April 15, 2019

Breakingviews: Mickey Mouse throws down a tiny white glove

by Breakingviews.

No more Mr. Nice Mouse. Walt Disney is launching its flagship video-streaming product in November, and in order to attract a boatload of subscribers, it’s going to be cheap. Competitors will come out swinging. And Bob Iger, the media giant’s chief executive, may not stick around to see how it all pans out.

Disney took the wraps off its highly anticipated Disney Plus on Thursday during a three hour-plus investor event. When the price point of $7 per month was revealed, there was a gasp in the audience. It’s half what Netflix costs, more or less.

Even without that sucker punch, no other media firm in the world has the same brand recognition as Disney. Movie franchises like Marvel and “Star Wars” will be available on Disney Plus, and thanks to the $71 billion acquisition of parts of Fox, all 30 seasons of “The Simpsons.” Disney shares hit an all-time high on Friday morning at about $128 a piece, valuing the company at about $230 billion.

True, the service is a little confusing. Disney Plus is one of several brands the Magic Kingdom is pitching as consumer products that may or may not come with a bundled option, including ESPN Plus and Hulu, in which Disney owns 60 percent.

But Iger has bold targets nonetheless. Disney wants 60 million to 90 million global subscribers in about five years. Additionally, Disney Plus should be profitable around the same timeframe. The question is what happens if rivals just drop their prices too. Think of the telecom wars among Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile US and Sprint. Netflix surprised investors before by putting its prices up. They could come down.

Finally, Iger confirmed that he will leave in 2021 after his contract is up. He’s made such assurances before, but perhaps this time he will keep his word. That leaves open the possibility that if the streaming service fails to live up to expectations, it’s someone else who has their tail between their legs.

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