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Disney not merging Disney Plus, Hulu apps, exec confirms

Content from Hulu will be incorporated into Disney Plus, but standalone apps will still be available for the foreseeable future.

Content from Hulu will be incorporated into Disney Plus, but standalone apps will still be available for the foreseeable future.

An executive with the Walt Disney Company has shot down numerous reports that appeared in business and technology trade publications over the last few months claiming the company would “merge” its general entertainment service Hulu into its family-friendly Disney Plus app.

The affirmation was made in a blog post published by the company this week, in which Disney affirmed it is incorporating most of Hulu’s movies and TV shows into a new tile within the Disney Plus app.

The move, which happened this week, was not unexpected: Months ago, high-level executives at Disney confirmed the company was interested in bringing Hulu shows and movies into Disney Plus, which they said would make it easier for grown-up streamers to watch content from both brands within a single app.

What they did not say is that the apps were “merging,” though numerous publications suggested as much. This week, Disney’s President of Entertainment Joe Earley tried to shoot down those reports by stating once and for all that Hulu and Disney Plus would remain separate apps for the foreseeable future.

That means, streamers who buy Disney Plus and Hulu together through the “Disney Bundle Duo” or “Disney Bundle Trio” will be able to watch Hulu content from within Disney Plus or by using the standalone Hulu app, which Disney still intends to support.

In fact, some features will still require using the standalone version of Hulu, including live TV channels (if subscribers pay for Hulu with Live TV) and accessing the content libraries of Max, Cinemax, Starz and other premium brands if customers pay for a third-party subscription to any of those services through Hulu.

Right now, the Hulu content tile within the Disney Plus app offers dedicated access to original programs, shows and movies that are found within the base version of Hulu. The tile was unveiled in a “beta” phase, which Earley said was intended to help tepid expectations about the integration of Hulu’s content library while also allowing Disney to better understand the viewing habits of its customers.

“It’s an exciting next step for direct-to-consumer, but it’s important that people have managed expectations about what the experience is going to be,” Earley said on Wednesday.

Earley also said the beta phase is intended to give parents some time to better activate content controls, to ensure their children are not able to access more-mature programming within Hulu.

The Hulu tile also has the effect of serving as a promotional vehicle for the Disney Duo and Disney Trio bundle: All Disney Plus subscribers will see the Hulu tile when they launch the app, but they’ll only be able to access Hulu content within Disney Plus if they actually pay for one of the two bundles.

Currently, the Disney Bundle Duo costs $10 per month if streamers are willing to tolerate advertisements, or $20 per month to eliminate ads from both Disney Plus and Hulu. Disney Duo Bundle must be purchased through the Disney Plus app — it isn’t available through Hulu — though, once purchased, streamers can access both Hulu and Disney Plus.

Disney Bundle Trio, meanwhile, costs $15 per month with ads or $25 per month for commercial-free streaming of Hulu and Disney Plus programming. Disney Trio Bundle also unlocks access to ESPN Plus, a sports-centric streaming service that serves up on-demand shows and some live events from ESPN (though it isn’t a streaming version of the cable channel, something that Disney is working to bring to market). Disney Bundle Trio can be purchased through Disney Plus or Hulu.

Another package, called Hulu with Live TV, offers on-demand access to Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus along with dozens of live TV channels — including local broadcast affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC in most areas, plus cable channels like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ESPN, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Comedy Central and others — for $76 per month.

The bundles, and the integration of Hulu’s content into Disney Plus, are seen as a way to help Disney grow and retain subscribers as the company hopes to generate a profit from its streaming endeavors for the first time.

“The road to get there requires that we optimize what we have now in terms of content, marketing and user experience, and then monetize it in the best way possible,” Earley said. “One of the things that Hulu on Disney Plus is going to achieve is it’s going to increase engagement, which reduces churn: When someone goes into Disney Plus, they have this enormous other world to access and I think that people are going to discover content they never even realized was on Hulu.”

But it doesn’t mean the apps are “merging,” and, in fact, all three services — Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus — will still be available to purchase on an à la carte basis. Still, streamers who watch content from Hulu and Disney Plus on a regular basis will save money by bundling the products together.

“I hope consumers realize that one Bundle subscription, which is competitively priced, can unlock the incredible original content, the blockbuster films that come from all our studios, and a 100 years’ worth of stories from Disney Plus — not to mention the amazing titles that come from Hulu Originals, FX, 20th Century Studios, Searchlight, and all of our amazing partners,” Earley said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).