Disney’s quarterly earnings call Tuesday saw a whole lot of bad news overall (including a 90 percent drop in profit versus Q2 last year), as expected for a company that gets a lot of revenue out of businesses like theme parks, hotels, and cruises (all of which have been shut down for a while now). But interestingly, they did see a small uptick in ESPN+ subscriptions, despite the lack of live sports that would usually be shown on that service.
A lot of that is undoubtedly thanks to people subscribing to the Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle (Disney+ in particular has seen huge growth with so many people stuck at home, and with many kids needing more entertainment with schools closed), and even net growth like this may still come with a lot of lost subscribers, but it’s still interesting to see any sort of growth at a over-the-top streaming service that doesn’t have much going on right now (including even The Last Dance, which won’t be on ESPN+ until July 2021). But they are seeing some ESPN+ growth, and that’s notable even amidst bad overall drops for Disney, as Eric Fisher of SportBusiness Group tweeted:
Disney earnings hammered as expected. $.60 EPS adjusted, down 63% from year-ago period, & down by a third from analyst expectations. While Disney+ added nearly 5M subs in its Q2 to hit 33.5M, ESPN+ growth has slowed and it only goes from 7.6M in Feb to 7.9M now.
— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBG) May 5, 2020
It’s obviously going to be hard for ESPN+ to keep up big growth when a lot of its content isn’t happening, and it’s interesting that it’s seeing any growth at all during these times. But that perhaps speaks to the importance of that Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle; even without the live sports often seen on ESPN+, they still have some solid archival content (especially when it comes to 30 for 30 documentaries), and at bundle prices ($12.99 a month for all three versus $17.97 if you subscribe to them individually), the $4.99 a month of ESPN+ is included for pretty much free if you want Disney+ ($6.99 a month) and Hulu ($5.99 a month for the ad-supported version). So even if new subscribers aren’t planning to use ESPN+ for much at the moment, adding it doesn’t really cost much, and it still gives you the 30 for 30 library and some other content.
This is clearly a difficult time for Disney overall, and the ESPN+ numbers are only a small part of what’s going on with them. But it is somewhat encouraging that they’re adding even some net subscribers at ESPN+ despite that service not having much in the way of live sports content right now. And that speaks to the importance of these direct-to-consumer offerings, especially in our current times (and they’re finding a huge amount of success there on the Disney+ front). ‘
And ESPN overall seems to be in not too bad shape; they’ve still had some large-viewership events, particularly the NFL draft and The Last Dance, and their affiliate contracts reportedly give them a lot of time to make up their promised numbers of premium live events. So there are some advantages there versus the challenges faced by regional sports networks, especially with uncertainty about what’s ahead for regular seasons. And while Disney as a whole may be down, the parks, accommodation and cruise ship areas of the company have much bigger declines than ESPN at the moment. So it’s notable to see a Disney earnings call where ESPN losses aren’t a major factor, and one where they have some ESPN+ gains to report even in a rough time for that service’s content.