Disney Firms Up Its Grip on Hulu; Now What?

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For all the noise that Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) generated around last week’s announcement of its Disney+ streaming service, the new streamer hasn’t done an awful lot to dent analysts’ confidence in the future of Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX). In our look this morning at what to expect when Netflix reports results after today’s close, we cited seven analysts’ Buy ratings and two Neutral ratings.

Disney stock is up about 11% since the announcement, and Netflix stock is down about 2%. For the year to date, however, Netflix is up 34% to Disney’s 19%. Over the past 12 months, Disney shares are up 30%, compared to a 17% gain for Netflix. For the past two years, Netflix is up more than 150%, while Disney’s shares have gained about 14%. Over the past five years, Netflix stock is up about 682%, slightly more than 10 times Disney’s share price advance.

Investors typically look at a pretty near horizon, so when the Disney+ service launches later this year, analysts will be looking closely at subscriber numbers for both Disney and Netflix. Will the $6.99 price for Disney+ steal Netflix subscribers who are about to get hit with a $2 per month price boost to $12.99?

Netflix is probably more worried about competition from live streaming gaming apps like Fortnite than it is from competition from either Disney+ or Hulu, which on Monday paid $1.43 billion to buy a 9.5% stake in the joint venture held by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and its Warner Media division. The sale values Hulu, which was 60% owned by Disney before the deal was announced, at $15 billion. Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA) through its NBCUniversal division, owns 30% of Hulu. Presumably, Disney and Comcast will divide the AT&T/Warner Media share on a pro-rata basis, but the companies have not announced such a split yet.

While Netflix may be top of mind at Disney, Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) Prime Video is also a force in the streaming video market. Can Disney take on both Amazon and Netflix? What about Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and its YouTube streaming service? Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) also has designs on boosting its video services.

It’s a crowded field, and Disney+ almost instantly becomes a major player given its catalog of everything from Mickey Mouse to the Avengers and Stars Wars franchises. Will Disney+ settle in as a larger House of Mouse with the occasional “PG-rated” offering? And what about Hulu? Is it set to become the “R-rated” piece of the Disney streaming empire?

Will Disney buy out Comcast? Can it afford to? Does it even need to?

A lot of questions and no quick answers. We’ll know by later today, though, what kind of quarter Netflix had and how many new subscribers it added. At the end of the current quarter, we’ll have some idea of how many subscribers it has lost due to its price hike. Could a Disney bundle that includes Hulu and ESPN+ cut into Netflix’s growth?

For what it’s worth, our view is that at $6.99 a month, Disney+ doesn’t cost enough to make most Netflix subscribers abandon the company for the new streaming service. It’s an add-on for some, but not a strong enough offering for many to ditch Netflix. Likewise, a Hulu-ESPN+ package doesn’t really threaten Netflix’s subscriber base. However, if Disney eventually decides to go all in and bundles Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN/ESPN+, that could be a different story.


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