Activist investor wants Disney to cancel its dividend and invest in Disney+
Posted October 7, 2020 5:32 p.m. EDT
CNN — Disney's 2020 has been dreadful with one after another of its businesses getting slammed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The only real bright spot for the company this year has been its new and growing streaming service, Disney+.
Now, an activist investor is urging Disney to pump more money into its streaming service by shifting cash away from its shareholders.
Dan Loeb, the chief of hedge fund Third Point, wrote a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek on Wednesday calling on the company to permanently suspend its $3 billion annual dividends and invest that money back into its streaming venture.
"Since its founding, Disney has been defined by its creativity, bold vision, and prescient grasp of the future of entertainment," Loeb wrote. "We share the view that Disney is embarking on one of the most important transitions in its history: shifting distribution of the world's most iconic entertainment brands from the box office to the home."
Loeb argued that by reallocating the money, Disney could "more than double its Disney+ original content budget."
"We are confident that Disney can build a [direct to consumer] business that will meaningfully exceed its current cable TV and box office revenue streams, but only if the company leans into this opportunity and invests more aggressively," he said.
Disney did not immediately respond to CNN Business' request for comment.
It's no surprise that Loeb would tell Disney to focus its attention on Disney+. The streaming service has quickly become the crown jewel of the company and a saving grace in a year that has seen the coronavirus pandemic hobble its media empire.
Last week, Disney announced that it was laying off 28,000 people in the United States as the coronavirus pandemic hammers its parks and resorts business.
The company has also had to delay potential blockbuster films like Marvel's "Black Widow" to 2021.
While other parts of Disney suffer, the growth of Disney+ hasn't slowed down.
The streaming service, which debuted last November, now has more than 60 million subscribers. The company told investors last year that it projected Disney+ would have 60 million to 90 million global subscribers by 2024.
Disney also decided to use Disney+ to release "Mulan," which was delayed multiple times this year. The remake of the 1998 animated classic cost subscribers $29.99. Disney has not said how many people watched "Mulan," which debuted on September 4.
The company's stock was up slightly about 2% on Wednesday following news of the letter.
Most activist investors push companies to return more cash to shareholders via dividends and buybacks, not less. Loeb's letter is a departure from that view.
Loeb wrote that Disney "deserves growth-minded, long-term oriented investors," and he believes that growing the new streaming business is the best way to reach them. He also said that Disney has the potential to become more significant than Netflix in the streaming market.
"With Disney's superior tentpole franchises and production capabilities, we believe that the company can exceed the subscriber base of the industry leader, Netflix, in just a few years," he wrote.