Disney Plus and Hulu are set to merge into one super streaming service in a bid to combat Netflix's dominance of the industry.
Announced by Disney CEO Bob Iger during the company's Q2 2023 earnings call (as reported by Motley Fool), Disney Plus and its sister streamer Hulu will join forces by the end of the year.
Essentially, Disney Plus users will begin to see Hulu's extensive suite of movies and TV shows make its way onto the former at an as-yet-announced date. Clearly, Iger hopes that his so-called "one-app experience", will help the company overthrow Netflix in the never-ending streaming wars.
There are caveats to this announcement, though. Firstly, Disney's two streaming platforms will continue to be offered to consumers as separate entities, with Iger confirming that Disney will "continue to offer Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN Plus as stand-alone options".
Next, Disney's new super streamer will only launch in the US. Hulu isn't available elsewhere, so Disney Plus subscribers in the UK and Australia aren't likely to be affected by the change. Currently, Hulu Originals, such as Only Murders in the Building and Barbarian, are delivered to Disney Plus UK and Disney Plus Australia via Disney Plus Star, a sub-channel available on the service in non-US regions that's included in the overall price of Disney Plus.
What is unclear is whether Disney Plus Star will be rebranded to Hulu in non-US territories once Disney Plus and Hulu are combined into a single service. On the one hand, it would (ahem) streamline Disney's streaming division globally. On the other, it might confuse viewers (initially, at least) about Hulu replacing Star on Disney Plus outside of the US.
We've reached out to Disney for clarification on how the Disney Plus-Hulu merger will impact Disney Plus in non-US regions, and we'll report back if we receive a response.
News of Disney Plus and Hulu's combining comes amid another somewhat turbulent period for The Walt Disney Company. Per the entertainment conglomerate's Q2 2023 earnings report, Disney Plus lose a staggering four million subscribers between December 31, 2022 and April 1, 2023, with those losses largely attributed to a huge drop-off in Indian subscribers using its Disney Plus Hotstar service. This latest downturn comes after Disney Plus lost its magic touch among audiences and posted a 2.4 million drop in users in Q1 2023.
It isn't all bad news for Disney, though, with direct-to-consumer (DTC) revenues rising 12% to $5.5 billion. Disney celebrated this profits-based rise by confirming it plans to increase the price of its ad-supported subscription tier in the near future, as well as rolling it out into Europe, sometime soon. So, you know, at least it's still making money despite losing subscribers…
Meanwhile, Hulu and ESPN Plus saw slight upticks in their subscriber bases – Hulu increasing its number of users by 200,000, and ESPN Plus adding 400,000 to its fanbase. Disney's Q2 2023 earnings presentation also confirmed The Mandalorian season 3 is the most-watched Disney Plus series of 2023 so far. On the big screen, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 opened with an impressive $289 million worldwide box office haul, too – proof that Marvel movies can still draw in sizable audiences.
A new kind of streaming war
The forthcoming merger of Disney Plus and Hulu marks a new era in the ongoing battle for streaming supremacy.
Disney's announcement about its own super streamer comes less than a month after Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) revealed Max, its mega streaming service that'll combine HBO Max and Discovery Plus into a single entity. You can find out more about how Max, which is due to launch on May 23, will shift the streaming landscape in our 7 things you need to know about Max explainer article.
Evidently, WBD and Disney's plans to make super streaming platforms is each company's way of trying to usurp Netflix. As the pie chart above shows (per Parrot Analytics), Netflix is far and away the most popular and best streaming service around, with the company's platform holding almost 38% of global audience demand for streaming originals.
In contrast, Disney Plus (9.4%), Hulu (5.1%), and HBO Max (4.5%) lag way behind their rival. Even Prime Video, which arguably isn't as popular as this trio among consumers when it comes to what which streamer you think of first, holds a bigger slice of the pie with a 10.4% share. The combining of Disney Plus and Hulu, then, would take Disney's overall share to 14.5% – still someway off Netflix, sure, but a slight closing of the gap nonetheless.
Disney Plus and Hulu's merging would stand Disney in even better stead when it comes to their full movie and TV show offerings, which includes their originals films and TV series, plus any third-party licensed content that they carry.
As the Parrot Analytics bar chart shows above, combining the two services would give Disney an unassailable total demand share of 25.2% across the whole streaming market. Max (HBO Max and Discovery Plus combined) would come in second with 18.7%, with Netflix shunted into third place with 17.9%.
Clearly, then, uniting Disney Plus and Hulu into a single entity, even if it is only in the US, is a plan worth pursuing for The Walt Disney Company. If it means it finally has a chance of overthrowing Netflix, it's an opportunity worth taking. All Disney needs to do now is convince its userbase and potential new subscribers that a combined Disney Plus-Hulu platform is worth investing in. But, with the company slowing down its output of original films and shows (per the Boardwalk Times), it's unclear if it'll be able to persuade new users to sign up with less content to stream.
For more streaming-based coverage, find out which movies and TV shows have been heavily impacted by the writers' strike. Additionally, read about the best Disney Plus shows, best Hulu movies, and best Netflix shows around.