Baby Yoda’s tiny shoulders carried Disney+ to 26.5 million subscribers

Disney reported Tuesday that its streaming service Disney+ has grown to 26.5 million subscribers since launching on November 12, 2019, due in part to the popularity of Star Wars show The Mandalorian and its adorable character, Baby Yoda. 

Those numbers are for the end of 2019 and CEO Bob Iger confirmed on a call with investors that the service was up to 28.6 million subscribers as of Monday. Iger told CNBC “about 20%” of those subscribers came through a partnership between Disney+ and Verizon, which offers a free year-long subscription if customers pay for an unlimited plan, according to Disney’s first-quarter 2020 earnings report. During an earnings call Tuesday, Iger attributed the rapid growth to a number of factors — including the incredible success of Baby Yoda. The service’s success thus far is not too much of a surprise given Disney franchises’ popularity and they came out of the gate with 10 million subscribers just one day after launching

Iger confirmed the second season of The Mandalorian will start streaming in October 2020 and will likely run for longer, “infusing it with more characters and taking those characters in their own direction in terms of series.” A few Marvel Comics Universe shows are also slated to start later in the year as well and executives on the call anticipated a surge in subscribers when they do.

But the CEO also noted that it wasn’t just the wildly popular cuteness of Baby Yoda that drew subscribers to stay beyond their free trial period. He said “65% of people who watch Mandalorian watch 10 other things,” especially Disney films. He also said one of the main factors in converting free subscriptions to paid ones was how the service was “priced purposefully” at $7 per month in the U.S. 

However, Netflix is still king among the streaming services with 60 million U.S. subscribers and 167 million worldwide. Even though it fell short of its target for new subscribers through much of 2019, the service is still doing well outside of the U.S

Disney+ has not yet expanded overseas but is expected to launch in the U.K. and several countries in Europe on March 24 and in India, which has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, on March 29, as Iger indicated during the earnings call. In comparison, Hulu — also owned by Disney — had a little over 30 million subscribers at the end of 2019. The company had also offered a bundle subscription for its three services, including ESPN+, in an attempt to attract more subscribers to the hub for its signature franchises and new shows like The Mandalorian. 

Iger also indicated Hulu would be launched internationally but the focus will be on the Disney+ launches “through 2021,” as it rolls out in Latin America and other parts of Europe. He also acknowledged the issues with expanding overseas, including slower internet speeds and the need to curate culturally relevant content. He was still optimistic about tapping into Disney’s widespread recognition and pairing with ESPN+ to offer sports tournament streaming, particularly in India when the launch will coincide with the beginning of the two-month-long Indian Premier League cricket series.

Disney did not specify how many of Disney+ subscribers had taken advantage of its bundle deal but Iger confirmed about 50% of all subscriptions came through direct sign-ups on the service’s website, approximately 20% via Verizon, and the rest through options like Apple or Roku. It is unclear how many will stay on after partnership deals expire.

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