendous seasonality in this business that we may not have known about before we really got into it,” he said in August on an earnings-related conference call.

Some analysts pared their expectations. Others appeared to disregard Mr. Chapek’s remarks. FactSet’s poll revealed a projected increase of about 10 million subscribers, to 126 million.

Disney shares declined over 4 percent in after-hours trading on Wednesday.

In a sign of the pressure, Disney has been marshaling its considerable marketing resources to refocus attention on Disney+. On Monday, the company announced a one-week discount: Those who subscribe by Nov. 14 will receive one month for $2, followed by the regular rate of $8. On Friday, deemed Disney+ Day by the company, a crush of content will arrive on the service, including a Billie Eilish documentary, new Marvel specials and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” There are marketing tie-ins at Disney parks. Disney television networks like ESPN and ABC are also promoting the service.

Some analysts have started to worry that Disney+ will need to broaden its content offerings to reach its growth goals. The service has no R-rated material and has mostly been relying on exclusive Marvel and “Star Wars” shows, including “Loki,” “WandaVision,” “The Mandalorian” and the coming “Book of Boba Fett.”

Some animated films that were originally supposed to play in theaters — for instance, “Luca” and “Soul,” both from Pixar — were rerouted to Disney+ entirely during the pandemic. But Disney has ended that practice, at least for the time being.

“Encanto,” an animated musical set in the mountains of Colombia, will arrive in theaters on Nov. 24 and on Disney+ a month later. The company views “Encanto” as a crucial test. Will most families rush out to theaters to see it (especially now that children can be vaccinated), ultimately denting demand online? Or will they instead wait for the Disney+ debut, resulting in lower-than-expected box office sales?

Or will the film generate sizable interest in both venues? Disney is crossing its fingers.

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