It’s been nearly a year since CEO Bob Iger returned to Disney, and the executive is moving past his “fixing” era.
Flagship streaming service Disney+ added 7 million subscribers in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2023, to reach a total of 150.2 million subscribers globally. Iger also revealed its ad-supported tier hit 5.2 million paying subscribers—a nearly 2 million gain this quarter alone.
But Iger wasn’t focused on subscriber numbers during Wednesday afternoon’s earnings call. The executive said the company made “significant progress” over the last year, but noted the company “still had work to do.”
“I’m mindful of the fact that a lot of time and effort was spent on ‘fixing’,” said Iger. “But our progress has allowed us to move beyond this period of fixing and begin building our businesses again.”
Iger outlined four key areas of focus for Disney moving forward, which include profitability in streaming, transitioning ESPN into the “preeminent” digital sports platform, improving the output and economics of its film studios, and growing its experiences businesses.
On the streaming side, Iger announced that Hulu—which Disney is officially moving to acquire the final 33% stake in—will launch its single app experience with Disney+ in beta in December, before broadly rolling out in the spring for bundled users. Flagship titles like Only Murders in the Building, The Bear and Abbott Elementary will land on Disney+, which Iger expects will give Hulu on Disney+ “increased engagement, greater advertising opportunities, lower churn and reduced customer acquisition costs.”
As part of the ongoing “fixing,” Disney said it has completed the layoffs of 8,000 employees, the company doesn’t expect further major reduction in headcounts going forward. Iger also said Disney is on track to achieve $7.5 billion in cost reductions—up from a previously stated $5.5 billion.
As part of the company’s new financial reporting structure revolving around entertainment, sports and experiences, it broke out ESPN from the rest of Disney’s linear and streaming offerings—with Iger emphasizing again that the sports’ platforms transition to direct-to-consumer future is “inevitable.”
“We’re planning for it. We’re trying for a what I’ll call a soft landing,” said Iger. “As we model ESPN into the future, which is continuing to make it available as part of the bundle, and at the same time to make it available in a true a la carte basis in DTC form.”
ESPN revenue grew by about 1% to $3.45 billion, with higher operating results attributed to decreases in programming and production costs thanks to lower college football costs, and a growth in ESPN+ subscription revenue and “modest” increases in advertising revenue.
Disney still expects its streaming division to reach profitability by the fourth quarter of fiscal year ’24, though its letter to investors noted that progress “may not look linear from quarter to quarter.”
This quarter, entertainment revenues for Disney made up $9.5 billion, with DTC accounting for more than $5 billion.