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Disney+ to get flood of new shows as subscriptions soar

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 13, 2019 the Disney+ logo is seen on the backdrop for the World Premiere of The Mandalorian at El Capitan theatre in Hollywood. - Disney December 10, 2020 announced a new Star Wars film from the director of Wonder Woman and several new TV series within the sci-fi franchise, including two spin-offs from the creators of The Mandalorian and the return of Lando Calrissian. (Photo by Nick Agro / AFP) (AFP)Premium
(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 13, 2019 the Disney+ logo is seen on the backdrop for the World Premiere of The Mandalorian at El Capitan theatre in Hollywood. - Disney December 10, 2020 announced a new Star Wars film from the director of Wonder Woman and several new TV series within the sci-fi franchise, including two spin-offs from the creators of The Mandalorian and the return of Lando Calrissian. (Photo by Nick Agro / AFP) (AFP)

Walt Disney Co. issued a bold forecast for its new streaming services, projecting a Netflix-like trajectory that could bring the company as many as 350 million subscribers worldwide by 2024 thanks to an onslaught of programming from Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar.

Walt Disney Co. issued a bold forecast for its new streaming services, projecting a Netflix-like trajectory that could bring the company as many as 350 million subscribers worldwide by 2024 thanks to an onslaught of programming from Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar.

In a presentation to investors Thursday, the world’s largest entertainment company outlined plans for dozens of new movies and TV shows from those major brands, with an eye toward becoming a streaming behemoth in four years. The company expects its program spending to reach $14 billion to $16 billion annually by then.

Also read: Why Hollywood studios’ romance for Bollywood has prematurely soured

Disney+, the entertainment giant’s flagship streaming platform, also is getting a price hike. The U.S. monthly rate will climb $1 to $8 in a move that executives telegraphed earlier this year. In Europe, the price will rise 29% to 9 euros ($11) a month, although there it is getting additional content aimed at adults.

“The enormous success of Disney+ inspired us to be even more ambitious," Executive Chairman Bob Iger said at the event. “Our pipeline is much more robust than we initially anticipated," he said, adding that the Disney+ cadence should soon hit 100 new titles per year.

Disney, like other Hollywood studios, is reorienting its film and TV business toward home entertainment, and has leapfrogged many competitors with its fast subscriber growth. Yet with its new subscriber goals -- including hopes for as many as 260 million Disney+ customers -- the company would surpass where industry pioneer Netflix Inc. is today.

Shares of Disney rose as much as 4.7% to $162 in extended trading. If that holds in trading Friday, it would mark an all-time high for the stock, which has about doubled since March on the strength of the streaming business.

As part of the presentation, Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek said Disney+ has soared past 86.8 million subscribers in a little over a year. The company closed the last quarter with almost 74 million.

Disney executives, including new distribution head Kareem Daniel, outlined aggressive plans to stock the Disney+ service with new programming to keep the subscriber pipeline growing over the next few years. The Covid-19 pandemic forced many Hollywood studios to slow production this year.

‘Last Dragon’

Future plans include 10 series from the Marvel division, 10 Star Wars TV series, and another 15 programs from Disney live action, Disney animation and Pixar.

The programming slate also includes feature-length films, such as the Disney animation picture “Raya and the Last Dragon," which will debut on Disney+ at the same time as in theaters.

Chapek said that 80% of projects are now headed to streaming, rather than the big screen. But the company’s biggest films will be saved for theaters exclusively at first. That includes movies such as “Black Widow," a Marvel film slated for May.

While Disney is sending several films, including a live-action “Pinocchio" starring Tom Hanks, directly to its streaming service, theaters owners may breathe a sign of relief that many pictures -- such as an upcoming Indiana Jones feature with Harrison Ford and a new Star Wars, which will be directed by Patty Jenkins -- will still go cinemas.

As the longtime king of the box office, Disney has been careful not to alienate theater chains -- even as it sends more movies directly to streaming. AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros. shook up Hollywood last week with its decision to make its entire 2021 slate of 17 movies available on HBO Max the same day they open in theaters. The decision angered many in the industry, including “Tenet" director Christopher Nolan, who said the studio doesn’t “understand what they’re losing."

Sports Deals

Hulu, the more adult-oriented streaming service, has added 2.2 million subscribers since the last quarter, and now had 38.8 million, according to the company. ESPN+ now counts 11.5 million, up 1.2 million from early October.

Executives at the presentation also announced that ESPN and ABC will become the home for the Southeastern Conference’s top football and basketball games under a 10-year deal starting in 2024, featuring teams like Alabama and Auburn. The company will pay in the low $300 million range each year on top of previous commitments, or more than six times what CBS currently pays, Sports Business Daily reports, citing unidentified people.

Disney executives also said they will launch the Star service in Europe in February and in Latin America in June. In Europe, it will be integrated with Disney+ and include R-rated content. It will be a stand-alone service in Latin America and feature live sports.

“We’re definitely still in launch mode," Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said. “This is a minimum amount of content you will be seeing."

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