When the Walt Disney Company purchased 20th Century Fox, it doubled its share in the US streaming service, Hulu, which resulted in Time Warner selling its 10% stake in the streaming service, leaving Disney with a 66% share and Comcast with 33%.  The two companies agreed that Disney would take operational control of the streaming service and that in 2024, either company could force Disney to buy out Comcast’s share.

With the launch of Disney+ in November 2019, followed by the pandemic, Disney has become much more focused on its streaming service.  But Hulu has often seemed like an odd fit within Disney, as running multiple streaming services causes many issues for any company. With Disney+ subscriber numbers exploding, it seemed as if Disney wasn’t interested in promoting Hulu, especially since the more valuable they made Hulu, the more money they’d eventually have to give to Comcast.

This is one reason why Disney cancelled its international rollout plans for Hulu. Instead, Disney decided it made more sense to focus on having one streaming service, which is why they added general entertainment into Disney+ around the world, which sees many Hulu Originals like “Only Murders In The Building”, “Dopesick”, and “Pam & Tommy” sitting on Disney+ next to shows like “The Mandalorian” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”.

Disney has since started making moves to make the US version more like the international version, by adding more parental controls to allow mature content like “Daredevil”.  However, its been sluggish in adding this content, as it looks like Disney is holding off adding much more general entertainment content until the ad-supported tier is added later this year.

However, while it might seem as if Disney hasn’t been pushing Hulu, according to some data from subscriber-measurement firm Antenna, Hulu’s subscriber growth is actually higher than Disney+ in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal has reported, that Hulu subscribers have topped Disney+, in 18 of the past 24 months. With Hulu’s new subscriptions surpassing Disney+ in the last six quarters.

Hulu currently has 41.4 million subscribers, while Disney+ has 137.7 million subscribers globally, and Disney+ subscribers will continue to grow as the streaming service recently launched across Eastern Europe, the Middle East and in parts of Africa.

Disney is forecasting that it wants to have between 230 million and 260 million Disney+ subscribers by September 2024.  But some shareholders aren’t convinced Disney can hit that number as Disney+ growth has levelled off since its launch in 2019, but it has solidified a core fan base.   The data also shows that Hulu subscribers are said to be less loyal than Disney+ customers.

Antenna’s chief executive, Jonathan Carson, told the WSJ that Disney+ “did a great job of teeing up those hard-core Disney fans.”

Disney+ got off to a huge start, but its reliance on brand new Marvel and Star Wars content to keep adult subscribers engaged has left many fans to question what else the streaming service offers for adults, which is why more general entertainment has been promised to arrive on Disney+.

Over the past year, Disney has released some fantastic originals onto Hulu, such as “The Dropout” and “Dopesick”, many of which have recently been nominated for an Emmy.   Plus the streaming service has been around for over a decade and offers much more general entertainment for everyone.  But this coming Fall, Hulu will begin losing more content as Comcast starts to pull its shows, including next-day episodes, to Peacock.  Hulu has also been losing content from other studios, to boost their own streaming services and will continue to do so in the future.

While Hulu continues to grow, it still has a massive cloud over its future; as consumers start trimming down how many streaming services they have following the pandemic and an upcoming recession, many expect Disney to unify Hulu and Disney+ at some point, especially, as Disney+ will be getting a new ad-supported tier and is now able to host to mature content.  Merging the streaming services would also reduce running costs and provide Disney with a much simpler distribution platform.     The new lower price tier is expected to bring in more new subscribers, while also generating more income from Disney+.

Disney will reveal the latest subscriber numbers for Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ at next month’s quarterly financial results, so we can see how many subscribers Disney+ and Hulu have been able to add in the past few months.

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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Roger@WhatsOnDisneyPlus.com Twitter: Twitter.com/RogPalmerUK Facebook: Facebook.com/rogpalmeruk

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