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Disney Plus hits 73.7 million subscribers

Disney Plus continues to grow during the coronavirus pandemic, with particular gains in India -- news that comes on the anniversary of its launch last year.

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Walt Disney Pictures

Disney Plus grew to 73.7 million subscribers as of Oct. 3, Disney said Tuesday, an announcement that came on the first anniversary of the streaming service's launch. 

By comparison, Netflix, the biggest subscription video service in the world, has more than 195 million global subscribers. But among the raft of newer services that've launched in the last year -- such as Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Peacock -- Disney Plus has emerged as the clear front-runner by subscribers. 

The company also noted that Disney Plus' latest subscriber stats include a cache of roughly 19 million members who subscribe to Disney Plus Hotstar, the company's streaming service in India and Indonesia. Hotstar was a streaming service in those markets that was rebranded earlier this year as a hybrid of Disney Plus and the preexisting service for sports and entertainment programming. New members to Disney Plus Hotstar were the biggest contributors to Disney Plus' subscriber growth in the latest quarter. 

Overall, the popularity of Disney Plus outstrips Disney's own initial predictions: The company first projected Disney Plus would reach between 60 million and 90 million subscribers about five years after launch. By hitting 73.7 million by early October, Disney Plus is already comfortably within that range before even reaching the end of year one. 

Disney plans to update its subscriber count for the end of Disney Plus' first year on Dec. 10, when it'll make a presentation to investors and analysts about how it plans to make streaming the company's priority going forward. It also indicated the event would update those longer-term subscriber projections that are now outdated, and the company suggested the event would preview new programming destined for Disney Plus and may specify other new movies Disney will release on Disney Plus with an extra fee, like it did with its live-action remake of Mulan in September.

Elsewhere in Disney's streaming efforts, Hulu rose to 36.6 million subscribers in the US, Disney said Tuesday in its fiscal fourth quarter earnings report. That's up from 25.6 million a year earlier. ESPN Plus has 10.3 million members. 

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping most movies off cinema screens and audiences out of theaters, Disney has been tweaking Disney Plus' role to make it a bigger and earlier outlet for how it releases its films. On the bright side for movie fans starved of their usual blockbusters, the streaming service has been releasing a string of surprise titles, including movies originally intended for the big screen. 

At first during the pandemic, Disney Plus simply started streaming already released movies months earlier than planned. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker began streaming three months early, on the May the Fourth fan day. Before that, Disney released animated hit Frozen 2 three months early as well, and Pixar's Onward landed on Disney Plus just weeks after it premiered in theaters. But then Disney started ratcheting up the streaming releases with brand-new movies too, such as a filmed version of the Broadway musical Hamilton and its big-budget, live-action remake of Mulan, which it debuted exclusively on Disney Plus in September -- for an extra fee on top of the normal subscription price. 

Mulan's style of release, though, appears to be a one-off. Less than three weeks after Mulan, Disney delayed Marvel's Black Widow from Nov. 6 until May 7 -- a sign that the rest of its biggest movies will wait until cinemas reopen and audiences are ready to return to theaters again. 

The pandemic also has disrupted nearly all of Disney's filming, as it has for all Hollywood studios. That's pushed back Disney Plus' release plans for its Marvel live-action original series. The shows feature the same actors from Marvel's blockbuster big-screen films, and the plots of both the shows and the films are being tightly knit together. Earlier Thursday, Disney announced that WandaVision would be the first of these to debut, hitting Disney Plus on Jan. 15 rather than in December as initially scheduled. But The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was originally supposed to be the first Marvel series out of the gate, with an August release. Now The Falcone and the Winter Soldier won't hit Disney Plus until sometime next year, and the release plans for Disney Plus' other Marvel shows are unclear. 

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