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Disney+ to add Hulu content, raise price for ad-free service

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Disney said Wednesday it would add Hulu content to its Disney+ streaming app, while also announcing it would raise the price of its ad-free streaming service later this year.

CEO Bob Iger said the company would soon begin offering a “one app experience” in the U.S. that incorporates Hulu content into its flagship streaming service, Disney+. Standalone options for all of Disney’s platforms, including ESPN+, will remain.

“This is a logical progression of our DTC offerings that will provide greater opportunities for advertisers, while giving bundle subscribers access to more robust and streamlined content resulting in greater audience engagement and ultimately leading to a more unified streaming experience,” Iger said during Wednesday’s earnings call.

Iger attributed the move toward a one-app location for both Disney+ and Hulu content to the “advertising potential for the combined platform.” While Hulu has long offered an ad-supported option for subscribers, Disney+ launched the cheaper tier last year.

Disney, along with peers like Netflix, began offering cheaper, ad-supported options last year as subscriber growth began to slow and companies began focusing on making streaming profitable. Iger on Wednesday said the company viewed its ad-supported as another way for its streaming business to reach profitability.

While Disney+ lost 4 million subscribers in the second quarter, Iger said the rise in subscription pricing wasn’t to blame. Due to this, the company believes there is “pricing elasticity” when it comes to streaming.┬áPushing customers toward the ad-supported option, along with raising prices, “are among the things we’re doing to get to profitability,” Iger said.

Iger added he doesn’t expect to raise the pricing for Disney+’s ad-supported option anytime soon, unlike its ad-free option.

Disney will begin to roll out the one-app offering by the end of the calendar year, and Iger said the company would share further details at a later time.

The move comes as Disney has been weighing whether it should buy all of Hulu. Disney owns 66% of Hulu at the moment, while Comcast owns the rest.

The companies reached a deal in 2019 in which Comcast can force Disney to buy (or Disney can require Comcast to sell) that remaining stake in January 2024 at a guaranteed minimum total equity value of $27.5 billion, or about $9.2 billion for the stake.

Although Iger in February showed openness to offloading Disney’s stake in Hulu, saying in a CNBC interview that “everything was on the table,” the Disney CEO’s tune seemed to change on Wednesday.

Iger noted that some discussions have happened with Comcast, which have been “cordial and constructive.”

“I can’t say where they will end up, but there seems to be real value in having general entertainment combined with Disney+,” Iger said.

“I had another three months to study this carefully, and the best path to grow this business. The content on Disney+ with general entertainment is a very strong combination from a subscriber acquisition and subscriber retention perspective, and for advertisers,” Iger said Wednesday. “So where we’re headed is a one-app experience that will have Disney+ and general entertainment content.”

This is also a pivot from Iger’s earlier comments regarding general entertainment content. In February, he signaled Disney would lean into franchise content, saying general entertainment, particularly on pay-TV, wasn’t a “differentiator.” On Wednesday he said his past comment was “a little harsh.”

Disney also announced its fiscal second quarter earnings on Wednesday. The company reported $21.82 billion in revenue, up 13% from the same period last year and beating estimates.

It said its streaming losses had narrowed year over year, even as it lost subscribers during the most recent period.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

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