After its big push into more than 50 new countries and territories across Europe, Asia and Africa this summer, Disney+ added another 12 million subscribers in its fourth fiscal quarter. Having reached its 90 million subscriber goal three years ahead of schedule at the end of 2020, Disney's Netflix competitor had 164 million subscribers as of October 2, up 46 million from a year earlier. To put that number in context, it took Netflix eight to twelve years (depending on when you start counting) to reach as many subscribers for its streaming service, which is currently the number 1 in the world with 223 million subscribers.
Upon the launch of its highly anticipated streaming service in November 2019, Disney had forecast to reach between 60 and 90 million subscribers in 2024, an estimate that looks highly conservative, if not comically low from today's point of view. In fairness, it needs to be said that the pandemic probably played a role in Disney reaching its goal so far ahead of schedule. Like Netflix, Disney+ likely profited from stay-at-home orders and limited leisure activities in the face of Covid-19. As the pandemic struck in early 2020, with movie theaters and theme parks closed and cruise ship sailings suspended, Disney saw itself forced to double-down on its direct-to-consumer business, with Disney+ at the heart of that strategic shift. Between Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, Disney had 235 million paid streaming subscribers at the end of last quarter, contributing to a 20-percent increase in direct-to-consumer revenue in the company's latest fiscal year.
Impressive growth notwithstanding, Disney's streaming business is losing money so far. In the past quarter, the company reported a $1.5 billion operating loss for its DTC segment, bringing the total loss for the year to $4 billion. In the company's latest earnings release, CEO Bob Chapek expressed his optimism in regards to near-term profitability, however. "The rapid growth of Disney+ in just three years since launch is a direct result of our strategic decision to invest heavily in creating incredible content and rolling out the service internationally, and we expect our DTC operating losses to narrow going forward and that Disney+ will still achieve profitability in fiscal 2024, assuming we do not see a meaningful shift in the economic climate," Chapek said.