Disney Linear Cable TV Channels Hemorrhaged Domestic Subscribers in 2021; Time To Shut Down 5 Channels Is Now

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Disney submitted their annual report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and with it come updated subscriber totals for their domestic linear channels. It is not pretty. Nearly every channel lost approximately 10 million subscribers between September 2020 and September 2021. This is notable because we are still in a pandemic and between 2019 and 2020 the channels remained steady.

What does this mean? It means that it’s time for Disney to take action in America and start shutting down deadweight channels. When Disney purchased the 21st Century Fox entertainment assets, they doubled the amount of channels they were running. Even as they consolidated and shut down other assets such as Radio Disney, Blue Sky Studios, and most Disney stores, they’ve left their linear TV channels untouched. Saying goodbye is overdue.

We absolutely abhor the idea of sending hard working people to the streets during a pandemic (or ever) but the money, resources, and energy they are pouring into channels with low viewership is wasteful. We really wish Disney would find a way to transfer workers to other divisions and cut some channels between now and June 2022.

Numbers Are Down

While Disney provides a disappointing lack of data regarding their subscribers, we know Disney+ USA and Hulu both have around 40 million subscribers with Disney+ below and Hulu above. We know ESPN+ is at about 17 million. With another year like this we will have Disney-owned cable TV channels with fewer subscribers than their streaming services. It’s absolute time to accelerate the change by shutting down under-performing channels. It’s extremely easy to select which should be axed as the worst performers are the “secondary” channels.

2021 saw Disney lose a significant amount of subscribers to cable channels.

As our chart above displays using stats from the past 3 annual reports, the subscriber loss between 2020 and 2021 is significant. This come in the same year where Disney’s domestic streaming growth has relatively stalled. It’s time to jumpstart adoption of Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu by lighting a fire under everyone’s booty. Even if Disney kept most of the staff on at other channels, ending transmission on some redundant channels and redirecting resources to Disney+ and Hulu and ESPN+ would still save money in the long-run.

DejaviewStream Recommendations For 2022

In December, Disney should announce 5 channels shutting down March 31st, 2022 or May 31st, 2022. We’ll provide our plan for each fallen channel’s content. The 5 channels are as follows, in order of subscriber numbers:

  1. FXM (47 million subscribers) – Licensed movies air on FX, FXX, or stream on Hulu / Disney+.
  2. National Geographic Wild (51 million subscribers) – Air new episodes on National Geographic and Disney+. (This is our #2 choice to shutdown)
  3. ESPNU (51 million subscribers) – Move content ESPN+, making it a destination for college sports fans.
  4. Disney XD (56 million subscribers) – Move licensed anime to Disney+ or Hulu and remaining missing library to Disney+. (This is our #1 choice to shutdown)
  5. Disney Junior (57 million subscribers) – Air new episodes on Disney Channel morning block; produce originals for Disney+. (This is our #3 choice to shutdown)

DejaviewStream Recommendations for 2023

It’s no secret we are in that really CRAZY group that thinks Disney should sell-off their stake in ESPN entirely. If that is out of the question (highly respected insider Dylan Byers’s intelligence begs to differ and certainly many analysts [1 2 3] and insiders would agree this is the right move, no matter how out there it may seem) then we expect sports channels to continue to lose subscribers next year.

After a year of planning and further subscriber loss, we suggest Disney trim 3 additional ESPN sister networks in 2023. While SEC and ACC are already lower in subscribers than some of the other networks we recommend dropping in 2022, they are newer and more niche so we gave them more space. If these totals are their high point, Disney should cut them.

  1. ACC Network (42 million subscribers) – ESPN+
  2. SEC Network (55 million subscribers) – ESPN+
  3. ESPNEWS (59 million subscribers) – Move series and content to a mixture of ESPN / ESPN2 and ESPN+.

We close by reminding you that Disney is pretty much shutting down all their international cable channels when they launch Disney+. It’s impossible and unreasonable for them to continue going without making cuts in the USA. We hoped the carriage negotiations going on with Comcast as we speak would result in some changes but nothing has leaked out thus far… Seriously, what will it take for Disney to stop dragging Disney XD (or as the former stars of their series refer to it on Tik Tok: “Knock Off Disney Channel”) along?

What do you think about Disney’s cable losses? Which channels would you cut? Do you have any creative solutions to keep the staff from losing their jobs if this were to happen? We hate to see it, this is the bad side of business…

Drew Ryan is a film, TV, and Disney geek. He has degrees in English, Student Personnel Administration, and Library & Information Science from Lawrence University, Concordia University-Wisconsin, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Interested in the minutia and licensing of streaming service content, he is always publishing lists, suggestions, and advocating for Disney’s missing library to be added to Disney+. Drew subscribes to Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, and Paramount+. You can find him waxing nostalgic over classic Disney Channel or geeking out over Marvel, CW shows, & Disney on Twitter.