Skip to main content

In the race for streaming dominance, the keys to victory lie outside of the U.S.

The Walt Disney Co.  (DIS) , a 96-year-old company reinventing itself as a next-generation media firm with the launch of Disney+, has a long way to go in catching up to Netflix (NFLX) , which had 139 million subscribers as of its last earnings report -- but has a number of weapons at its disposal. Disney shares were up 11.5% on Friday, and Netflix's were down 4.5%.

After all, it took Netflix nearly a decade -- and billions of dollars spent on licensing and producing content -- to accumulate that many subscribers. But times have changed since Netflix was starting out.

Secular trends like continuing broadband expansion across the globe and the arrival of 5G are expected to further accelerate media streaming, and between Netflix, Disney, Apple (AAPL) and others, the market won't necessarily be "winner take all." There is room for multiple players, as analysts have pointed out.

But if there was one big takeaway from the Disney+ reveal, it's that Disney believes its catalog has instant global appeal -- and at $6.99 per month, it's priced to dominate.

While its library and originals slate will be far smaller than Netflix's at launch, the powerhouse brands packed into in the Disney+ subscription include Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, NatGeo and others.

"They have huge built-in audience for a lot of these brands already, so with the very aggressive monthly pricing, they have the ingredients here for something very special that could give them a major jump out of the gate," CFRA Research analyst Tuna N. Amobi told TheStreet.

For its part, Netflix has been growing its international subscriber base at a healthy clip in recent quarters, reporting in its January earnings release that it added 7.31 million international paid subscriptions were added in international markets, easily beating a 6.14 million consensus forecast. And Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos told investors that the global popularity of originals such as Birdbox, or the Spanish-language Elite, cuts across borders and creates a global audience.

However, international growth is notoriously hard for Netflix investors to predict, given that it expanded to some key markets less than two years ago, and the word-of-mouth and marketing efforts that may be needed to gain subscribers. There's also the effort, and expense, required to acquire or produce content that appeals to specific international markets like Japan or India, where Disney's Hotstar also competes with Netflix.

Amobi added that Disney's subscriber forecast for Disney+ -- that it will gain between 60 million and 90 million subscribers by 2023 -- may be too low given secular trends and its global appeal. 

"The quality and appeal of Disney's content compared to Netflix is one of the reasons why they may have a leg up over Netflix," he said. 

Apple and Disney are holdings in Jim Cramer'sAction Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells DIS or AAPL? Learn more now.