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Disney Gets in Shouting Distance of Netflix with 146 Million OTT Subs

Disney-Pixar's 'Soul'
(Image credit: Disney)

It’s not easy running down a company with a $247 billion market capitalization and 203 million subscribers spread all over the globe.

But The Walt Disney Company showed during its Q4/full-2020 earnings report Thursday that it is the closest among all U.S. companies competing with Netflix to rivaling the leader’s massive scale.

Also read: Disney Plus Subs Rise to 94.9 Million as Profit Drops

The company said that Disney Plus finished 2020 with 94.9 million paid subscribers, all amassed in just under 14 months. Combined with Hulu’s 38.4 million users and 12.1 million ESPN Plus subscribers, Disney now has 146.4 million paid OTT customers worldwide. 

The level Netflix has reached isn't just a number. It's important to remember that Netflix had to surpass 200 million subscribers globally, each spending at least $11 a month, to reach sustainable free cash flow.

OK, agree--Disney still faces a large chasm to get there--not just in subscribers, but in revenue. Disney only charges $6.99 a month for Disney Plus, less in other parts of the world, and it still trails Netflix by nearly 60 million customers. But it's notable that Disney has amassed nearly 150 million paid streaming customers relatively quickly. And no other company besides Disney (market cap $346 billion), save for Amazon, seems close at this point to being able to hoist even remotely symmetrical scale.

Ranking the major U.S. subscription streaming providers is challenging, since their business models are so different, and not all of them report their customer metrics. 

Amazon has, according to Ampere Analysis, around 140.7 million Prime members worldwide. But it’s unclear as to how many of them regularly tap into the Prime Video portion of the business, and rather use Prime for its, er, prime perk—free shipping of Amazon products.

Likewise, Apple hasn’t reported a paid subscriber number for its 14-month-old SVOD service, Apple TV Plus. Ampere estimates that around 42.6 million users worldwide have access to Apple TV Plus, most of them promotionally following the purchase of an Apple computer, tablet or phone.

WarnerMedia has around 140 million HBO subscribers globally, but it reported that only 17.2 million U.S. subscribers had signed onto its new HBO Max streaming service as of the end of 2020. If WarnerMedia, which is about to embark on a major Latin American rollout of Max, can convert the majority of that global user base, its scale will certainly look better. 

NBCUniversal, meanwhile, said that its Peacock service, which combines AVOD and SVOD tiers, had 33 million signups as of the end of the fourth quarter. But The Information said earlier this week that Peacock only has around 11.3 million U.S. households using it regularly. 

Major U.S. SVOD companies

(Image credit: Future)