Disney is already losing over $1 billion in streaming, and its Netflix competitor has yet to launch

Key Points
  • Disney's stake in Hulu and its ownership of BAMtech led to a loss of more than $1 billion in the latest fiscal year.
  • Direct-to-consumer losses should continue to surge as Disney ramps up Disney+, its new streaming service.
Robert Iger, chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Co., arrives for a morning session at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S., on Thursday, July 12, 2018. 
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Disney isn't launching its new streaming service until later this year, but investors are already learning the economic challenges of the business.

The media company said in a filing on Friday that its investment in Hulu was the primary contributor to a $580 million loss in equity investments in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Additionally, Disney lost $469 million in its direct-to consumer-segment, largely from BAMtech, the streaming technology that powers ESPN+ and other over-the-top services.

That's more than $1 billion associated with streaming, the area where CEO Bob Iger is focusing his attention. Disney will debut its Disney+ offering later in 2019 to better compete with Netflix and Amazon.

NBCUniversal to launch streaming service in 2020
NBCUniversal to launch streaming service in 2020

Losses in streaming will likely surge in the early days of the venture, as content and technology costs spike, said Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG. Disney has also yet to assume control of another 30 percent of Hulu, part of its $71.3 billion deal for the majority of 21st Century Fox. If Disney were to acquire Comcast's 30 percent stake in Hulu, that would further increase operating losses.

"Streaming requires a strong stomach for losses, especially as you are playing catch-up," Greenfield said in an interview.

Disney is hoping that, over time, millions of paying customers will subscribe to Disney+ for its new original content and library of Disney movies and TV shows. Pricing hasn't been disclosed. Netflix, which announced its quarterly earnings on Thursday, has 139 million global subscribers and just informed them that it's raising prices by 13 percent to 18 percent.

Disney announced its acquisition of a majority stake in BAMtech (formerly owned by Major League Baseball) in 2017, so its report for 2018 is the first to show consolidated earnings results for the company.

Streaming is a hard place to make money, even for Netflix. While the company consistently posts positive operating income, it has burned cash for years, raising new debt and spending the revenue it generates on new content. Netflix could spend well over $10 billion for movies and shows in 2019, according to some analyst estimates.

Disney's media networks, which include ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel and others, brought in $7.3 billion in operating income for 2018. Investors will be paying close attention to that number as streaming becomes a bigger focus and consumers are given another lower-cost entertainment option in the move away from traditional cable.

"I think Wall Street is at least accepting of the fact that we're doing this, that it's the most important thing we're doing," Iger told Barron's in an interview published earlier this month. "And while I won't say they're cheering us on, they're definitely giving us the room to prove that we can do it."

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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