The Walt Disney Company reported the addition of around 11.2 ESPN Plus subscribers in 2021, offsetting the loss of around 8 million linear ESPN customers in the pay TV ecosystem.
Disney has around 76 million subscribers still taking linear ESPN and around 17 million ESPN Plus subscribers.
The data comes courtesy of Disney's full-year 2020 report to the Securities Exchange Commission Wednesday. And it reveals a media conglomerate that seems to be successfully transitioning its customer base away from linear networks and toward direct-to-consumer streaming.
But this is all coming at substantial cost.
Disney said in the report that it projects to spend $33 billion in 2022 licensing and producing content -- everything from its expensive deals with sports leagues including the NFL, to producing Marvel- and Star Wars-themed TV shows for Disney Plus.
Disney said it spent $25 billion on content in the fiscal year ending Oct. 2.
The competitive imperative to feed platforms including Disney Plus and Hulu with original content is, of course, a major driver of this cost increase. And the bills are coming at a tough time.
The pandemic has badly hurt business areas including Disney's parks, experiences and products segment, which saw sales dip $10 billion in 2021 to $17 billion.
In the meantime, Disney not only needs to spend more on the stuff that goes on the screen, it has an agreement approaching with Comcast and NBCUniversal, in which Disney will need to pay a minimum of $9 billion to secure the last outstanding stake in Hulu. That agreement comes due in 2024.
Earlier than that, though, starting next September, Major League Baseball can offload its share in streaming tech outfit BAMTech for at least $820 million.
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