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Disney plans massive expansion of content as Disney+ subscriber numbers smash forecasts


Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) has unveiled plans to massively expand its production of new content after subscriber numbers for its recently launched Disney+ streaming platform shot past its forecasts.

At an investor day on Thursday, the media giant said over the next few years it is planning to release 10 series under its Star Wars brand as well as another 10 series under its Marvel property. Other projects in the pipeline include new Peter Pan and Pinocchio films which will be released directly on Disney+ rather than in cinemas, following a similar move announced last week by rival Warner Brothers to release 17 movies on its HBO Max streaming platform.

READ: Disney increases planned layoffs as pandemic hits theme parks

Disney said the content bonanza will result in production costs rising to between US$8bn-US$9bn over the next four years, resulting in operating losses for that period. However, the firm also said it will be increasing the subscription cost of Disney+ and its other streaming bundles from March next year to help offset the cost.

Meanwhile, a new free-tier Disney+ streaming service, called Star, is expected to launch in Europe, Canada and New Zealand in February while Star Plus, a streaming service comprised of Disney and ESPN content, is scheduled to debut in Latin America in June.

The massive slate of new content came as Disney said the Disney+ platform has amassed 86.8mln subscribers as of December 2, well ahead of estimates since its launch around a year ago. As a result, the company said it now expects that figure to expand to between 230mln-260mln by 2024, up from previous estimates of 60mln-90mln.

Meanwhile, Disney estimated that the paid subscriber base for its entire streaming operation, which includes Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, is expected to grow to 300mln-350mln by 2024.

“The tremendous success we’ve achieved across our unique portfolio of streaming services…has bolstered our confidence in our acceleration toward a [direct to consumer]-first business model”, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek said in a statement.

 “With our amazing creative teams and our ever-growing collection of the high-quality branded entertainment that consumers want, we believe we are incredibly well positioned to achieve our long-term goals”, he added.

Despite the breakneck pace of growth in its streaming service, Disney is still trailing behind its more established rival, Netflix Inc (NASDAQ:NFLX), which worldwide has around 200mln users signed up to its platform.

However, if the rate of growth can be sustained Disney may be able to outstrip its competitor as it leans more heavily on its arsenal of well-known brands and characters.

Shares in Disney were up 8.1% at US$167.25 in pre-market trading in New York on Friday.

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