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Disney+ success is crucial to Disney's future, Bob Iger has made clear

Daniel Roberts

Disney+ launched on Tuesday, and it is a huge financial bet for the Walt Disney Company.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said back in February that direct-to-consumer (in other words, streaming apps) is now the company’s “number one priority,” and he meant it. Disney+ is to thank (or blame) for a drop in Disney’s Q4 2019 profit: $1.07 per share, down 28% from Q4 2018, due to increased investments in the direct-to-consumer division.

Some of the original Marvel shows exclusive to Disney+ (like “WandaVision” and “Hawkeye”) cost $25 million per episode to make, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That dwarfs the $15 million per episode that Apple reportedly spent on “The Morning Show.”

Hulu, which is now fully Disney controlled, has 28 million subscribers, ESPN+ has 3.5 million, and both still lose money; Disney is offering a bundle of Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu with ads for $12.99 per month. MoffettNathanson does not expect Disney’s trio of streaming services to be profitable until 2024.

Disney is shooting for 60 million to 90 million Disney+ subscribers by 2024. And Wedbush analyst Dan Ives says, “That's very conservative. I think they can reach that two years early."

(Day 1 of Disney+ got off to a rocky start, with many Android users saying the app was down for them.)

CEO and chairman of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Disney first announced the coming launches of ESPN+ and Disney+ (though it did not give the service a name at the time) on an earnings call in August 2017. In his new book “The Ride of a Lifetime,” Iger says that announcement “marked the beginning of the reinvention of the Walt Disney Company. We would continue supporting our television channels in the traditional space, for as long as they continued to generate decent returns, and we would continue to present our films on big screens in movie theaters... but we were now fully committed to also becoming a distributor of our own content, straight to consumers, without intermediaries. In essence, we were now hastening the disruption of our own businesses, and the short-term losses were going to be significant.”

In other words, Disney is asking its shareholders to allow years of higher costs and lower profitability for future streaming dominance down the road. That means the quality of the original programming on Disney+ absolutely must be good. With the sheer volume of Marvel shows and movies coming to Disney+, the company is truly testing the limits of the superhero trend.

But “The Mandalorian,” especially—an original “Star Wars” spinoff show exclusive to the app—has more pressure on it than anything else on Disney+. (It is the only show that was kept off the app in the last few weeks when entertainment media members were given early login access.)

Iger told Businessweek he has watched every episode of “The Mandalorian” three times for quality control.

Daniel Roberts is a senior writer and show host at Yahoo Finance and closely covers Disney. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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