That Baby Yoda magic is working: The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that its Netflix rival Disney+ had signed up 28.6 million subscribers as of yesterday, a hugely impressive number for a service that launched less than three months ago. What’s more, the decision to offer a bundle of Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ seems to have had a halo effect on those two more established services.
In a conference call with investors Tuesday, Disney said Hulu has surged to 30.7 million paid subscribers as of this week, representing stunning annual growth of about 35 percent from the end of 2018. Meanwhile, ESPN+ — which offers programming not available on the main ESPN — has jumped to 7.6 million subscribers, more than quadruple the 1.7 million subscribers it had in December 2018. Disney didn’t say how many of these new subscribers came as a result of its $12.99 bundle of Disney+, ad-supported Hulu, and ESPN+, but some reports suggest one in four of Hulu’s new subs at the end of 2019 signed up for the bundle. Hulu has also benefited from offering discount deals, some of which cut the cost of the service to as little as 99 cents per month for a limited time.
To be sure, it’s far too early to declare Disney+ a complete success. Disney told investors Tuesday about 20 percent of new Disney+ sign ups were the result of a deal with Verizon under which the wireless company pays Disney for the right to offer Disney+ to subscribers for free. Many of those customers could go away when they have to pay for the service on their own. (That’s perhaps why Disney today also said Disney+ will launch the new season of The Mandalorian next October, weeks before those free trials expire, while the new Marvel spin-off series WandaVision is set for a December release.)
But the good news for the company is that 70 percent of subscribers paid full price for the platform, suggesting plenty of interest among consumers. And fully half of all subscribers signed up directly with Disney, which means the company keeps all the revenue from them. At the very least, these early results suggest Disney’s massive marketing efforts — and that partnership with Verizon — have paid off in a big way.