Investor urges Disney to spend on streaming, not dividends

LOS ANGELES • Activist investor Daniel Loeb on Wednesday urged Walt Disney Co to skip paying an annual dividend and instead pour the US$3 billion (RM12.45 billion) into hits for its streaming TV service.

Loeb, founder of Third Point hedge fund, made his pitch in a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek and the board of directors.

Loeb reasoned that skipping a few dollars per share in dividends, the entertainment giant could use the money to more than double its budget for content at Disney+ streaming service.

“Disney has built one of the largest streaming platforms in the world, already within the original five-year Disney+ subscriber target range of 60 million to 90 million,” Loeb said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

“To further capitalise on this transformational opportunity, we believe the company should permanently suspend its US$3 billion annual dividend and redirect this capital entirely into content production and acquisition for Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses, centred around Disney+.”

Investing in streaming content instead of paying dividends promises to attract and keep more subscribers; boost time spent watching, and help the company keep pricing competitive, according to Loeb.

Third Point reportedly owned about 5.5 million shares valued at more than US$600 million at the end of June.

Disney flung open its vast archive with the arrival of its TV streaming service in November.

It competes with Netflix, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc by leveraging its huge catalogue of Disney classics along with its Pixar, Marvel and National Geographic movies — not to mention its wildly successful “Star Wars” franchise.

Like its competition, Disney invests in original content available only to subscribers.

“With Disney’s superior tent-pole franchises and production capabilities, we believe that the company can exceed the subscriber base of the industry leader, Netflix, in just a few years,” Third Point said in the letter.

“But time is of the essence and the company should consider significant additional investments in content both through production and acquisitions here and abroad.”

The pandemic’s hit on lifestyles has more people streaming films and TV at home, benefitting Disney+ but taking a toll on Disney theme parks and travel businesses.

Disney last week announced plans to cut 28,000 jobs from its US theme parks division, singling out California restrictions that have prevented the giant Disney- land resort from reopening due to the coronavirus crisis. — AFP