Disney+ is the streaming service for Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, NatGeo, etc., and has grown a lot since launch. This reviews its content, whether it’s worth the money, plan pricing & discounts, and how Disney Plus compares to Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, Hulu, AppleTV+ and more. (Updated November 28, 2023.)
It’s been a wild couple of years for streaming services. After Netflix began reporting disappointing results that saw the industry leader lose subscribers from quarter to quarter for the first time ever, its stock price and that of its competitors–WarnerMedia, Paramount, Comcast, and Disney–all were hit hard.
Consequently, investors have been reevaluating metrics for measuring streaming success, and whether there should be more emphasis on near-term profitability and less on growth-at-all-costs and subscriber counters. This, in turn, has led streaming services to rethink their approaches. Most notably, Warner Bros. Discovery announced a seismic shift in content strategy that caught Hollywood and fans by surprise as projects, including nearly-finished ones, were cancelled. This is just the most notable example–it’s been “chaos mode” for streaming services most of the year.
Streaming services have faced numerous headwinds, including heightened churn, delayed content, and pulled-forward demand in the past two years. There have been questions as to whether Disney can outperform the competition–is it a cause of some of Netflix’s woes or will Disney+ eventually reach the same plateau?
While streaming continues to be the emphasis for Disney, it continues to lose money–and likely won’t turn a profit for the company until late 2024. After Disney’s streaming segment peaked at a posted $1.47 billion in operating losses for one quarter (you read that correctly–Disney+ and the company’s other streaming services lost $1.5 billion (with a “b”) per quarter at this time last year), Disney has switched gears and started to chase profitability over marketshare and user acquisition. This has meant cost-cutting as well as price increases.
We share the “business side” of Disney+ here, despite this being primarily a blog about Walt Disney World and Disneyland, because of the outsized implications. Quite simply, the success of Disney+ will at least partially dictate the future of Walt Disney World and Disneyland–not just television and films.
Just as the poor performance of ESPN resulted in cost-cutting for other business units, the same is currently true here. In the future, perhaps Disney+ will be a runaway success that becomes an incubator for new IPs that find their way into Disney’s theme parks. Even 4 years later, all of that remains to be seen–and it probably won’t be clear until 2024 when Disney+ (hopefully!) becomes profitable for the company and there’s more clarity about how Disney+ competes with Netflix and its counterparts.
Disney+ with advertising costs $7.99 per month in the United States—the same price last year, and the previous price of the ad-free base plan. The Disney+ premium no-ads plan now costs $13.99 per month, which is almost double its prior price just over a year ago.
Disney also announced a variety of lower-priced, basic plans with ads for the Disney Bundle, which includes various ad-supported and free configurations with ESPN+ and Hulu. Those new prices are as follows:
Bundle Duo Basic: Disney+ & Hulu (with ads) – $9.99
Bundle Duo Premium: Disney+ & Hulu (no ads) – $19.99
Bundle Trio Basic – Disney Plus, Hulu & ESPN+ (with ads) – $14.99
Bundle Trio Premium – Disney Plus, Hulu & ESPN+ (no ads) – $24.99
There are also options with live television that cost $70 and up.
For Cyber Week 2023, there’s also a new deal on a couple different Disney bundle options. Hulu is currently offering its annual ad-supported subscription plan on sale for $.99 per month–87% off–for a very limited time HERE!
Offer for Hulu (With Ads) plan only: $.99/month for 12 months, then auto-renews at $7.99/month or then-current regular monthly price. Ends 11:59 PM PST on 11/28/23. Cancel anytime, effective at the end of your billing period. No refunds or credits for partial months. New and eligible returning subscribers (who have not been Hulu subscribers in the past 1 month) only; Disney+ Basic (With Ads) and Disney Bundle subscribers are not eligible.
But wait, there’s more! In addition to deeply-discounted Hulu, those who take advantage of this deal can add-on Disney+ (With Ads) for $2 per month more. That comes to a grand total of $2.99 per month for both services, which is cheaper than the annual bundle and includes Hulu and allows you to cancel before the year is over (if you so desire). Even if you don’t want and will never watch Hulu, you come out ahead with this deal!
But wait, there’s EVEN MORE! Okay, this one is less exciting. You can also add STARZ for another $1 per month for 6 months. Starz is often discounted during Amazon sales, and we’ve been enticed to get it for a month at a time. We literally run out of things to watch after a week. There are a handful of movies you won’t find anywhere else, but that’s it. I cannot imagine a use-case where anyone would want Starz for more than one month. To each their own, though.
Back at launch, there was a lot of excitement about the back catalog of classic films on Disney Plus. Understandably so, the very notion of on-demand access to animated films flew in the face of what so many fans had been trained to expect by the “Disney Vault” approach.
This has proven to be one of the strong suits of Disney Plus. There are understandable frustrations among fans about conspicuous omissions, particularly when it comes to classic content and Walt Disney Treasures, the lineup from Disney’s back catalog has only gotten stronger. It’s a definite highlight, even if there is room for improvement that would please the history buffs and old-timers, like me.
Then there are the new releases. Disney+ eschewed theatrical releases for many of its animated Disney and Pixar films for a couple years, for reasons both strategic and pragmatic. These box office losses were families’ gains, as Encanto, Turning Red, Luca, Soul, and other first-run releases were streamable in-home either day-and-date with their theatrical releases or in lieu of them.
Even setting aside the savings of not having to deal with the headache and cost of taking the family to the cineplex, Disney+ offers families something equally valuable: rewatchability. Of course, this could be a double-edged sword. Personally, I have not been subjected to hearing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” 354 times, so I still rather enjoy the song. Perhaps parents no longer find it quite as catchy.
Regardless, having an on-demand repository of beloved animated films for families to watch, rewatch, re-re-re-re-watch (and so on) is an undeniable strength of Disney Plus. As someone who wore out VHS copies of the Disney Animation Renaissance movies as a kid, I can only imagine what a game changer Disney+ would’ve been.
For families with small children, the “review” of Disney+ is likely a pretty easy open and shut case. It’s worth the cost…at any cost, and is a streaming service without peers. For everyone else, it’s not quite so simple.
In fact, after seeing the meager D23 Expo launch presentation in 2019, we opted against locking ourselves into 3 years of Disney+ when it was deeply discounted pre-launch. The company’s release roadmap was spread way too thin, and over too long of a timeline. That was remedied to some extent with the WandaVision and the subsequent slate, but not fully.
This is something we’ve discussed at length previously, but Disney+ has suffered from a dearth of quality original content as compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon, or other streaming services. We still find Disney+ to be a streaming service that it makes more sense (for us, at least) to subscribe to for only a few months per year. Unless you have kids or are deep in the MCU or Star Wars fandoms, it’s not a compelling full-time streaming service.
Part of the reason that Disney+ leaned so heavily into the back catalog from the jump was that the original content was lacking. You might as well call Disney+ “The House That Baby Yoda Built” as that cute critter made The Mandalorian an immediate hit and internet sensation. Few other streaming exclusives have ever had the immediate cultural impact as Baby Yoda, which was important, since that was pretty much it for the Disney+ Originals at launch.
It wasn’t until WandaVision launched in January of 2021–over a year after the debut of Disney Plus–that the streaming service really began having a slate of consistent content. Since then, there’s been a steady stream of shows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Star Wars. The MCU has been a particularly strong source for content, with notable shows including the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and more.
There’s also been no shortage of Star Wars, including more Mandalorian, plus the Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Andor, Bad Batch, and more. I do not pretend to understand the Star Wars fandom and its incessant desire to hate the thing it loves, but I’ve enjoyed some of these. Others, not so much–but hit or miss quality is part and parcel of streaming content.
Then there’s the other Disney+ programming, the highlight of which for me has been theme park and documentary content. Imagineering Story is still the high-water mark of Disney+ for me, with Muppets Haunted Mansion being another personal favorite. I’ve also enjoyed some of the movies that have been released on Disney Plus, including Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers and Free Guy.
Through an objective lens, I think Disney+ has been brilliant. Its leveraging of MCU and Star Wars franchises has been absolutely masterful, and this is one of the big things that separates Disney+ from its competitors. When it comes to the company, words like brand, IP, and franchise are often considered dirty. As someone who loves original creative content, I get this–Disney leans pretty hard into past success and nostalgia, often repackaging or remaking what worked in the past.
However, for a streaming service strategy…this works. If churn is the concern, what better approach than feeding consumers a steady diet of the characters and franchises they already love? Better yet, what better approach for generating enthusiasm for theatrical tentpole releases than by building to them via in-home content? Say what you will about the creative side of all this, but Disney’s flywheel is unrivaled in Hollywood.
About the only objective criticism I can offer is that Disney+ hasn’t mastered the art of appointment television for its flagship programming. In fairness, this is something we haven’t seen with any show since Game of Thrones, which was primarily viewed live on HBO by cable viewers. None of the streaming services have managed to pull this off for whatever reason (tech infrastructure limitations?), but at least Disney is on a weekly release schedule as opposed to Netflix’s binge approach.
When I prefaced that praise with “through an objective lens,” you had to know a ‘but’ was coming, right?
Subjectively, I’m less-than-enamored with Disney Plus. There’s simply too much Star Wars and Marvel, to the point that it’s overwhelming. In particular, MCU Phase 4 feels like homework. Not only is the Multiverse is too esoteric, but it once again lowers the stakes with the ability to hit the undo button that saps emotion and tension.
With only a couple of exceptions, the shows have felt like a slog building towards something bigger, without immediate payoff. Not only that, but for someone who doesn’t rewatch Marvel movies with regularity, there’s a lot to remember. I find myself pausing at least once per episode to Google something when it becomes clear there’s a connection that isn’t clicking for me.
It’s all become such a chore that I’ve mostly just given up on Marvel shows. I continue to read or hear great things from critics and friends, but I can’t shake the feeling that they’re more invested in the MCU and the shows may not rate quite as well as standalone programming. If I’m going to watch something that feels like homework, I’d rather it at least be because it’s thought-provoking and deep–not because I can’t remember what happened with that one minor character in a series or movie I watched 18 months ago.
Of course, this is a review of Disney+ and not Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but critique of the latter feels appropriate here since the MCU consumes so much of the budget and buzz for Disney+ programming. Save for Star Wars, the MCU overshadows everything else on Disney Plus.
Other programming exists, but it feels like an afterthought. I’ve yet to get past the first episode in any other original scripted series, as they all come across as cheesy and low-budget. In fairness, this has been the case with Disney’s various cable channels for decades. The argument could be made that there’s continuity, and this is the Disney channel “voice” that reassures parents adult content won’t be too mature.
I suppose that’s fine. Disney+ has made a concerted effort to make it the streaming service for families. If Disney+ only wants fandoms and families, more power to the company. It’ll be a targeted streaming service, albeit one with a colossal potential user base.
However, I doubt that the company wants to box Disney+ into any narrower subset of the population. It’s positioned as a bona fide competitor to Netflix, aimed at “all households.” However, there’s a noteworthy absence of adult prestige television, and this sticks out like a sore thumb during what has become a golden age for serious dramas.
From my perspective, this is the big issue with Disney+ original programming. As a casual viewer willing to choose from the full ‘buffet’ of streaming programming, many of the MCU and Star Wars shows are good, but even that requires grading on a curve. The strong suit of these franchises isn’t quality and depth–it’s fun.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I love escapism and popcorn programming–I had a blast watching Hawkeye and other shows, but Disney+ is very one note. Super heroes and space soap operas is all there is. That’s great if you love a nonstop diet of those two things; not so much if you’re after tonal and topical variety.
Disney Plus v. Other Streaming Services
When we first ‘cut the cord’ on cable over a decade ago, we did so to save money. We had used Blockbuster Online and Netflix in its nascent years as a DVD rental service, and transitioned to its streaming platform. At some point, the DVDs plus streaming became “good enough” for us, so we got rid of our Comcast cable, saving nearly $100 per month.
Fast forward to the present, and we’re spending almost (but not quite) as much money on streaming services. Granted, we have way more content that we actually enjoy, but it’s still more money than anticipated due a larger number of content silos as compared to the singular nature of cable. More recently, we’ve been churning through services to reduce costs–and given the reality that we cannot watch it all.
With that said, we’ll run through the other services to highlight the pros & cons of each, how they compare to Disney Plus, and what ranks most highly for us.
HBO Max – For anyone interested in Peak TV, this is without question the top streaming service. HBO Max offers far and away the best signal to noise ratio, so even though it offers less programming, it offers better programming. In addition to critical and commercial darlings like the Tokyo Vice, Succession, Winning Time, The White Lotus, House of the Dragon, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Barry, etc., HBO has great documentaries, sports, and political shows.
In addition to the core channel prestige programming, HBO Max has offered early access to a number of Warner Bros movies as well as HBO Max originals. It has also expanded its appeal with Studio Ghibli and more ‘mainstream’ shows like Friends and Big Bang Theory. In a way, HBO Max has gone in the opposite direction of what Disney+ needs to accomplish: this streamer started with Peak TV and rounded it out with a formidable slate of crowd-pleasers that gives it appeal for a broad range of demographics.
Apple TV+ – This has become the ‘dark horse’ candidate, and I’d basically describe it as the streaming spiritual successor to HBO, the network. Apple TV+ offers a highly curated lineup with far and away the best signal to noise ratio. Shows like Severance (#1 streaming show), Ted Lasso (#3), The Morning Show, Pachinko, The After Party, For All Mankind, Black Bird, Schmigadoon!, Mythic Quest, and more all are solid.
It’s getting to the point where I’m willing to give an Apple TV+ show a chance if it sounds appealing, without reading any reviews. This is something I did with the cable version of HBO, but no streaming service. Not everything is going to be for everyone, but there’s practically a baseline quality guarantee.
Netflix – The signal to noise ratio is terrible, but they have approximately 37 new shows per day (slight exaggeration…maybe?) including a lot of quality content. Further explanation and assessment probably isn’t necessary, as Netflix is very much a known quantity.
While it currently has the first-mover advantage, it’s also the streaming service I’d expect to change the most in the coming years. Netflix’s approach is too scattershot, with money thrown at everything to see what sticks, and shows regularly cancelled–without regard for quality–if they don’t hit viewership metrics.
Amazon Prime Video – We are Amazon Prime addicts, and the peace of mind of knowing we could have paper towels delivered to us at a moment’s notice will prevent us from ever canceling Amazon Prime. Everything that comes with that speedy shipping is gravy, including Prime Video.
With that said, Amazon Prime Video has a surprisingly strong lineup of movies and it just keeps getting better. Prime Video also has no shortage of what we’ll call ‘elevated comfort watch television.’ It’s also home to a lot of originals that are, essentially, patriotic. Lots of police procedurals and shows about the military or intelligence organizations. (It’s home to many of our guilty pleasures, including Bosch and Jack Ryan.)
One of the biggest advantages of Prime Video is that its library can be bolstered by add-on channels. Paid channels like AMC+, Showtime, Starz, and Paramount+ provide more content and eliminate the need for separate streaming services. Plus, these are routinely on sale during Prime Day, Cyber Monday, and other times of year. (Although it won’t be reviewed separately, Showtime is home to my #2 streaming show: Yellowjackets.)
Hulu – Buying out Comcast and rolling Hulu into Disney+ would solve every complaint we have about the latter’s streaming slate. Hulu excels at prestige programming that isn’t overly pretentious. It’s essentially the Touchstone of streaming services–making it a great counterpart to the core Disney brand.
In addition to shows like Handmaid’s Tale, Only Murders in the Building (#4 streaming show), Dopesick, The Old Man, and Pam and Tommy (probably not appropriate for Disney+), it has become a great repository for network and basic cable programming, plus classic sitcoms.
Peacock – If this blog were to partake in Disney v. Universal foolishness, we might comment that streaming is one realm where Disney trounces Universal. However, we actually really like Peacock. Just like the Universal parks pre-Potter, it feels like it doesn’t get enough credit.
It’s home to plenty of enjoyable shows, from Chucky to Yellowstone to NBC classics like The Office. We also watch a lot of movies on Peacock, both old and new. (Vengeance, The Northman, Ambulance, You Better Watch Out,Black Mask, etc.) Oh, and the best part of all? Due to Peacock’s unpopularity, discounts are common–we paid $22 for the year.
Paramount+ – I’m not qualified to offer legitimate Paramount+ critique. We have a free subscription via T-Mobile, and I mostly watch it for the NFL. We did love The Offer, but that’s about the only series we’ve watched on Paramount Plus.
However, I’m cognizant of the fact that Paramount+ is popular for Star Trek, Spongebob, Halo, and more. It just so happens that those are shows that do not interest us.
Ultimately, the infinitely rewatchable catalog of beloved animated films or the original programming from Star Wars and Marvel makes Disney+ worth the monthly cost for most fans. While it’s pretty far down my list of favorite streaming services because I don’t rewatch animated films and find most of the original content doesn’t do much for me, I can appreciate the appeal of Disney+ for so many families and fans. Not everything needs to be “for me,” and when viewing the streaming service at arm’s length, I feel like they’ve probably found the right formula.
When it comes to Disney+, your mileage may vary depending upon your interest level in all things Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, NatGeo, and 21st Century Fox…but chances are, you have at least some interest in one (if not 3-4) of those brands. At the end of the day, look at it this way: Disney+ is currently operating at a loss, meaning its costs are being subsidized and you’re getting an actual deal from Disney. How often has that happened in the last few years?!
Are you a Disney+ subscriber? What’s your favorite series or type of content on the streaming service? Think it’s worth the now-higher price point? Thoughts on Disney+ subscriber growth being subsidized by the company? Disappointed that Disney has put so much emphasis on streaming? What do you think of current slate of programming? What has you most excited? Expecting more titles to be added? Agree or disagree with my perspective that Disney+ is too Marvel and Star Wars-centric? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!