The tail end of 2021 saw a minor milestone in the so-called “streaming wars”: For the first time, Disney’s blockbuster-ready Disney Plus service topped Netflix in new subscribers, a numbers game that ultimately sent Netflix’s stock price plummeting. Now, in 2022, each streamer is plotting how to maintain quality while making business sense of a gargantuan content undertaking. For Netflix, that meant a baseline price increase. For Disney, it means adding new versions of the service for people who haven’t smashed that subscribe button.
On Friday, Disney announced that, sometime in late 2022, Disney Plus will introduce an ad-supported subscription tier, similar to Hulu’s various plans. The no-ad version will remain, along with the bundle options for Hulu and ESPN Plus. There was no pricing structure revealed in the announcement, but much like Hulu, HBO Max, and Peacock, the plan will cost less than the current no-ads model, which runs $7.99 a month.
“Expanding access to Disney Plus to a broader audience at a lower price point is a win for everyone — consumers, advertisers, and our storytellers,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman, Disney media and entertainment distribution, in a statement. “More consumers will be able to access our amazing content. Advertisers will be able to reach a wider audience, and our storytellers will be able to share their incredible work with more fans and families.”
In its last earnings call, Disney reported 129.8 million subscribers to Disney Plus (which includes 45.9 million subscribers to the international Disney Plus Hotstar service). The company hopes to reach 230-260 million by 2024. That means a steady pipeline of Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney-adjacent shows — of which there are many in the works — and new ways to lure in customers.
Disney plans to announce pricing and an official launch date in the near future. An international rollout of the ad-supported service is likely to follow after it’s launched in the U.S. and Canada.