What Happened When a Wall Street Investment Giant Moved to Nashville. AllianceBerstein uprooted its headquarters from New York to Nashville, Tennessee to save $80 million a year. The move has been smooth so far, but the interesting thing here is how some large corporations, once exclusive to mega cities on the coasts, are open to moving to smaller towns. My colleague mentioned his college mates got great job offers from an investment firm in Arkansas. Boise in Idaho attracts interest from tech workers too. Snowflake already moved its headquarters to Montana. It’ll be interesting to watch what this trend will do to real estate.
Marriott Rolls Out Media Network That Lets Brands Reach Travelers on Its Apps and TV Screens. I really wonder how this will actually work. The first requirement is that Marriott needs to profile and segment customers such as travel enthusiasts, cooking lovers or pet owners, so that their ads can be targeted. Then, it’s a matter of scale. In a 500-room hotel or resort, how many are actually pet owners at the same time? This makes me think that at least in the beginning, the ads won’t be targeted. Also, how would Marriott measure the effectiveness of the ads? Guests will likely just look at the screens and…move on. This service will aid brand awareness, but tracking conversion will be tricky.
Car Dealerships Don’t Want Your Cash—They Want to Give You a Loan. I am supportive of point-of-sale lending if and only if consumers want that option and aren’t coerced into it. That car buyers are forced into taking a loan to avoid paying a premium is just simply outrageous. Every oversight agency should look into this practice and punish dealers accordingly.
Tinder’s Opaque, Unfair Pricing Algorithm Can Charge Users Up to Five-Times More For Same Service. “The research — which spanned five continents — reveals that within a single country, consumers can be quoted up to 31 unique price points for a Tinder Plus subscription. Further, some people are charged up to five times more for the exact same service: In the Netherlands, prices ranged from $4.45 to $25.95. In the U.S., they ranged from $4.99 to $26.99. Consumers International and Mozilla also determined that Tinder’s personalized pricing algorithm can charge older users more money. On average across the six countries investigated, 30-49 year-olds were charged 65.3% more than 18-29 year-olds.“
As online grocery surges, brick-and-mortar still resonates with shoppers. Online grocery shopping is still a bit novel, even to a young guy who is supposed to be the prime audience for eCommerce like myself. What stops me from buying groceries online includes retailer websites’ frustrating user experience, the fear that groceries aren’t fresh, the concern about the actual quantity without real visibility and the higher prices. I haven’t been able to find a grocer that addresses these concerns of mine and believe that many have the same.
As GrabFood, ShopeeFood hit Covid wall in Vietnam, smaller apps take aim.“Like most markets in the region, Vietnam’s food delivery space is dominated by two players. One of them is GrabFood, the food delivery arm of Singapore-headquartered super app Grab. GrabFood is dominant across the region, with a GMV of US$7.6 billion in 2021. In Vietnam, it has a 41% market share, according to the Momentum Works report. Matching GrabFood’s 41% is the food delivery arm of another Singapore-based giant—Sea Group’s ShopeeFood. Again, Vietnam is an outlier here, since ShopeeFood is barely present in the rest of Southeast Asia, where foodpanda and Indonesian super app Gojek’s GoFood are the other major players. GrabFood and ShopeeFood still have a significant lead in Vietnam, but conversations with restaurant owners point to a growing disaffection with them. Several owners told The Ken that Grab and Shopee’s commission fee of 25-30% is too high for them to break even. They’re also unhappy with the giants’ heavy discounting strategy—a common tool used to acquire customers. “When they offer promotions to customers, we have to pay 50% of the promotion, and Grab pays the other 50%,” said Diep Nguyen, who runs two cafes in Ho Chi Minh City. “If we want to be featured on a Grab promotion, that costs up to US$38 per week.”
Disney+ Adding Cheaper Ad-Supported Tier. “The value of advertising is significant. Disney’s other major streaming service, Hulu, offers an ad-supported tier for $6.99 per month, and brings in about as much ad revenue from those users as it does subscription revenue. With its wider reach (Hulu only has 45 million subscribers), Disney+ has the potential to generate significantly more ad revenue“. You need to ask Disney’s management for the rationale and substantiating data behind this move. If I can venture my thoughts, this will be a good move for the iconic company. An ads-supported tier of Disney+ with a growing and appealing library of content will expand the company’s reach. The key here is whether Disney can strike the balance between customer experience and profitability. With Hulu, Disney seems to have a decent record. So I give the company the benefit of the doubt.
Periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and heart health by Harvard University. “Long menstrual cycles and heavy periods3 can be symptoms of a condition called “polycystic ovarian syndrome”, “polycystic ovary syndrome”, or “PCOS”. People with PCOS can have higher levels of androgen hormones. This hormonal imbalance can cause acne, excess facial or body hair, or scalp hair loss. Our preliminary analyses showed that in comparison to participants without PCOS, participants with PCOS were more likely to have a family history of PCOS, have abnormal menstrual cycles, and have a higher prevalence of conditions that can negatively impact heart health. These conditions include pre-diabetic conditions, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.”
‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes. “Ukraine was the country that got away. And what Putin is saying now is that Ukraine doesn’t belong to Ukrainians. It belongs to him and the past. He is going to wipe Ukraine off the map, literally, because it doesn’t belong on his map of the “Russian world.” He’s basically told us that. He might leave behind some rump statelets. When we look at old maps of Europe — probably the maps he’s been looking at — you find all kinds of strange entities, like the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in the Balkans. I used to think, what the hell is that? These are all little places that have dependency on a bigger power and were created to prevent the formation of larger viable states in contested regions. Basically, if Vladimir Putin has his way, Ukraine is not going to exist as the modern-day Ukraine of the last 30 years.”
Stream big: how Netflix changed the TV landscape in 10 years. I don’t deny that Netflix revolutionized the streaming industry or that it has the scale advantages. What I disagree with Netflix bulls or fans on is the alleged invincibility. The latest earnings call was a disappointment, sending the stock down by 20%. For the first time, the management team vaguely admitted competition which includes rivals with deep pockets and additional services that can help “subsidize” these rivals’ streamers. So far, Netflix has been successful, but it’s not a lock that they will continue to be the market leader in the near future.
A $6 Billion Wipeout Was an Omen for Food Delivery Stocks. At this point, I feel like it’s irresponsible to invest in food delivery startups or publicly traded firms that do not have the scale. While it’s already tough for the established incumbents to run their business in the black, it’s an order of magnitude harder for those without scale. And if you haven’t noticed, the market isn’t looking kindly on unprofitable companies in a cut-throat market like food delivery.
Stuff I found interesting
Where Is There More Lithium to Power Cars and Phones? Beneath a California Lake. “In the U.S. hunt for lithium, an essential component of the batteries that power electric vehicles and cellphones, one big untapped source might be bubbling under a giant lake in Southern California. The U.S. currently imports almost all of its lithium, but research shows large reserves in underground geothermal brines—a scalding hot soup of minerals, metals and saltwater. The catch: Extracting lithium from such a source at commercial scale is untested.”
EV Charging Network Will Target Interstate Highways. “Dotting the interstate-highway corridors with charging stations is considered a priority because it will give EV motorists confidence that they can take long-distance trips without trouble recharging. Stations will have to be installed every 50 miles, no more than one mile off the interstate, according to a guidance memo by the Federal Highway Administration. And stations will have to have at least 600 kilowatts of total capacity, with ports for at least four cars that can simultaneously deliver at least 150 kilowatts each. The stations also have to be accessible to the general public, or to fleet operators from more than one company. The locations can include privately owned parking lots if they are open to the general public.”
Germany’s Covid Boomtown Stumbles Over Its Newfound Riches. Progressive politicians want companies to pay more taxes; which companies do not want to do. Folks just want stable jobs and to be taken care of by the tax money they pay. Marburg is another example of how hard it is to strike a balance and keep everyone happy
Corporate & Commercial – Apple’s next growth opportunity
Apple has always been a household consumer brand. There are still areas that the company can explore in the consumer space to fuel growth such as the global availability of their services, next generation chips, the AR glass or the long waited yet mysterious Apple Car. I remain excited about Apple’s growth prospect as a consumer staple, but Apple may be more than that in the future. There are signs lately that Apple may make a push into the corporate segment. First, it launched Apple Business Essentials, a device management service for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The program is still in early days, but the company already said that thousands of small businesses already participated in the program. That’s Apple’s style: choose to come to the market when a service or product is ready and deploy consistent incrementalism over time. Remember how some ridiculed their introduction of Wearables, which is now their 3rd largest business? And if they manage to build that muscle and processes to deal with small businesses, there is no reason not to think that they can expand their market and go further upstream.
Then on the earnings call, Luca Maestri (Apple’s CFO) revealed this anecdote:
Shopify, for example, is upgrading its entire global workforce to M1-powered MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. By standardizing on M1 Max, Shopify continues its commitment to providing the best tools to help its employees work productively and securely from anywhere. And Deloitte Consulting is expanding the deployment of the Mac Employee Choice program, including offering the new M1 MacBook Pro to empower their professionals to choose devices that work best for them in delivering consulting services.
I feel that M1 is the last puzzle piece that Apple needed to start making moves in the corporate market. The chip makes Apple devices more powerful and efficient, exactly what the white-collar folks like myself want and opposite of what we are used to (like all those bulky and burning Dell computers). As employees like Apple’s products, companies are more incentivized to offer such products as perks to retain talent; which plays into Apple’s hands. In the past, whether Apple’s products were the clear winners might be up for debate, but the introduction of their in-house chip put the question to rest.
This week, Apple revealed that future iOS updates would let merchants accept transactions with just a tap on their iPhones. The value chain analysis or how exactly this would benefit Apple are still question marks. I suspect Apple will take a small cut on every transaction like they do with Apple Pay transactions. Also, if merchants rely on an iPhone as a card reader, Apple Business Essentials will suddenly become an appeal so that they can manage their devices properly. These are just two early signs of what Apple can put together for businesses. I am eager to learn what they have in store because I am almost confident that they have a roadmap in mind already.
Disney+ and ESPN+ added more subscribers while raising prices. ESPN+ achieved its FY2024 target
The first quarter of FY2022 was a good one for Disney as the company continued to add more subscribers to its flagship streamer Disney+ outside of India and ESPN+ while increasing Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). The testament to the strength of a product or service lies in the ability to retain customers while raising prices. In that sense, Disney+ has so far defied critics and proven its mettle, showing that its streaming services are capable of challenging anyone else in this highly competitive market. The iconic company set the long term target of 230-260 million Disney+ subscribers by the end of FY2024. There are 8 more quarters to go. To attain that target, Disney needs to deliver a quarterly net add of at least 13 million subscribers. The company is on the right track to do so. In fact, the management said that even without the rights to Indian Premier League, the nation’s cricket competition that is arguably the biggest acquisition tool in the Indian market, it is still confident of meeting the FY2024 guide.
If you look at India, we’re certainly going to try to extend our rights on the IPL. But we’revery confident that even if we were not to go ahead and win that auction that we would still be able to achieve our 230 million to260 million. So it’s an important component for us around the world. Obviously, really important in India, but not critical to us achieving the 230 million to 260 million number that we’ve guided to.
Source: Walt Disney Q1 FY2022 Earnings Call
While Disney+ added more subscribers in the US and Canada than Netflix in the last few quarters, I don’t think that any comparison can be fair. The two streamers are operating at a different scale and life stages. Netflix is much more established and has a much bigger subscriber base. Hence, even though it added fewer customers, we shouldn’t draw any conclusion yet on either.
ESPN+ already achieved the FY2024 guide of 20-30 million subscribers. Its tally at the end of Q1 FY2022 is already 21.4 million. I am sure with an imminent international expansion and addition of rights to more sports, ESPN+ will attain the higher end of the guide range, if not exceed it.
In a rare move, The Walt Disney Company disclosed some details around revenue and profit made from streaming. Per Variety:
Disney and Marvel’s superhero adventure “Black Widow” captured a massive $80 million in its first weekend, crushing the benchmark for the biggest box office debut since the pandemic. The film, starring Scarlett Johansson, is the first from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to open simultaneously in movie theaters and on Disney Plus, where subscribers can rent “Black Widow” for an extra $30. Disney reported that “Black Widow” generated more than $60 million “in Disney Plus Premier Access consumer spend globally,” marking the rare occasion in which a studio disclosed the profits made from streaming.
Directed by Cate Shortland, “Black Widow” collected an additional $78 million from 46 international territories, boosting its global box office haul to an impressive $158 million. Combined with Disney Plus numbers, the final weekend figure sits at $215 million. Curbing overall ticket sales, however, is the fact that “Black Widow” still doesn’t have a release date in China, which is an all-important moviegoing market for the Marvel franchise.
A few things that jumped out to me with this report. First, Disney continues to show the ability to tell appealing stories to a wide audience. Granted, not everybody will enjoy their stories, but the revenue numbers don’t like. They have crushed revenue expectations in the past when the majority of movies that crossed $1 billion in revenue came from the studio and Endgame is still the top two successful movie of all time. Netting $215 million in the first weekend without China when many markets are still dealing with Covid-19, especially the Delta variant, is a great sign in my book.
Second, Disney has a unique ability to be flexible with how they introduce their movies. All the series such as Loki, Wanda Vision or The Falcon & Winter Soldier are exclusive on Disney+ and that makes sense. For the movies, they can reach the audience in different ways. Movies can be exclusive on Disney+ for free to all subscribers or to Premier Access buyers first and to all subscribers after a few weeks. Disney can choose to release movies in theaters first and then on Disney+. Or they can release it in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access; which is exactly what they did with Black Widow. The flexibility allows the company to react to the changing environment caused by Covid. Plus, it’s a great tool to maximize revenue and profit. Movie theaters will bring in nice revenue, but whatever money Disney generates from Premier Access is pure profit.
This unique flexibility is a competitive advantage that none of Disney’s competitors can copy. To convince people to shell out another $30 after already paying a membership, a streamer needs a strong brand and IP. Disney has that. Does Netflix have any movie that could do the same? I don’t think so. Even if a streamer has the necessary IP, does it have all the other ingredients needed t o pull the feat off? Like, if the streamer has a big enough subscriber base to even move the needle? Or does it have the relationship with theaters to negotiate a deal like Disney did? I think other streamers will look at today’s announcement from Disney with interest and try to explore the possibility of copying the model. So I will look forward to see how they can pull it off.
In the last earnings call, Disney reported that they had about 104 million Disney+ subscribers with a third coming from Hotstar in India. Hotstar subscribers pay much less for a Disney+ plan, hence it drags the whole streamer ARPU down. What’s interesting in this case is that Disney+ Premier Access is not available in India. News outlets such as Yahoo reported that the feature was not available in India. My friend from India confirmed it too. Given that Premier Access costs more or less $30 in every available market, $60 million in revenue from the feature means that around 2 million subscribers or around 1-2% of Disney+ subscriber base paid for early access to Black Widow.
Netflix bulls will keep pounding on the big lead that Netflix has over other streamers and, as a result, the cost advantage. That’s true. But what Disney shows is that there is an alternative way to succeed. Disney doesn’t have yet the subscriber base like Netflix has. But it has other unique assets: 1/ A dedicated fanbase to its IPs; 2/ The flexibility to make money from other channels, not just its streaming service; 3/ Its theme park complements nicely its Direct-To-Consumer segment. When you generate more money per movie than your competitors, does it matter whether it comes from your subscribers? That’s not to say Disney can neglect the task of increasing its customer base. It’s important that Disney can catch up to Netflix on this front and please investors in the short term. But it’s even better to introduce Disney+ at a low price in many markets to attract audience while making money from theaters and Premier Access. So far, I haven’t seen another company with this model.
Disclosure: I have a position on Disney and Netflix.
Bob Chapek, the CEO of Walt Disney, attended Credit Suisse 23rd Annual Communications Conference and had some interesting comments on the business. If you are interested in the company or its competitors, it’s really worth a read. Here are a few highlights.
In response to the interviewer’s question on the investments on the experience side in the next 5 years, Bob’s answer was, as follows:
Sure. Sure. Well, we’ve got ambitious plans to expand our business. I had just mentioned Avengers Campus a second ago, and we’re encouraged by the great response we have there, but we’re not stopping there because, as you know, we’ve been undergoing a massive transformation of our Epcot park at Walt Disney World in Orlando. And we’ve got a Ratatouille attraction that we’re bringing in that first premiered in France. We’ve got a new nighttime show Harmonious that will be on the water there at Epcot, and it will be a huge guest pleaser. And then we’ve got our Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind attraction or coaster that will give us our ability to bring that whole Marvel franchise into the park. Internationally, we’re thrilled to bring Zootopia into Shanghai Disney Resort. You mentioned Shanghai.
That’s obviously a property that did extraordinarily well in the box office when Zootopia came out. So that will be a big hit in Shanghai. We’ve got Frozen installations coming into Hong Kong Disneyland. At Disneyland Paris, we’ve got the [indiscernible] of its own Avengers Campus taking off from where Anaheim has. It just recently launched Avengers Campus, and we’ve also got the Art of Marvel Hotel that we’re putting in. We’re installing Tokyo Disney Resort. We’ve got the 8-themed port over at Tokyo DisneySea.
We’ve got 2 new hotels and attractions going in for Frozen, Tangled and Peter Pan. And then we’ve got 3 new ships and a second island destination. So we certainly have a plethora of new things coming, and that’s really mining all the work that we had done prior to the pandemic and kept working on during the pandemic so that we would not have any sort of glitch in our supply chain of new attractions and experiences for our guests, so we can keep that growth engine of parks going.
That’s an impressive pipeline of investments both in depth and breadth. The company has different types of physical attractions under different brands and themes ranging from hotels, resorts to cruise lines and theme parks, from Frozen, Peter Pan to Disney & Marvel. Despite being badly hit by the pandemic, Disney’s traditional cash cow, their Parks business, is likely going to make up for lost time & money, now that folks are increasingly vaccinated and restrictions are lifted. These assets are difficult to replicate. First of all, they are expensive. Any company that wants to emulate Disney needs to ready their check books for a huge sum of money for initial constructions and yearly maintenance. Second of all, Disney competitors need to also build up a library of themes & characters that relate to consumers and entice them to visit the physical attractions. Disney has spent decades of creating, marketing and distributing content. Their brand name is known and loved by generations of consumers. Even if a competitor has the required resources to invest in content, those resources cannot buy the timeless reputation and name that Disney has.
Netflix is trying to take a page from Disney’s book. It’s building Netflix Shop where merchandise related to their originals is sold. This is the first piece of the puzzle. Netflix is popular among viewers around the world and it has some great originals. Hence, it makes sense for the streaming service to start making inroads into the retail side. However, having an online shop is very different from building giant physical attractions that represent huge fixed costs. It will take a lot more from Netflix to build an empire like Disney’s, but everything has to start somewhere.
Second, when asked about how much IP is there to mine, Bob Chapek had this to say:
Well, I’ve always learned not to underestimate our creative teams, particularly our Marvel creative teams. We’ve got 8,000 characters that we have to mine. And you say, well, 8,000 characters, who knows what these 8,000 characters are. But remember that all of our Avengers, for example, our Avengers characters, when we made the acquisition, weren’t exactly household names. Take Loki, for example. Loki was the most watched season premier ever on Disney+ during its opening week. And no one knew who Loki was even when we got started on this journey on Marvel. No one knew who Iron Man was or Wanda or Vision or Falcon or the Winter Soldier. Black Widow, Shang-Chi, nobody knew who these characters were.
I didn’t grow up reading Marvel comics. Years ago, when characters like The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor or Captain America debuted, I barely knew them, yet they are now some of my favorite. I suspect that many casual viewers will first get to know the likes of Shang Chi and others among 8,000 characters from movies or series by Disney. The ability to build characters and tell engaging stories, especially interconnected ones, over a long period of time is a creative competitive advantage that is hard to match. The last 12 years from the first Iron Man movie to End Game is evidence of such an enduring output of creativity. Does it guarantee future success and repeat of the past? No. But it’s much more assuring than records of many competitors.
Next, when the interviewer asked whether Disney would add an ads-supported plan to Disney+, Bob ruled that possibility out at least in the near future.
Yes. We’re always reevaluating how we go to market across the world, but we’ve got no such plans now to do that. We’re happy with the models that we’ve got. But again, we won’t limit ourselves and say no to anything. But right now, we have no such plans for that.
I support this position by Disney. The flagship streamer, Disney+, is already on the cheap end among streamers with the latest reporting ARPU standing at $3.99. The addition of an ads-supported plan would like drive down ARPU even more. Plus, nobody likes to have their streaming experience tainted with ads. Netflix goes to great lengths and invests a lot of resources to make sure that their viewers have the best streaming experience possible on their platform. Disney is wise to do the same if it hopes to compete with its rival. If the company wants to make money from ads, it has its own media channels to do so.
On what “new content on Disney+ every week” means:
Yes. Our plan is to do — hit that cadence this year in terms of a new product every week. And what we mean by that is a new movie or a series, meaning, a new production or library add every week. And that’s not counting new episodes, if you will, but does count new seasons. So we count new seasons. We don’t count new episodes in that. And something new can be a new movie or a new piece of content or something new added to the library. So that’s how we’re defining that. And that’s the plan right now.
Because Disney+ subscriber base is sufficiently big now, it enables the company to spread the fixed content investments across more than 103 million viewers, giving Disney a cost advantage over other streamers, except Netflix. Additionally, new content helps the company acquire more subscribers who will, in turn, add to the economics advantage mentioned above. What I am unclear about is whether a new weekly content is purely originals or whether it includes licensed IP. If it’s the former, it will be great news for Disney stock bulls, a gift to subscribers and ominous signal to competitors.
Last but not least, Bob Chapek touched upon the impact of price increases on churn:
Yes. In terms of, I guess, an objective way to look at the price value relationship, the growth rate that we’ve experienced on Disney+ sort of stands out as the headline there. But you’re right, we did launch at a very attractive price value opening point. And the first price point — or our first price increase that you mentioned in the first 16 months happened recently, and we’ve seen no significantly higher churn as a result of that. In Europe, as a matter of fact, we took a price increase twice as high as we took domestically more or less. And we — that was with — commensurate with the integration of the Star brand as the sixth brand tile. But our churn actually improved, right? So we took an even higher price increase and our churn improved because we added more content. And I think that investment in the content at attractive price point gets you strong retention, and strong retention, obviously, is one of the key factors towards overall platform growth. And — but that doesn’t mean that in the future as we continue to add more and more great content that we wouldn’t necessarily reflect that in the value that we add and then price it accordingly.
While it’s encouraging to see the current price inelasticity of Disney+, it’s equally important to understand that we don’t have a lot of context here. Disney+ had a low price at launch and even a 3-year bundle at one point. Because the starting point was low and the increase here is not significant in absolute ($1 in the US.), even though customer reception towards the latest price increase was positive, it doesn’t guarantee the same outcome for the next raise. They could plow millions of dollars into content, raise prices yet get spurned by consumers. Furthermore, since we don’t have information on the previous churn, it’s tough to conclude whether the current churn is good. Yes, there was an improvement, but for all I know, it could be upgraded from “disastrous” to “concerning”.
In short, Disney has a lot of great assets and great things going on for them. As the world is gradually opening up with an increasing vaccination rate, it will turbocharge the recovery of a business whose cash cow was terribly affected. On the streaming side, the pandemic was a boost in what I consider largely a two-horse race between Disney and Netflix. Each company has its won advantages and strengths. It’ll be super interesting to see how the market will be in the near future.
There are two main stories regarding Disney: Disney+ as well as other streaming services and their non-streaming segment.
As more and more folks in the US are vaccinated and the CDC relaxed its guidelines, Disney reopened its theme parks and resorts in the last quarter. Traditionally, this segment is the key source of Disney’s profit, but was severely hit by Covid-19. Compared to the prior year quarter, Q2 FY2021 saw revenue from Parks, Resorts, Cruise and Merchandise drop by more than 50%.
Hence, having their physical attractions open is definitely good news to investors. It’s also a testament to the resiliency and health of the business. Its cash cow was hit very hard by the catastrophe that is Covid-19, yet it pivoted successfully to Direct-to-Consumer while waiting for better days to come. In addition, Disney is going to launch an all-new Avengers campus in California on June 4 and allow bookings for its new cruise ship Disney Wish starting May 27th. The Avengers campus, I suspect, will be a big hit to consumers. Thousands, if not millions, love the 10 year story arc with about 23 Marvel movies. As the original cast such as Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr is more or less out of the picture and the new generation of superheroes are slowly making their way to the scene, fans will cherish a chance to connect physically with their old and new heroes. That’s the power of Disney. They invest a lot of money in creating content and then luring consumers to visit their parks, resorts, cruise lines and buy merchandise. While other streamers can compete with this company on the content front, few, if not none, have the capability and resources to replicate what Disney has on the other part of the equation.
Disney’s Streaming Services
Because Disney+ is touted as the company’s single most important priority, all attention is fixated on the health of the service. At the end of Q2 FY2021, Disney+ has almost 104 million paid subscribers, up from 95 million in the previous quarter. The net add of 8.7 million paid subscribers is much lower than what Disney added in the previous three quarters during Covid. The executives blamed the following for the smaller add:
Covid pulled forward subscribers
A price increase in two main markets: EMEA and North America
No new market launch. The launch of STAR+ in Latin America is postponed to the end of August to leverage major sports events such as the new season of Premier League, La Liga & Copa Libertadores
A disrupted schedule of Indian Premier League, India’s national cricket league
On the earnings call, the company reaffirmed its target of 240-260 million paid subscribers on Disney+ at the end of fiscal year 2024. To meet the lower end of that target, by my calculation, Disney needs to have a net add of about 12.5 million subscribers every quarter between now and Q4 FY2024. As you can see above, there are quite a lot of factors that can affect the number of subscribers, but if I have to make a bet, I’ll say that they can do it. There are two reasons. The first one is that Disney+ right now is only available in 31 countries. It’s not even live yet in Asian or LATAM countries where there are a lot of folks. My country alone has 96 million people and 50% of those are between 18 and 54 years of age. There are a lot of spots on the world map where Disney+ can expand its presence. The second reason is that the company lowballed their subscriber target before. It’s likely that they may be doing it again with the current one.
The main criticism of Disney’s current growth strategy is that it relies too much on the low ARPU market in India. Hotstar makes up 1/3 of Disney+ total subscriber base, up from 25% two quarters ago. The low price in India suppressed ARPU of Disney+ from $5.61, excluding Hotstar, to just $3.99, including Hotstar. While ARPU is obviously an important part of a streaming business, it’s equally important to take into account where Disney+ is at the moment. Fans of Netflix usually cite its scale as the main competitive advantage. In other words, Netflix has a cost advantage because it can spread content expenses over many more subscribers (around 200+ million). To negate that advantage of Netflix, Disney+ has to grow its base, but it would need a magic wand to acquire more users and grow ARPU because that’d be virtually impossible.
Any comparison between Netflix and Disney+ at this stage is very challenging. First of all, Netflix is available in 190+ countries whereas Disney+ is only in 31. When Netflix started, the category didn’t exist and it had to be a trailblazer. But it also means that Netflix didn’t have a fierce competitor like its current version nowadays. Any price it set was essentially the best price at the moment. On the other hand, while Disney+ doesn’t have to create a whole new market like Netflix did, it has to compete against an established and experienced rival that has a major cost advantage. There is a vicious cycle at play here. Netflix’s competitors have a cost disadvantage because they have a smaller scale. The longer that disadvantage persists, the hard it is to plow billions of dollars a year into content. Without content, there wouldn’t be any subscribers, hence, Netflix’s advantage is reaffirmed. As a result, the likes of Disney+ have to prioritize scale over ARPU for the time being, to avoid being sucked into that vicious cycle. Another difficulty lies in the different operating models. Netflix’s content is rarely available in theaters. Its content library is available to all subscribers without restrictions. Meanwhile, Disney+ releases its content in different fashion:
Exclusively available to all subscribers without additional charge
Exclusively available to subscribers with Premier Access (about $30 per title) for a few weeks before being widely available to all
Available first in theaters for a period of time (45 to 90 days) before going to Disney+
The variety in the release strategy may affect the user acquisition to Disney+, compared to Netflix, but who is to say that it doesn’t help Disney generate more money or profit from taking a different path? Disney+ tried the Premier Access with Wulan and a couple of movies afterwards. I reckon that it must have yielded some success so that they decide to keep it moving forward. With an exclusive theater period, Disney is trying to see if the high margin revenue from theater owners are worth suppressing the subscriber base on its flagship streamer. Whether the flexible model employed by the iconic brand or the dedicated philosophy of Netflix will prevail remains to be seen.
Besides Disney+, I am excited about ESPN+. The service has been growing very nicely in terms of subscriber count and ARPU. At 13.8 million subscribers, there is still a lot of upside within the US to go. For sports fans, its content library is very appealing with Serie A, Bundesliga, UFC, Australian Open, US Open, Wimbledon, MLS & College Basketball. The new deals with Major League Baseball to stream 30 games per season till 2028 and with La Liga in an 8-year deal to stream 300+ matches per year in both English and Spanish will absolutely make it more attractive. Since streaming rights need to be negotiated for every geography, it remains to be seen how or if Disney is able to grow ESPN+ out of the US.
On its 2020 Investor Day, Disney showed everybody that it was going to be a force to be seriously reckoned with in the streaming business in the years to come. The four hour presentation was packed with announcements on upcoming titles, business updates and impressive revised projections. Netflix fans always point to the fact that the streamer won the streaming war by having a much bigger subscriber base than any other competitors. The big subscriber base allows Netflix to operate at a much lower cost advantage. For the same investment of $1 billion in content, a base of 100 million subscribers will lead to a cost of $10 per subscriber while a base of 10 million will result in a cost of $100/user. As each user brings in monthly revenue, a lower cost structure enables a higher profitability which, in turn, enables more money in content creation which, in turn, leads to more appeal to consumers.
Netflix, with 195 million subscribers, enjoys a cost advantage to other competitors. It already got over the peak operating losses and has seen positive free cash flow for the past three quarters, despite spending a massive amount of money on content. I believe none of the other streamers achieved that feat yet. In short, Netflix has an invaluable head start.
Enter Disney Plus. Last year, Disney forecast to have around 60 to 90 million subscribers by the end of FY 2024. They just announced that the number of Disney+ subscribers was 86.8 million as of December 2, 2020. Critics say that Disney reached this number due to a huge subsidy in the Indian market which constitutes 30% of the base now. Well, that’s true, but it’s hard to reach the mass market in a short period of time and keep the price high. You have to take a multi-step approach. Expand the base first, add more value and increase the price.
That’s what Disney is doing now. With more than 86 million subscribers in the pocket, the company is planning 100+ titles per year for the next few years, coming from established brands such as Marvel, Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic. At the same time, Disney is addressing the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) issue with a price hike of $1/subscriber/month in the US and €2/subscriber/month in EU starting March 2021 and with a Premier Access model. The Premier Access model lets subscribers gain first access to select titles before everyone else for an additional fee. A few months ago, Mulan cost Disney+ subscribers an additional fee of $30 in exchange for first exclusive access.
As a result, Disney expects to have around 230-260 million Disney+ subscribers by the end of FY2024. Within one year, they revised the forecast from 60-90 to 230-260 million subscribers for the same time frame. There must have been some sandbagging, but I believe that even the folks at Disney didn’t expect to have such a big leap. The new figure should put Disney+ in the same conversation as Netflix by the end of FY2024 and well ahead of the other streamers. The profitability expectation remains at the end of FY2024, unchanged from the Investor Day last year, even though the legendary company expects to at least double its content cost by FY2024. The same upgrade in expectation is similar for ESPN+ and Hulu
Those are impressive revisions, particularly given Disney’s distinct advantages. First, streaming services aren’t the only way they generate revenue and profits. Their Media and Parks segments generate considerable revenue and profit as well, especially Parks. Parks has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, but once we go back to normal and vaccine is delivered to the public, Disney should have no problem attracting guests back to their hotels, parks and resorts. Even though the other segments don’t directly subsidize the streaming services, having them around definitely helps the company as a whole in terms of profits, revenue and cash flow. Netflix, rightfully worth every accolade for their laser focus, has only one line of business. As long as that line of business thrives, they will enjoy the full benefits of not having to spread resources like Disney. However, on the other hand, a crisis would hit them harder than Disney without any cushion.
Moreover, Disney has so many ways to appeal to consumers. First, they have an extraordinary library of content and brands, ranging from series, films, documentaries and sports. Second, they can always create value out of a bundle such as what they are doing now with a bundle of Disney+, Hulu (ads and no ads) and ESPN+. Another model that can be deployed is Premier Access as I describe above or a theatrical release in which a movie will be available first in theaters and then on Disney+. An example is Black Widow. This takes me to another strength that Disney has. A portfolio of household brands that need no introduction. When somebody mentions Avengers characters or Star Wars, there is little introduction needed. That kind of brand power helps draw viewers regardless of the medium. When Disney releases Black Widow in theaters first, they likely won’t need to persuade Marvel fans to pay to watch. What they may need to persuade them on is whether it’s worth getting into theaters when the pandemic may still be around. This brand power isn’t just limited to consumers with kids. On the 2020 Investor Day, Disney CFO revealed that more families without kids are subscribers than families with kids; which is a very interesting revelation since it was assumed that Disney would appeal parents through content for kids.
In short, I believe the future is bright for Disney’s streamers and the company as a whole. That doesn’t mean that I think Netflix is doomed. The sizeof the market and the consumer behavior should allow these two behemoths to co-exist. As long as other streamers have the financial ammunition to compete, they should have a seat at the table, but this should be a two-race non-zero-sum market. The winners should be consumers who will get more choices and talents, including actors, directors, creators, storytellers and so on, who will be sought after as streamers strive to create quality content.
Adobe’s extraordinary story continues
Adobe may not be as popular as some of its products. It’s the creator of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and PDF. It also owns Behance, the LinkedIn of creative folks. Its less known products include Marketing Solutions, such as Email Marketing, eCommerce and Customer Analytics, and Document Solutions such as eSignatures or Document Intelligence Services. Besides its famous products, Adobe is also known for being the trailblazer in transitioning to a Software-as-a-Service model. The transformation started in about 2011 or 2012, and it has been the case study as well as the envy of established software makers all over. Adobe’s revenue grew at a CAGR of 18% from 2013 to 2020, reaching almost $13 billion in 2020. More impressively, its FY 2020 Operating Income was even higher than its revenue in FY 2014. Additionally, its Operating Margin in FY 2020 was 32%, the highest in the last 6 years.
The transformation was best reflected in Adobe’s subscription. In 2013, only 28% of the company’s top line came from subscriptions which have higher margin and stickiness. In FY 2020, the figure stood at 90%. In terms of CAGR of subscriptions’ absolute dollars, it is an extraordinary 39%.
Among the main business segments, Digital Media is the biggest and certainly the driver of growth at Adobe. Since 2013, Digital Media’s revenue grew by almost 300%. Within Digital Media, Creative and Document Cloud Annual Recurring Revenue more or less doubled in the last 4 years.
While Digital Experience, which includes B2B solutions, faces stiff competition from the likes of Salesforce, Adobe is clearly the market leader with their Digital Media offerings. How many designers or creators in the world don’t have an Adobe product? Which document format can replace the de factor PDF when it comes to official documents? Their Digital Media products, whether it’s Creative Cloud or Document Cloud, are popular among subscribers. According to Adobe’s 2020 Investor Day
75% individual subscribers in 2020 were completely new to Creative Cloud
Individual subscribers made up more than half of the Creative Cloud’s revenue
2 billion mobile + desktop devices were installed with Acrobat Reader
75%+ individual subscribers in 2020 were new to Acrobat
Mobile IDs were more than 300 million in total as of Q4 FY 2020, with more than 175 million created
More than 60% of Creative Cloud ARR is based on All Apps subscribers. An All-App subscription costs $53/month, much more expensive than individual app subscriptions.
All these data points show how much customers love Adobe products. As more and more people use Adobe products, it helps the company establish an invaluable network effect. If you are a designer collaborating with other designers and businesses that are used to working with Illustrator and Photoshop, it’s difficult not to use those applications. That’s perhaps the strongest moat Adobe has. There may be better alternatives than their products on the market, but those products don’t have the brand names, the popularity, the established sales channel and the network effect that Adobe has. Once a company can establish this kind of relationship and network effect, its priority should be to continue add values to subscriptions to keep the churn low. In other words, as long as the existing subscriber base doesn’t shrink, Adobe’s revenue will only grow. Any new subscribers acquired will only add to their fortune.
Disclaimer: I own both Disney and Adobe in my personal portfolio.
In Q3 2020, Disney reported a drop in revenue of more than 8$ billion, down 42% YoY due to the negative impacts from the Coronavirus. Most of the revenue loss came from Parks, which is historically a reliable source of revenue and profit for Disney. In the most recent quarter, Parks brought in a little less than $1 billion in revenue, compared to $6.6 billion in the same quarter last year. As a consequence, Parks recorded a loss of approximately $2 billion, compared to $1.8 billion in profit in Q3 2019. Despite the challenges that Covid-19 brought onto Disney’s operations, the company actually had a small profit from its operations, if you exclude the $5 billion in impairments.
Disney reported that as of 27th June 2020, there were more than 100 million paid subscribers on their platforms, including 8.5 million for ESPN+ (up from 2.4 million from a year ago), 35.5 million for Hulu (up from 27.9 million from a year ago) and 57.5 million for Disney+. On the earnings call on 4th August 2020, Disney’s CEO revealed that the subscriber base for Disney+ rose from 57.5 million 5 weeks ago to 60.5 million. The updated figure means that Disney already surpassed its lower target for 2024, a full four years ahead of schedule. While it’s definitely a good sign, it can be argued that Disney is usually conservative in its forecast and that Covid-19 has been an unexpected boost to its streaming service. It’s also worth pointing out that Disney+ Hotstar, launched in India only up to Q3 2020, made up 25% of Disney+ subscriber base at the end of the quarter.
A major announcement regarding content for Disney+ is the upcoming rollout of Mulan. Disney will make the movie available to Disney+ subscribers at an additional price of $30, meaning that you first have to have an active subscription and pay another $30 on top of it as a one-time fee to see the movie.
This one-off strategy is an interesting move in my opinion. Due to the impacts of Covid-19, Mulan’s schedule premiere has been postponed a couple of times. As the US is still struggling to handle this pandemic, folks won’t visit cinemas any time soon. Hence, Disney either would have to keep delaying the movie’s debut or put it on its streaming service. If the latter is the better option, what is the reason for the additional charge?
Bob Chapek, the CEO of Disney, labeled this move as a test and I tend to agree with him. There are three likely reasons behind Disney’s decision:
The company wants to see how much a movie like Mulan can attract new subscribers or entice existing ones to pay more. Making it free on Disney+ is an easy and straightforward decision. Why not using this as a test and getting more revenue, given the situation that we’re in right now?
A subscription can be shared with 5-6 people and as we still stay at home most of the time, it’s likely that a movie that charges $30 will be watched by more than one person. Disney is probably testing to see how the $30 price point is accepted by consumers. I mean, if 4 people watch the movie with a new subscription, that’s roughly $10 for each person, almost a movie ticket and they can still have access to Disney’s library for a month. Another point is that consumers are likely to react more positively to a price drop than to a price hike. If $30 is too high and Disney wants to repeat this test in the future at $20, it will likely be better than increasing the test price from $20 to $30.
One can argue that Disney is angling for a future permanent one-off strategy as in the one-time charge will give subscribers exclusive early access to blockbusters. However, there are a couple of challenges with that. The first is that Disney has to convince subscribers to pay extra for every blockbuster. A movie such as Endgame may have the drawing appeal, but not every movie will be like that. The second challenge is how Disney would work with theaters once Covid-19 blows over. If Disney’s finest could only be found exclusively on Disney+, what would draw in moviegoers? Movie distribution brings in a significant sum of revenue for Disney. Hence, the company may likely have to deal with this question mark if it decides to pursue a one-off strategy.
In the near future, Disney will be one of the companies wishing for things to go back to normal as quickly as possible. Their streaming service should be fine. They have a lot of geographical footprint to grow into, boosted by a formidable library content, legendary marketing prowess and a household brand name. What they really want to add is feet inside theaters and the walls of their branded parks, hotels or resorts. That’s why they opened up parks in the US to some extent despite the Covid-19 warnings; which I fervently disagreed with. Given how the situation has progressed for the past few weeks, I won’t be surprised that it will take them at least a couple of quarters to regain the Parks business. Nonetheless, the business has shown resilience and I think the bull case for them is stronger than a bear case.
Today, Disney announced its Q1 2020 results. There are a lot to unpack as the business is pretty diverse. I am just covering some of the stuff I mainly care about.
Overall, revenue increased 36% year over year. The effect from investments in Disney+ is reflected on operating income which increased only by 9% compared to last year
Parks made up 35% of Disney’s revenue, but more than 58% of its operating income. Parks also provided the largest margin at 32% among Disney’s segments, followed by Media Networks.
Disney+: 28.6 million paid subscribers as of 3rd February 2020 from US, Canada, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand
ESPN+ 7.6 million paid subscribers as of 3rd February 2020
Hulu has 30.7 million paid subscribers as of 3rd February 2020
Given that Disney publicly set a target of 60-90 million paid subscribers worldwide and of profitability in 2024, it is a promising start to reach the 28-million mark already just a few months after launch. Bob Iger wisely tried to play down any enthusiasm from the figures by citing the inability to point out the reason for the growth and uncertainty in the key international markets where Disney+ will debut soon.
Average Revenue Per User
The dip in ESPN+ and Hulu SVOD APRU was attributed to the bundle that offers Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu Ad Supported for $12.99/month. Regarding the Hulu APRU, it’s even higher the non-ads subscription of $11.99/month. Christine McCarthy, Disney’s CFO, had the following comment:
The ad supported, the product is priced at $5.99. And but the ad-supported part of the equation makes the ARPU come out even higher than the ad-free. Most of the subscribers subscribe to the ad-supported. So that’s a good balance of the ARPUs when you stack them up next to each other.
Regarding the APRU of Disney+, since the service is offered at different pricing tiers including the promotion with Verizon, the 3-year plan last year, the bundle and full price, it’s difficult as to what to make out of the figure. Below are a few things from the earnings call:
50% subscribers came directly from disney.com
Bob Iger mentioned “20% of those subscribers” came from Verizon. The comment in the earnings call wasn’t clear, but he clarified it in this interview with CNBC
Most subscribers came from the US
Conversion from free-to-pay and churn rates were better than what Disney had expected
No significant churn after Mandalorian Season 1 ended
“It was 65% of the people who watch Mandalorian watch at least 10 other things”
Each Disney+ subscriber spent 6-7 hours every week on the service
18-22% guests to parks were international guests
“Attendance at our domestic parks was up 2% in the first quarter, and per capita guest spending was up 10% on higher admissions, merchandise and food and beverage spending. Per room spending at our domestic hotels was up 4%, and occupancy was 92%. So far this quarter, domestic resort reservations are pacing up 4% compared to this time last year, and booked rates at our domestic hotels are currently pacing up 10%.”
The fight between McGregor and Tyrone brough “1 million pay-per-view purchases and 0.5 million new subscribers”
Disclosure: I own Disney stocks in my personal portfolio