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Disney’s Direct-To-Consumer Effort Is Not Coming Cheap

Disney’s direct-to-consumer initiatives are the company’s top priority, but it’s going to cost some serious dough to make its vision go.

The Walt Disney Co., which recently reorganized its corporate structure to provide more transparency into its OTT and DTC business, said losses for its direct-to-consumer and international business segment for fiscal Q1 totaled $136 million, widened from a year-ago loss there of $42 million.

“DTC remains our number one priority,” Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, said on Tuesday’s earnings call.

Though Disney’s OTT efforts aren’t close to profitable as it moves ahead on plans to launch Disney+ later this year, some of its early efforts are growing.

ESPN+, the DTC OTT sports service launched in April 2018, has about 2 million paid subs, double the number from just five months ago.

Iger didn’t go into much more additional detail about the plans for Disney+ Tuesday but reiterated that the company will demo the service and showcase some of the programmings it will offer at Disney’s investor day on April 11. Disney is expected to spend $500 million on original programming for Disney+ in 2019, Variety reported, citing estimates from RBC Capital Markets.

Disney will be using the same streaming technology platform (largely from what it got from its deal for BAMTech) to power its OTT services, but Iger believes that the brands and content tied to those services such as Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm (and what it will get from the still pending deal for Fox) will help Disney breakthrough from the “competitive clutter.”

BAMTech “is an extremely robust platform” that can bring scale to live streaming as well as customer transactions, Iger said, noting that the system was able to handle just under 15,000 transactions a minute for ESPN+ for a recent UFC fight. “The stability of the platform is critical for times like that.”

Disney expects the ongoing ramp-up of ESPN+ and Disney+ to have a $200 million adverse impact on operating income in Q2, with two-thirds of that attributable to ESPN+, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said.

Iger believes that the costs associated with Disney’s DTC efforts will pay off and that Disney will come out of it stronger than it would have without those investments.

“This is a bet on the future of our business,” he said. “What we’re trying to do here is invest in our future.”

Iger also shed some light on Hulu, which is still operating at a loss, though those losses are being largely been offset by the service’s revenue streams (subscriptions, program sales, affiliate and ad revenues). Disney owns 30% of Hulu now, and will own 60% of it when its proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox closes.

“The goal, obviously, is to operate Hulu profitably,” Iger said, but wouldn’t say how long that might take as the timing could shift as Disney looks at possibly introducing Hulu into global markets.

For fiscal Q2, Disney posted total revenues of $15.30 billion, flat year-on-year, and net income of $2.78 billion, down 37%. Direct-to-consumer and international revenues were $918 million, down from $931 million in the year-ago period.―Light Reading

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