Will Disney greatly expand Hulu’s budget? Randy Freer, the chief executive of Hulu, said it planned to expand original programs but did not say by how much.
With Disney’s acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox, it now owns 60 percent of Hulu, giving the service a majority owner for the first time in its history. (The other companies with ownership stakes include Comcast, at 30 percent, and AT&T’s Warner Media.) Hulu now has 25 million subscribers. Disney said it expected Hulu’s subscriber number to reach 40 million to 60 million in five years, and to be profitable by 2023 or 2024.
Most analysts have sky-high expectations for Disney Plus, which the company styles as Disney+.
“Our confidence in the resilient success of Disney+ comes from the company’s unmatched brand recognition, extensive premium content and unparalleled ecosystem to market the service,” Alexia Quadrani, an analyst at J.P. Morgan, wrote in a recent report. Bank of Montreal and Cowen and Company both upgraded Disney’s stock ahead of Thursday’s presentation.
Mr. Iger has spent years laying the groundwork for Disney Plus. In 2015, as Netflix grew at a blistering rate, Disney began experimenting overseas with an app called DisneyLife. Rolled out in Britain, DisneyLife offered old movies and television series, children’s e-books, games and music. Without new movies, or at least exclusive content, interest was limited.
In 2016 Mr. Iger started talking more openly about needing to develop a streaming business — a risky proposition for a company with vast traditional television holdings. Disney paid $1 billion for a 33 percent stake in BamTech, a streaming services company, eventually paying $1.58 billion more for majority control.
Mr. Iger announced in summer 2017 that Disney would introduce its own Netflix-style service and stop selling movie rerun rights to Netflix, forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In 2018 came Disney’s $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets, including National Geographic and the Fox movie studio. Mr. Iger positioned the acquisition as supercharging Disney’s move into streaming.
Michael Nathanson, a media analyst at MoffettNathanson, estimated in a report on Tuesday that Disney Plus could lose as much as $1.8 billion annually through 2023, with programming as one major expense. Add in losses from Hulu and ESPN Plus and Mr. Nathanson expects Disney’s streaming division to lose roughly $3.8 billion this year and next.