Walt Disney Co.’s flagship streaming platform topped 100 million users just 16 months after its launch, quickly establishing the service as Netflix Inc.’s most-formidable competitor.
The company announced that it reached the milestone on Tuesday, just ahead of its annual meeting. The service, called Disney+, debuted in the U.S. in November 2019 and rolled out to Canada, Australia, Latin America and Singapore in the following months.
The rapid ascent of the service underscores the power of the Disney name, along with entertainment franchises that include Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar. Netflix, the pioneer in subscription streaming, finished 2020 with almost 204 million subscribers globally.
The success has prompted Disney to increase the programming budget for Disney+. The Burbank, California-based company has set a target of more than 100 new titles per year. The service is now available in 59 countries.
“Our direct-to-consumer business is the company’s top priority,” Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek said in a statement, “and our robust pipeline of content will continue to fuel its growth.”
The company also said Tuesday that the Disneyland resort in Southern California will reopen in late April on a limited basis and that its cruise line may resume operations by fall. Both businesses were shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. The company plans to recall more than 10,000 park employees and will need to retrain them to operate within the state’s Covid-19 guidelines.
The news didn’t wow investors. The shares fell 2.7% to $196.48 at 3:04 p.m. in New York. They were up 11% this year through Monday.
All of the company’s directors were re-elected at the meeting. Also, Disney’s executive compensation plan received 68% approval from shareholders, a contrast from three years ago when investors rejected the plan. That vote prompted the company to redesign its pay, tying rewards more closely to performance.
Chapek, 61, earned $14.2 million in the last fiscal year, less than the $21.9 million his predecessor Bob Iger earned in his first year as CEO in 2006. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Disney eliminated bonuses for its mostly highly compensated executives.
During a question-and-answer session, Chapek defended the company’s decision to no longer work with actress Gina Carano, a star of the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian,” following controversial comments she made on social media.
“I don’t really see Disney characterizing itself as left-leaning or right-leaning, it’s about standing for values,” he said. “That’s a world we all should live in, in harmony and peace.”
Chapek said he expects the company to restore its dividend “at some point in the future” and said that Disney always evaluates possible spinoffs of its businesses, but had nothing to report.
He also voiced his support for Kathleen Kennedy, the executive in charge of Lucasfilm, following the underperformance of Star Wars films that Disney executives said were released too quickly in succession.
“We’ve been absolutely thrilled that we can have the creative talent in our company the likes of Kathleen Kennedy to run Lucas,” Chapek said. “We look forward to having Kathy direct the activities of the entire Lucasfilm organization for many years to come.”
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