It’s been a rocky road for Disney C.E.O. Bob Chapek, but he got a real victory lap moment last week after Disney reported that streaming subscriptions totalled 221.7 million, beating Netflix for the first time, exceeding Wall Street’s expectations, and causing Disney stock to jump nearly 10 percent. That milestone would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Bob Iger, despite his legendary business acumen and M&A masterstrokes, was late to the streaming game, only launching Disney+ in November 2019. Since then, however, Disney+ has grown at a startling rate of 22.1 million subscribers per quarter. That stat is a big reason why Chapek earned a new three-year contract from the Disney board.
But statistics hide all sorts of complexities about Disney’s numbers, and it’s no secret that the way the public narrative surrounding how the company calculates total subscribers to its “Streaming Services”—a business unit that encompasses Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Disney+ HotStar, and Star+—is more than a little misleading. I want to be very explicit: I’m not suggesting that Disney’s streaming business is in trouble. If I had to bet on three services that will still be here in a decade, Disney+ would be included without hesitation. But how we talk about streaming is important in how we think about streaming success. Yes, Disney’s collection of services total more subscribers than Netflix, according to headlines everywhere. But that’s also not the whole story.