Disney Plus just lost over one million users in the race to catch runaway streaming rival Netflix

Disney Plus has suffered another significant blow in the race to catch Netflix after the streaming giant posted a 1.3 million decrease in users.

During The Walt Disney Company’s Q1 2024 earnings report, the entertainment behemoth confirmed that Disney Plus’ core subscriber base fell from 112.6 million to 111.3 million in the three-month period running September 2023 to December 2023. In the US, 400,000 fans closed their accounts with the streamer, with the other 900,000 walking away internationally.

This is the second big drop-off in users that Disney Plus has experienced over the past 12 months. In February 2023, Disney Plus originally appeared to lose its magic touch when 2.4 million people opted to end their monthly subscriptions. The streaming titan managed to bounce back in the following months, but this latest decline is sure to have some shareholders worried.

Hit shows like Loki season 2 couldn’t prevent Disney Plus from losing subscribers. (Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney Plus)

Disney attributed the downturn to the “substantial price increase” it passed onto Disney Plus’ fanbase in the final few months of last year. In August 2023, Disney revealed it would be raising prices across all tiers of Disney Plus and sister streamer Hulu, with those sharp rises coming into effect in October. You can read more about those cost changes in our Disney Plus price guide.

It wasn’t all bad news for Disney’s streaming division, though. The megacorporation also revealed that its Hulu userbase grew by 1.2 million to 45.1 million between September and December 2023. Popular and/or award-winning shows, such as The Bear, likely played a part in that spike. 

Meanwhile, the number of people using Disney Plus Hotstar – Disney’s India-based streaming platform – also increased by 700,000 to 38.3 million. Disney Plus might be failing to keep pace with Netflix worldwide, but Disney can take comfort that its streaming division isn’t struggling to compete on every front.

The Netflix effect

Netflix will relish seeing a decline in Disney Plus users. (Image credit: Thomas Trutschel)

Unfortunately for Disney, things are likely to get worse before they get better. In August 2023, Disney Plus confirmed that it was joining Netflix on the password crackdown train – the former clearly realizing that there’s money to be made by forcing more people to open their own accounts. Netflix’s clampdown on password sharing has been a huge boon for the world’s best streaming service, with the streaming giant posting record revenues and bolstering its own userbase as new users signed up to the service.

There’s still no set date for when Disney will implement its own password crackdown plan, but it seems that Disney Plus’ password sharing scheme will start sooner than expected. Indeed, it’s already bringing the hammer down on Canadian users who share accounts between households, so we expect it’ll happen in the coming months. Speaking during Disney’s Q1 2024 earnings call, chief financial officer Hugh Johnson suggested users should prepare for it to be rolled out this summer (winter for southern hemisphere readers), so you don’t have long to enjoy the benefits of borrowing your family or friends’ account.

Award-winning series like The Bear helped Hulu to grow its userbase (Image credit: FX Productions)

Disney Plus isn’t the only streamer that’ll be affected. Last Thursday (January 31), we learned Hulu would be joining Netflix and its Disney sibling with its own password crackdown scheme, with an apparent date of March 14 already pencilled in to prevent users sharing accounts with people who don’t live in their household.

Given that Netflix experienced a downturn in subscribers after its password sharing blackout began, I expect Disney Plus and Hulu to suffer similar drop-offs in users in the short term. As I mentioned earlier, that’s why things will get worse for Disney before it sees potential upticks in its streaming fanbases. 

Of course, there’s no guarantee that both services’ subscribers counts will bounce back – much will depend on whether Disney can convince users to return with unmissable content, such as new additions to franchise heavy-hitters including Marvel and Star Wars. Disney will hope, though, that it’ll experience its own Netflix effect, and see an increase in users post-password crackdown on both platforms.

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