Walt Disney Co shares fell 5% on Thursday as a surprise drop in streaming subscribers fanned worries that the media and entertainment company’s success in stemming losses at the unit may be coming at the cost of growth. The decline was set to erase nearly $10 billion from the company’s market value, based on pre market movements, with seven analysts lowering their price targets on the stock. “Disney+ is losing less money not because it’s gaining subscribers but because of its price hikes and better cost management,” said Mike Proulx, an analyst at Forrester. Operating losses at the streaming unit narrowed by $400 million in the second quarter from the previous three months, powered by a price hike last December in the U.S. and Canada.
The company plans to raise the price of the ad-free Disney+ service again this year and it also will remove certain films and TV shows from its services to lower costs. In the second quarter, its flagship Disney+ offering shed about 4 million subscribers, compared with estimates for net additions of 1.3 million, according to Visible Alpha. Finance chief Christine McCarthy said on a post-earnings call that the softness could extend into the current quarter. “We expect that many investors will focus on the lack of direct-to-consumer subscriber growth in the fiscal second and third quarter,” veteran media analyst Michael Nathanson said.
Most of the subscriber losses were driven by an exodus at the South Asia-focused Disney+ Hotstar offering after it lost the streaming rights to the Indian Premier League cricket matches. But Nathanson said the company would do better without the Disney Hotstar subscribers as they generate lower average revenue per user (ARPU), which tumbled 20% sequentially to 59 cents. “Disney’s investors would be better off with a smaller total addressable market of higher paying (and higher RPU) customers. “This is a more logical, albeit less sexy, path,” he said.