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Disney's Revised Subscriber Numbers Reveal Soaring Growth

November has been quite a month for Disney (NYSE: DIS). The media powerhouse couldn't have asked for a better start for its streaming service Disney+, which bolted out of the gate with more streaming viewers than many had expected. This follows on the growing success of the company's other two over-the-top platforms: Hulu and ESPN+. 

In a recent regulatory filing, the House of Mouse has provided updates on its subscriber numbers, which show that Disney is on track to achieve its long-term direct-to-consumer goals. Let's recap the growth stats of the services and see what that means for investors.

The Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu logos side by side

Image source: Disney.

ESPN+ continues its speedy growth

Disney's first foray into streaming was ESPN+, the companion service to its flagship cable sports network. The service launched in April 2018 and grew to more than 1 million subscribers just six months later. By February, 2019 -- less than a year after its debut -- ESPN+ had eclipsed more than 2 million paying customers. In a regulatory filing, Disney said ESPN+ closed out fiscal 2019 (which ended Sept. 28) with about 3 million subscribers. By the time of its fourth-quarter conference call earlier this month, Disney CEO Bob Iger said, "I'm pleased to announce that as of today, ESPN Plus has over 3.5 million paid subscribers."

To put that into the perspective of the company's aspirations for the service, Disney said during its investor day in April that it planned to grow ESPN+ to between 8 million and 12 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024. At this rate, the company should be on track to surpass that goal ahead of schedule. 

Hulu's not doing so bad, either

When Disney acquired certain assets from Fox, it became the majority shareholder of Hulu. The company reached a deal with Comcast in May that gave Disney full operational control of the popular streaming incumbent. Hulu added 8 million new subscribers in 2018, an increase of 48% year over year, bringing the total to 25 million. At the Hulu '19 presentation in May, the number had climbed to 26.8 million. In Disney's just-released 10K, the company revealed that Hulu's paid subscribers had grown to 29 million to close out September. 

Hulu's subscriber growth will probably get a boost from Disney's decision to bundle ESPN+, Hulu, and Disney+ for a generous monthly discount.

Disney previously said that its goal for Hulu was to hit 40 million to 60 million subscribers to close out 2024, which seems to be within within striking distance. 

Disney+ soared out of the gate

For those who haven't been following along at home, Disney+ debuted on Nov. 12 to rave reviews, despite some initial technical difficulties. The company announced that the nascent streaming service had topped 10 million sign-ups (including free trials) on its first day of operations. Disney also said it wouldn't provide updates except during its quarterly earnings releases.

During its investor day in April, Disney said it's shooting for between 60 million and 90 million subscribers worldwide by fiscal 2024. It's unclear how many of those sign-ups will convert to paid subscriptions, and Disney+ still has a way to go. 

A trifecta of streaming services

It's important to note that Disney is forecasting peak losses for its streaming services over the next several years, but if the company can achieve its subscriber goals, Disney expects Hulu and ESPN+ to be profitable by as early as 2023, and Disney+ to be in the black by 2024. At its current rate of growth, it could surpass those benchmarks earlier than expected.

In a very short time, Disney has accumulated 42.5 million viewers among its three streaming services, including those on the free trial period for Disney+. To put that that number into perspective, industry-leader Netflix debuted its current video-over-the-internet model in 2007, but it didn't boast that many streaming customers until early 2014 -- a full seven years later. The world is obviously more streaming-centric than it was five years ago, and the technology has evolved, but this is still a remarkable achievement by Disney and bodes well for its direct-to-consumer ambitions.

In five years -- if not sooner -- Disney will likely have a thriving and profitable streaming business, which will ultimately benefit shareholders.

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Danny Vena owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short January 2020 $130 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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