Part razzle dazzle, part corporate flex, the Walt Disney Company’s four hour-long investor day presentation unleashed a torrent of announcements, including a slew of upcoming “Star Wars,” Marvel and Pixar series, and news that Disney Plus had surpassed 86 million subscribers.
For fans, the message was clear: Make room in your wallets for a Disney streaming service, whether that’s Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, Hulu (now with more FX!), or for those outside of the U.S., Star and Star Plus.
The conglomerate’s message to the rest of Hollywood? Disney’s position as a leading, global streaming service force will be, as “Avengers” villain Thanos put it, inevitable.
As a clear mark of how much it intends to plow into its series and films amid a direct-to-consumer push, the company declared plans to spend $8 billion to $9 billion on Disney Plus content through that same time frame. It expects to spend $14 billion to $16 billion on global direct-to-consumer expenses — across Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus — through fiscal 2024.
Disney also supercharged its subscriber projections for Disney Plus to a whopping 230 million to 260 million paid subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024, up from prior forecasts for 60 million to 90 million at its last investor day. Hulu is now expected to garner 50 million to 60 million subscribers in that period, narrowed from prior estimates for 40 million to 60 million. And ESPN Plus is now projected to bring in 20 million to 30 million subscribers, up from a prior forecast of 8 million to 12 million.
As Disney restructures its media and entertainment businesses to better point all of its creative artillery at creating a robust pipeline of shows and movies for its streaming services, it is aggressively ramping up production plans. Disney executive chairman Bob Iger, who stepped down as CEO nine months ago and transitioned to a new role overseeing content creation, said that the focus remains quality over quantity.
“The single most effective way to grow our subscriber base is with great content,” said Iger in the virtual webcast, which featured executive after executive announcing new projects. “And as we increase our output, the emphasis will always be on quality, not volume. Quality holds its value. And that has been our mantra for as long as we’ve been telling stories.”
The comment seemed to be a not-so-subtle dig at Netflix, the leading streaming service in the U.S. that has grown to 195.2 million global subscribers since its inception more than a decade ago, and has since taken an apparent high-volume approach.
Disney is targeting the release of 100 plus new titles per year across all of its brands, with plans to bulk up its Disney Plus library as well.
“Production values, and talent for our streaming content, both in front of and behind the camera, are on par with our theatrical releases,” Iger added. “Truly the only difference between these and our feature films is length.”
Among the many, many announcements made Thursday:
- Disney Plus now has 86.8 million paid subscribers as of Dec. 2, up from 73.7 million just two months earlier
- Patty Jenkins will direct “Star Wars” feature film “Rogue Squadron”
- Among the many premiere dates announced. “Black Panther II” will debut theatrically on July 8, 2022, and will not re-cast the role played by the late Chadwick Boseman
- “Star Wars” spinoff series on Ahsoka Tano and “Rangers of the New Republic” are headed for Disney Plus, as are Diego Luna starrer “Andor” and animated “The Bad Batch”
- Hayden Christensen will reprise his role as Darth Vader in “Obi-Wan Kenobi”
- “Raya and the Last Dragon” will premiere on Disney Plus for $30 premier access on the same day it is released in movie theaters
- A “Moana” TV series is coming to Disney Plus in 2023; animated series “Tiana,” “Zootopia,” and “Baymax” are also set for the service
- Lin-Manuel Miranda will write music for Disney Animation’s “Encanto,” a musical comedy feature
- ESPN won the rights to SEC sports from CBS in a 10-year deal
- FX has an “Alien” series in the works from Noah Hawley
- “Dug Days,” an “Up” spinoff series, premieres on Disney Plus in the fall of 2021, while a “Cars” spinoff series will debut in 2022
- Chris Evans is voicing Buzz Lightyear in an upcoming Pixar feature