Another streaming service bit the ad-based bullet. The standard Disney+ plan has been rechristened Disney+ Premium and costs $10.99; the brand-new Disney+ ad-based tier, Disney+ Basic, is $7.99. Just as Netflix did last month, Disney fans may now choose a cheaper subscription in exchange for ad breaks. And just as we did for Netflix, IndieWire took Disney+ Basic on a test drive.
In terms of ad functionality, it’s what you’d expect: Choose a title for play and you’re greeted by a 45-second spot with one or two ads, which will be followed by shorter spots sprinkled into the programming. According to Disney+, the company signed deals with over 100 major advertisers and among the brands we spotted on day one include Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Airbnb, Lego, Target, Mariott Hotels, Toyota, American Express, and Meta.
Netflix and Disney+ appear to carry similar ad loads, with one key difference. When Netflix launched five weeks ago, its ads were extremely unpredictable: You might get a few movies or TV episodes with no ads at all. Disney+ is much more consistent with one 45-second ad spot at the top. That’s followed by two to four ad breaks, depending on the duration of the TV show or movie. For extremely short programs, such as popular Australian kids’ cartoon “Bluey,” there are no ads for its seven-minute episodes.
Like Netflix, the Disney+ Basic plan is… more basic. Disney+ doesn’t let you use GroupWatch and SharePlay or Dolby Atmos. Neither Netflix- nor Disney+-with-ads allow downloads. However, Disney+ Basic doesn’t restrict picture quality (4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, Full HD, HDR10, and IMAX Enhanced Aspect Ratio are all on offer); Netflix limits its ad tier to 720p. For Netflix with 4K and HDR, the ad-free subscription is $19.99 per month.
Possibly the biggest Disney+ Basic advantage is it includes all Disney+ shows. Netflix launched its ad tier with about 10 percent of its content walled off due to rights issues. These including movies then in the company’s daily top 10 film list: “The Bad Guys,” “Oblivion,” “Sing 2,” and “Man on a Ledge.” Also unavailable were “House of Cards” and third-party hits like “Peaky Blinders,” “Good Girls,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Arrested Development,” and “New Girl.” (A red lock icon taunted subscribers.) Disney+ doesn’t have that issue, as almost all of the content is owned by Disney, so you can stream “The Simpsons,” “The Mandalorian,” “Bluey,” or “Willow” to your hearts desire.
Netflix’s ad-tier is a dollar cheaper; it’s $6.99. However, Disney+ also bundles with other streamers owned by Disney. You can get Disney+ and Hulu with ads for $9.99 per month, and tack on ESPN+ for $12.99. (The premium version of the bundle is $19.99.) If you’re getting ad tiers because you miss cable, you can sign up for Hulu + Live TV, which costs $69.99 per month and gives you Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ with ads in addition to the ability to watch live programming on multiple networks.
It’s easy to downgrade a Disney+ account: Click on your profile at the top right corner of the Disney+ homepage, click “Account,” and scroll to the subscription subsection. Click the box with the plan name; that opens a subscription details page with the option to click “Change.” There’s several tier options, including the bundles and standalone plans. Choose, click, confirm payment details, then click agree and subscribe.
The ad-based tiers of Disney+ and Netflix arrive as both companies face the looming prospect of recession. Netflix lost money every year as it bet big on content and faced a major 2022 tumble in subscriber numbers and stock prices. This caused the company to rush to bring advertising to the service, which badly needed another revenue stream.
Meanwhile, Disney posted a $1.5 billion dollar loss in its direct-to-consumer streaming division for Q4 2022. This also caused stock to fall; it also inspired the sudden and unexpected exit of Bob Chapek as CEO with the return of Bob Iger.
Disney owns the majority of Hulu, which has had an ad-based plan for years. For now, the only major streamers without ad-based plans are Apple TV+ and Prime Video (which includes ad-based subsidiary Amazon Freevee).