The cost of subscribing to Disney Plus is going up, and by quite a bit. Yesterday Disney announced that the price of an ad-free tier would rise from $8 a month to $11 a month — or $110 for a year. An ad-supported tier is coming too, but rather than offering a discount it will claim the old $8 a month (or $80 a year) price tag.
I suspect this move will be as unpopular as it is bold, because nobody likes price increases — especially on this scale. In fact, the whole thing stinks of Disney Plus falling into some of the same traps as other streaming services — particularly Netflix.
The streaming industry feels like blunder city
Recently it feels like Netflix is facing one blunder after another. Whether it’s the string of recent canceled shows, splitting up the fourth season of Stranger Things, announcing it was relenting on the whole “no ads” promise or increasing its prices for the umpteenth time.
Similarly, HBO Max, which is top of our list of the best streaming services, is being merged with Discovery Plus. Not only is Discovery's streamer not on our list, it's also primarily known for unscripted and reality TV content — a far cry from the original programming HBO is synonymous with. My colleague Henry T Casey has even argued that HBO Max should be absorbing Discovery Plus, not the other way around.
Disney Plus is not immune from blunders either. I say this as a U.K. resident who couldn’t subscribe to the service when it launched in November 2019. Instead Disney Plus wouldn’t arrive until March the next year, and none of the original launch content would be available until then.
As a Star Wars fan who was very much looking forward to The Mandalorian, this was painful. Rights issues and honoring existing contracts were the cited reason for the delay, though I couldn’t help but be annoyed. I still feel Disney should have given people some way of watching its originals through official and legitimate channels.
Disney Plus needs to read the room
The price increase is another example of Disney failing to read the room. The last Disney Plus price increase was March 2021, the monthly cost only went up by a single dollar. Come December 8 2022 the price will increase by $3, or 37.5%. Not only is that fairly high, it’s also the worst possible time for it.
The streaming market is becoming saturated, with just about everyone (even Walmart) trying to muscle in on the industry. Likewise, we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis with very high inflation, which has already forced people to be more frugal and cut unnecessary spending — including streaming services.
A price increase shouldn’t be a massive surprise, of course. Back when the original $7-a-month pricing was announced, then-Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that the price was low to account for the service’s lack of content. This also meant that pricing would increase over time, which we’re seeing right now.
Disney Plus needs more content
The problem is whether Disney Plus, in the U.S. at least, has the amount of content to justify the latest price hike. Here in the U.K. Disney Plus has been more expensive for a while, costing £8/$9.77 a month. But we also have access to the Star catalog, which includes a huge amount of content from the non-traditional areas of the Walt Disney Company.
Simply put, it’s the kind of stuff American audiences would have to watch on Hulu. The Predator movies, Prey included, are on Disney Plus outside North America, as are the likes of Atlanta, Pam & Tommy, Die Hard, Taken, and too many more examples to count.
Even The Orville, a Hulu original that made the jump to Disney Plus in the U.S. just yesterday (August 10), has been available in the U.K. catalog for months.
Disney Plus has been increasing the size of its content library in the two and a half years since launch, and so far it hasn’t been as quick to cancel shows as Netflix seems to be. But it’s going to need more content to justify such a big price increase. Because there’s only so many episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series we can handle.
Star and the Marvel Defenders have already proven Disney Plus doesn't need to stick to a hard PG-13 limit. So there's no serious reason why the North American version of Disney Plus couldn't include some content that would normally have to go to Hulu.
While poaching content from Hulu is going to be tricky while Universal is in the picture, Disney Plus could benefit from letting some of that content follow The Orville’s footsteps and switch teams. It wouldn’t make up for such a large price increase, but it would soften the blow.
The cheaper ad-supported tier adds little financial benefit
It’s hard to compare Disney Plus’s advertising plans to Netflix, because Netflix hasn't told us anything about its plans. Just that an ad-supported tier is coming, and that it will cost less than the ad-free experience Netflix is known for. Not that this has stopped doomsaying on various parts of the internet.
Back when Netflix announced this, my Reddit feed was filled with posts about how Netflix was dying — all thanks to ads. A number of people insisted this was like the early days of cable TV, claiming that cable was originally supposed to be ad-free — only for advertising to quickly invade those premium channels. Though according to a 1981 article from the New York Times (opens in new tab), this was never intended to be the case.
The fear for Netflix was that the ad-supported tier would quickly become the “default," with the ad-free experience costing considerably more. Which is something Disney Plus has just done.
To make matters worse, the long-touted “cheaper” ad-supported tier isn’t actually a cheaper option. You won’t be saving money by accepting commercials; you pay the same amount while the service gets actively worse. Because no matter how few, or unobtrusive those ads are, it’s always going to be worse than the ad-free experience.
Even offering Disney Plus with ads for one dollar less than people currently pay would be a better look than this. Let’s just hope the ads are not particularly intrusive, and kept to a minimum. Let’s not have Disney Plus turn into YouTube.
Increasing the price of a product is never going to be a popular decision, no matter how big or small the change might be. While I can’t blame Disney for wanting to get a better return on its streaming investment, the company could have approached things with a little more tact.
Keeping your price increase under a third is one option Disney Plus could have taken, as is offering an ad-supported tier that’s actually cheaper than what’s currently on offer. We’ve yet to see what the ads on Disney Plus will be like, but I’m hoping the lack of a tangible discount means they’re not going to be in your face all the time. Less like YouTube and more like my Roku box, in other words.
But if Disney is adamant that the new prices are here to stay, it could at least make sure everyone has enough content to make it worthwhile. Even if it means there won't be as many people subscribing to Hulu.
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