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Disney+ magic fades: Barclays downgrades Walt Disney after three years

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Smartphone with the "Disney" logo is seen on a keyboard in front of the words "Streaming service\
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(Reuters) - Walt Disney's stock received a rare Wall Street downgrade on Monday, as Barclays called for bold changes from the media giant to reverse slowing growth at its Disney+ streaming service.

Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek last month hinted at a slowdown in Disney+, saying fourth-quarter global paid subscribers will grow by "low single digit" millions compared with a rise of 58.5 million in the previous three months.

Disney+, which has one of the richest portfolios of media content, had a blockbuster launch in 2019; it attracted new subscribers with its hit "Star Wars" and "Avengers" franchises.

Rival streaming platforms such as Netflix Inc, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video have had a different approach. They invested heavily on original content to draw in subscribers.

"While the company (Disney) appears to be targeting one new piece of content a week, not every piece of content has the same franchise value or visibility," Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar said.

Barclays also said the slowdown in Disney+ subscribers could not be solely attributed to a pull forward in additions in 2020, when streaming platforms gained popularity as people hunkering down at home sought entertainment.

To achieve its target of 230 million to 260 million Disney+ subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024, Disney will need to more than double its current pace of growth to at least the same level as Netflix, according to Barclays.

Netflix, which is due to report its quarterly results on Tuesday, had 209 million subscribers as of the quarter ended June. Disney+ had 116 million paying customers.

Disney shares, which have not been downgraded by any brokerage so far this year, fell about 2% in early trading.

(Reporting by Aniruddha Ghosh, Tanvi Mehta and Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Writing by Subrat Patnaik; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

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