Disney Sees ‘Modest’ Subscriber Improvement in Fiscal Q1

Subscriber losses at The Walt Disney Co. were about 3% for fiscal Q1, a “modest” improvement over the previous quarter and driven largely by deals the programmer has struck with emerging digital multichannel video programming distributors.

Disney has taken it on the chin over the past few years over subscriber losses, particularly at its ESPN sports network, once thought to be a must-have channel for distributors.

On a conference call with analysts to discuss FYQ1 results, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said subscriber losses were rounded up to 3% in Q1, representing a slight improvement over FYQ4.

ESPN had been expected to improve its subscriber erosion largely due to new carriage deals, which in some instances include a step-up in the mandatory minimum carriage requirements for the networks.

On the conference call, Iger said there is another factor at play.     

“We’re noticing that people are coming into the multichannel world that were previously considered to be cord-nevers,” Iger said. “Clearly the lower price, the fewer channels and the more mobile-first and improved user experience are all having an impact on attracting new consumers. We believe the trends in terms of growth in the new over-the-top or digital platforms will continue and hopefully they’ll continue to offset – because the growth is getting compelling – the losses on the traditional side.”

Disney is going all-in on digital delivery of content. It is planning to drastically alter its ESPN app and its planned direct-to-consumer offering ESPN Plus, slated for a spring release, will include thousands of hours of additional live sports content and original programming for $4.99 per month. ESPN Plus will be available through the ESPN app, which will also include highly personalized scores, highlights and podcasts as well as access to live streams of all of ESPN’s networks.