DANIEL VAUGHAN: Disney's Sinking Woke Ship

August 11, 2023

When it launched, Disney+ was one of the most anticipated streaming services on the market. Boasting the combined forces of Disney's library of movies and shows, and the mega-brands of Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars, Disney+ was expected to rocket up the charts. And they started doing just that, amplified even more by more people staying indoors during the pandemic. The expectation was that Disney+ would deal a death blow to Netflix, yet that's not happening.

Even with its price increases and a crackdown on password sharing, Netflix continues to see an increase in subscribers, with nearly 240 million worldwideMeanwhile, Disney+ lost almost 12 million subscribers in the past three months and is embarking on its second round of price hikes this year. At points this month, Disney's stock has traded below price points where it was nearly a decade ago.

Disney Loses Millions of Subscribers

The Wall Street Journal reported, "Disney+ had 146.1 million subscribers globally, 7.4% fewer than the 157.8 million it had in the previous quarter." That number leaves them approximately 100 million subscribers away from Netflix's size and no current growth, either realized or projected.

Disney also has a large payment coming up in the form of buying Comcast's remaining interest in Hulu. Disney is saying they're ready to shoulder the burden of that price. Still, even Comcast executives have thought Disney might back out. That's even caused rumors of Disney CEO Bob Iger pushing to divest various arms of the company to prepare for a sale to a company like Apple.

The House of Mouse faces storms on all sides. Part of this is industry-wide; the media sector has faced headwinds going back to last year, with ad revenue and subscribers dropping and layoffs becoming the norm. Disney's politics has made it the face of states pushing back against woke initiatives.

Disney's Content is Bad

But amidst all the issues Bob Iger, investors, analysts, and journalists are trying to identify with Disney, there's a far more simple reason: the content Disney is putting out on Disney+ and in theaters sucks.

You're free to choose the reason why Disney's content is bad right now because the hits are few and far between. Consider the following box office bombs from Disney: Strange World (2022), A live-action Mulan (2020), Jungle Cruise (2021), Turning Red (2022), and Ant-Man: Quantumania (2023) have all been failures. Disney has shelled out considerable money on live-action shows in the Marvel and Star Wars universes that have had hits but also misses — Marvel's Secret Invasion was a recent miss on this front.

It's hard to disagree with the reviewer at Tom's Guide, who said, "Disney Plus' biggest problem, at least from my point of view, is its lack of anything truly great and exclusive so far in 2023." And with that lackluster lineup that everyone has seen and nothing truly new, Disney has hiked prices twice this year. It makes sense for consumers to start giving Disney a side-eye, especially if budgets are a concern.

Disney's Politics Are Costly

Services like HBO and Netflix can still churn out originals. Even Apple has original content that's new when compared to Disney's offerings. Disney is relying on brands that people may or may not know but draining interest in those brands at the same time.

It's worth asking at this stage whether or not Disney's overtures to the left have been worth it. Bud Light and Target have learned the hard way that if you're putting out replaceable content for consumers, they can and will switch. Disney has identifiable brands, but they don't dominate the space. There are better options if you want a service that isn't actively looking to offend your politics.

Bud Light is looking up at Modelo, something no one saw at the start of the year. Disney is struggling to catch Netflix, the main service it aimed to defeat. And none of this counts ESPN, which is seen as a boulder around Disney's neck dragging them down further. With ESPN launching into sports gambling, analysts see this as a prime moment for Disney to rid itself of ESPN.

No Path Forward For Disney

Also, Disney's dedication to its larger brands makes it harder to generate original content. HBO, Peacock, and Netflix can generate new content using new ideas. Disney has a narrower lane to work within, and if that's failing, they're looking up at a target moving farther away.

Bob Iger exercised a corporate coup to regain control of a floundering company, and he's managed to sink even further while demanding more cash. His company is painted with the craziest politics of the time, losing steam with everything from content, steaming, and amusement parks.

Walt Disney once said, "Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do." It's getting harder to identify what Disney does well, and people are losing reasons to go back and watch Disney do the same mediocre thing over and over again. And if you're only putting out mediocre content, your politics matters even more.

Disney is losing on all sides and has only itself to blame.

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Thomas Jefferson
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