Bob Iger’s Originals Sin

Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images
Julia Alexander
August 15, 2023

On Disney’s recent earnings call, C.E.O. Bob Iger promised a slew of changes that neatly encapsulate the company’s enormous streaming dilemma. Sure, Disney+ has been paring its losses, down to $512 million last quarter from about $1.1 billion in the same period last year, but it’s still far from a profitable business. And yes, while the majority of its subscription losses came from its India brand, Disney+ Hotstar, which isn’t really material to the business, domestic users also dropped for a second quarter in a row. But the solutions Iger offered seem geared toward winning over shareholders, not subscribers: reduced spending, fewer movies, higher prices.

Iger is likely correct that D+ customers will tolerate a few price increases. The service currently has one of the lowest churn rates in the industry, and was underpriced at $7.99/month for its basic tier. It also still packs a ton of value, especially for families: Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, 85 years of Disney films, plus Fox hits like The Simpsons for those late nights on the couch.

But Disney also faces a number of content challenges that Iger’s planned cutbacks will likely exacerbate—namely a dearth of memorable original titles and declining audience interest in big-ticket Marvel and Star Wars fare. In fact, Iger himself recently suggested that pulling back on some of the Marvel TV offerings would help the Marvel brand refocus. He’s not wrong, and kudos to Iger for facing the music. But still: less for more is a tough consumer sell even if it’s coming from Disney.  

The stagnation is obvious from the data. Between July 2021 and July 2023, Disney+ hasn’t grown its U.S. viewership share among the streamers beyond 2 percent, according to Nielsen. Hulu increased by just over half a percent, while Netflix grew 1.5 percent, and YouTube jumped by just over 3 percent. FAST platforms, like Tubi and Pluto TV, have seen incremental rises each quarter.