Hulu-Disney+ Bundle Officially Launches As Unified Service; Company Says Viewing During Three-Month Beta Exceeded Its Expectations

Disney’s streaming bundle combining Hulu and Disney+ in one service officially launched Wednesday morning, ending a three-month beta period described by the company as a success.

The “duo” plan, Hulu on Disney+, is priced $2 higher than each individual subscriptions alone. It follows in the the estimable footsteps of the three-service Disney Bundle first introduced in 2020, which also includes ESPN+. Unlike that ongoing offering, though, the two-service one is focused on streamlining the consumer experience and pooling the content of two large, established streaming players within a single outlet. The combo version has a Hulu “tile” on the home screen alongside Marvel, Pixar and the other original pillars of Disney+.

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Subscriber response was positive during the beta period, Disney Entertainment Direct-to-Consumer President Joe Earley said during a press briefing on the eve of the launch. About one-third of subscribers who were eligible to take part in the beta wound up doing so, he said. Overall viewing, in terms of duration, variety and percentage of paid subscribers watching, all outperformed internal expectations. “In any way we were measuring and watching, the behavior exceeded it,” Earley said.

Hulu had 49.7 million subscribers as of the end of 2023, including 4.6 million who get the Hulu + Live TV pay service. Disney+ had 111.3 million, not counting its Disney+ Hotstar base of 38.3 million. The company has never disclosed the number of bundle subscribers. Throughout the past few months, as work began on the two-service bundle, Disney has maintained that both services will remain available as stand-alones and that sentiment was reinforced during the briefing.

Bundling has been reshaping the entire streaming sector, and Disney has additional incentive to leverage Hulu after buying out Comcast’s one-third stake in the 17-year-old former joint venture and assuming full control of it. Unlike Disney+, Hulu has remained a domestic operation, though its programming is integrated in a number of territories outside the U.S. During a Disney earnings call with Wall Street analysts last November, CEO Bob Iger said the bundle would enable Disney to use its “upsell capabilities” and increase engagement as it continues to trim streaming losses.

Aaron LaBerge, President & CTO, Disney Entertainment & ESPN, called the integration “the most significant technical, operational, and product evolution for Disney+ since its launch.” He added that the initiative is part of “a wider technology transformation that we have been undertaking,” with milestones on the horizon including the launch of a flagship streaming version of ESPN in 2025.

There are sensitive aspects of combining a service that offers a potent array of kids-and-family programming with one known for The Handmaid’s Tale, executives have acknowledged.

Iger on the November earnings call said the decision to create a three-month beta period was made “so that we can prepare parents, largely, to basically implement parental controls.” Earley said parents would be able to avail themselves of “really robust” controls aimed at not blurring the line between Bluey and The Bear. Even so, he acknowledged that an avid viewer of edgier, adult content on Hulu who then watches young-skewing fare with their family may want to maintain a firm grip on the remote control. Even so, he added, “We have been very careful about this, and advertisers know that.”

The bundle launch comes during a time of considerable scrutiny of Disney’s streaming operations. The company has promised investors to start turning a profit in its streaming operation by the end of its fiscal year this fall, meeting a goal first established in 2019, during Iger’s first stint as CEO and before the upheaval of Covid. It has also recently come under attack by activist investors, principally Nelson Peltz’s Trian Fund Management, ahead of its April 3 annual shareholder meeting. Peltz has cited missteps in streaming, though more notably the company’s succession planning and misfiring film studio in calling for shareholders to vote him onto the board of directors along with ex-Disney CFO Jay Rasulo.

Earley said stimulating “viewing in the aggregate,” rather than trying to maintain existing levels at individual services, is the primary strategic goal. The additional hope is that “Hulu-dominant” subscribers who have access to Disney+ will spend more time there. “They don’t know that there is a lot of content on Disney+ for them,” Earley said. “They’ve likely been coming in for discrete viewing and then going back to Hulu.”

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