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Disney lowers Disney+ Hotstar subscriber target amid uncertainty in India

The loss of streaming rights to Indian Premiere League cricket has spurred the Walt Disney Co. to lower its subscriber target for its Disney+ Hotstar service in India.

Christine McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer, disclosed the new guidance Wednesday during the company’s fiscal third quarter earnings conference call with Wall Street analysts. McCarthy also revealed that Disney will now offer subscriber updates and target predictions for Disney+ Hotstar that are separated out from Disney+, in part because Disney+ Hotstar is a different service that includes sports rights and other content not found on Disney+ in other territories.

With the warning about a slowdown in India, Disney adjusted its global subscriber target for Disney+ in total to an implied a downward revision to 215 million to 245 million global subscribers by the end of its fiscal year 2024, or the end of September 2024. That’s down from 230 million to 260 million previously stated and affirmed by Disney management just last quarter.

As of the quarter that ended July 2, the total Disney+ tally, including Disney+ Hotstar, stood at 152.1 million subscribers, while Disney+ Hotstar alone has 58.4 million subscribers. On Wednesday, Disney disclosed its target for Disney+ Hotstar service by the end of fiscal 2024 was revised downward to “up to 80 million subscribers,” which doesn’t leave a lot of room growth in one of the world’s most populous markets. However, McCarthy suggested that Disney was being conservative and would reassess its India prospects after the dust has settled on the latest round of sports rights deals.

“We intend to refine this target over time,” McCarthy said.

Disney also stated that the target for core Disney+ subscribers (not including Disney+ Hotstar) remains in the ballpark of previous forecasts of 135 million to 165 million by the close of fiscal 2024. And Disney also reaffirmed its timeline for Disney+ to achieve profitability by fiscal 2024. McCarthy also reminded analysts that Disney’s fiscal 2022 is to be the year of peak losses for Disney+. Programming and production costs for Disney+ for the quarter were $1.9 billion, up 11% from the year-ago frame.

Disney’s total cash outlay on content costs for fiscal 2022 will come in slightly lower than previously forecast, at around $30 billion, in part because of timing changes for anticipated costs, McCarthy said. Over the next few years, Disney’s total content spend bill should hover in “the low 30s.”

With growth slowing significantly in the U.S., the company is sure to face new scrutiny as it crunches the numbers on long-term forecasts and the returns on all the pricey premium content produced for Disney+ and Hulu. Disney reported Wednesday that its streaming platforms combined — Disney+, ESPN+, which has 22.8 million subs, and Hulu (46.2 million) — now have a total of 221 million global subscribers. That’s in the same ballpark of Netflix’s tally as of Q2 2022 (220.7 million), which means Disney CEO Bob Chapek will be pressed on where

McCarthy emphasized the discipline that Disney demonstrated in not upping its bid to renew streaming rights to IPL matches that have been a cornerstone of Hotstar. In June, Disney was outbid for the sought-after streaming rights by rival Indian streaming group Viacom18 although it retained linear rights for the Hotstar platform.

The Disney+ Hotstar streamer debuted in April 2020 on the heels of the Disney+ launch in the U.S. in November 2019. The existing Hotstar service came into the Disney family through its 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Variety

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