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Disney in the first quarter signed up 9m subscribers to its flagship streaming service, the high-stakes bet that has quickly established the legacy media group as a significant challenger to Netflix. 

The California-based company’s Disney Plus service reached nearly 104m subscribers in the three months to April 3. But this was fewer than the 109m Wall Street had forecast, after Disney reported on March 10 it had reached 100m subscribers. 

Netflix reported a sharp slowdown in subscriber additions in the first three months of the year, fuelling speculation that a pandemic-related boost to streaming signups was over. 

Shares in Disney dropped more than 4 per cent in after hours trade on the results. 

Investors have largely brushed off recent financial turmoil for Disney, even as the pandemic ravaged some of its core businesses. The stock has soared by more than 60 per cent in the past year as investors focused on its fast-growing streaming business, instead of the billions of dollars it lost to the pandemic.

Disney said Covid-19 disruption had knocked $1.2bn from operating income in its theme parks business in the quarter. However Bob Chapek, chief executive, said he saw “encouraging signs of recovery across our businesses”.

Disney’s direct to consumer business unit, which includes Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN, posted an operating loss of $290m on $4bn in revenue during the quarter. 

Net income of $912m compared with $468m in the same quarter a year ago, when the pandemic first forced the US into lockdown, shuttering cinemas and theme parks. Total revenues fell 13 per cent to $15.6bn, missing analyst predictions for $16.1bn.

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