Disney Plus has thrived in part thanks to original hits like The Mandalorian, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Disney Plus has stood out as the breakout success among a wave of new streaming services, thanks in part to its large library of shows and movies and a widening pipeline of originals and exclusives. The biggest ones coming up: Its next Marvel original series, Loki, lands June 9. And after that, in what will be Disney Plus’ biggest film release so far, its megabudget Marvel movie Black Widow will be available to stream on Disney Plus for an extra fee the same day it hits theaters July 9. Called Premier Access, this streaming-release model requires a $30 payment on top of the regular price of a Disney Plus subscription.
Animated fantasy Raya and the Last Dragon was released this way too, hitting Disney Plus for an extra $30 the same day it hit theaters in early March. Raya will come out from behind the paywall on June 4, becoming available to all subscribers at no extra cost then. Cruella, Disney’s live-action reboot of 101 Dalmatians, will be the next film released on Premier Access, coming May 28. And then Black Widow will follow on July 9.
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But Disney Plus just raised prices. As of late March, Disney Plus’ monthly subscription now costs $8 in the US, a price increase of $1 a month; its annual plan went up $10 to $80 a year. And Disney’s three-service bundle — combining streaming access to Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus — also went up $1 a month to match. But the monthly rate of Disney Plus is still roughly half the price of HBO Max and a discount compared with Netflix’s cheapest tier, which is $9 a month.
This pricing flex comes as Disney Plus has thrived in the midst of the so-called streaming wars, a period over the last year and a half when seemingly every major media company (and some tech ones) rolled out their own streaming services to take on the likes of Netflix. Disney Plus has signed up more than 100 million subscribers, far outpacing all the new competitors from Apple, HBO, NBCUniversal, Discovery, ViacomCBS and others. One media analyst called Disney Plus “one of the greatest product launches of all time.”
Disney Plus’ solid footing also spurred the company to remove its seven-day free trials for new members, as of June 2020.
And the coronavirus pandemic has triggered major changes in Disney Plus’ role in how the company releases new movies. Some of Disney’s theatrical films have switched to being streaming-only Disney Plus originals, like Hamilton and Pixar’s Soul. But the biggest change is Premier Access, its new model for charging an extra fee to stream big, new movies on Disney Plus the same day as they hit theaters. Disney first tested this for its live-action remake of Mulan, which it released on Disney Plus in September as a $30 add-on to the service’s regular subscription price.
So is Disney Plus worth it? All the details about Disney Plus are below, but basically: If you love Star Wars or Marvel, or if you have kids, you may find yourself with yet another subscription.
What is Disney Plus?
Disney Plus is the Hollywood giant’s hub for streaming almost everything Disney produces, plus select extras it licenses too. Generally, you can expect Disney Plus to have a wide selection of shows and movies from Disney’s franchises like Star Wars, Marvel Pixar, National Geographic and the family-friendly movies and animation from Disney’s eponymous studios.
And because Disney acquired Fox, Disney Plus also streams some Fox shows and movies like The Simpsons, select X-Men movies and a large, diverse catalog of movies, like Night at the Museum and Hidden Figures to name a couple. (Just none that are rated anything more intense than PG-13.)
Disney Plus also has its own exclusive originals like The Mandalorian from the Star Wars universe and a slate of live-action Marvel series that tie directly into the plots of the blockbuster movies.
How much does Disney Plus cost?
In the US, the Disney Plus service costs $8 a month, or $80 a year. The standalone Disney Plus service costs comparable amounts in other countries in their local currencies.
Disney Plus’ US price deeply undercuts the $14 monthly fee for Netflix’s most popular plan in the US, which lets you stream to two different devices simultaneously in high definition. But Disney Plus allows all subscribers to stream to four devices and access 4K content at no extra cost — features Netflix charges $18 a month to unlock on its premium tier.
Way back in 2017, Disney’s then-CEO, Bob Iger, noted that Disney Plus pricing at launch would reflect the “fact that it will have substantially less volume” than prime competitor Netflix. As the months and years pass, Disney Plus is accumulating a bigger catalog of exclusives and originals. As that happens, it’s widely expected the company will continue pushing its price higher.
Does Disney Plus have a free trial? How do I get Disney Plus free?
Disney Plus no longer offers a standard free trial. It eliminated its one-week free trial program in June 2020, shortly before the premiere of Hamilton.
But other deals may unlock Disney Plus free (or at no added cost).
For example, Disney and Verizon have a deal that gives a free year of Disney Plus starting on launch day to all the carrier’s customers with a 4G LTE or 5G unlimited account, as well as new customers of Verizon’s Fios and 5G home internet services. Those who prepurchased a Disney Plus plan such as the now-expired three-year discounted subscription deal can stack their one free year on top of it, according to a Verizon FAQ.
How much is the bundle with Hulu and ESPN Plus?
The company also offers a bundle that combines Disney Plus with Hulu (with ads) and ESPN Plus, offering a discount if you subscribe to all three of those streaming services for $14 a month. Put another way, you can subscribe to all three of Disney’s main streaming services for the same price as a standard Netflix subscription.
In January, the company introduced a higher tier of that bundle, one that removes the ads from Hulu. The package with ad-free Hulu, Disney Plus and ESPN Plus will cost $6 more than the basic bundle — equivalent to the same cost increase you’d pay to step up from ad-supported Hulu to ad-free Hulu as stand-alone services. The ad-free-Hulu bundle is $20 a month.
How can I watch Loki when it premieres in June?
The Marvel original series, like almost everything on Disney Plus, are part of Disney’s standard catalog, so anybody who’s a Disney Plus subscriber can watch them. You can sign up for Disney Plus directly at disneyplus.com, or you can do it through the Disney Plus app on a variety of devices, like Android phones, Apple’s iPhone, Roku streaming devices and others.
Typically, Disney original series episodes are released weekly early Friday mornings at midnight PT/3 a.m. ET. However, Loki is breaking that precedent; it’ll land on Disney Plus early each Wednesday, also at midnight PT/3 a.m. ET.
How can I watch Raya and the Last Dragon? When does Raya come out ‘free’ on Disney Plus?
Disney’s latest animated feature film, Raya and the Last Dragon, was first released on Disney Plus in early March as part of what it calls its Premier Access model. The option to purchase Raya early on Disney Plus ended May 4; people who have already paid for it will continue to have access to it, but no new purchases can unlock it now.
But Raya and the Last Dragon soon will be available to all Disney Plus subscribers at no additional cost, starting June 4.
How will I be able to watch Black Widow?
The Premier Access release plan for Black Widow, which is scheduled for July 9, should be generally the same as Raya’s and other Premiere Access titles that came before.
With Premier Access, films cost an additional $30 to unlock in addition to the price you pay for a Disney Plus subscription. You can purchase access to the film on disneyplus.com and on the service’s app for Apple (including iPhones), Google (including Android phones), Amazon, Roku and other platforms. The service will automatically prompt you to pay with your payment method already on file and request you enter details like a credit card CVV number.
Purchasers are able to watch these movies for as long as they remain active Disney Plus subscribers.
The price varies internationally in local currencies, but the value of the international prices is generally on par with $30. Taxes vary by country. In some countries, purchasers will need to pay taxes on top of the Mulan purchase in addition to its advertised price. But in other countries, like those in the eurozone, the price of Mulan already includes taxes.
But Disney hasn’t yet confirmed the date that Black Widow will become part of Disney’s regular catalog, available to stream at no extra cost. In the past, both Mulan and Raya joined the standard Disney Plus library three months after their debuts on Premier Access, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Black Widow will follow suit.
What’s coming to Disney Plus in May 2021?
Some of the bigger titles coming to Disney Plus this month are:
The Bad Batch, Disney’s latest animated Star Wars show, which premiered May 4 and will release new episodes weekly on FridaysThe second season premiere of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on May 14, a teen sleeper hit.Cruella, the live-action reimagining of 101 Dalmations, which will become available for an extra $30 fee via Premier Access on May 28. What other shows and movies are coming?
Disney plans to flood Disney Plus and its other streaming services with shows and movies in the coming years, promising more than 100 new titles every year on Disney Plus and committing to spend $14 billion to $16 billion annually on streaming content across its services within the next four years. (That’s about the same size as Netflix’s budget now.) Disney Plus itself is going to get $8 billion to $9 billion of Disney’s overall streaming budget.
That eye-popping budget meant Disney has announced a wave of new Star Wars originals, tons of Marvel projects and an exhausting lineup of new shows and movies. Disney laid out plans for as many as 20 new Marvel and Star Wars series. For details on them, CNET has deep dives into the announced Star Wars slate and Marvel slate, as well as coverage that generalizes the Disney Plus pipeline.
Disney Plus is also licensing some outside programming, like the popular kids animation franchise Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir. Disney Plus struck a deal for the streaming rights to Miraculous’ existing three seasons, as well as two more seasons that are forthcoming. Disney Plus is already streaming the brand’s first TV movie, Miraculous World: New York – United HeroeZ; the second TV movie, Miraculous World: Shanghai-The Legend of Lady Dragon is supposed to arrive later this year.
As for big-screen movies, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how Disney releases its new movies on Disney Plus — and the new normal isn’t exactly clear yet. At first, Disney Plus simply started streaming already-released movies months earlier than planned, such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Frozen 2 and Pixar’s Onward. Then Disney started ratcheting up the streaming releases of new movies, such as its film version of the award-winning musical Hamilton with most of the original Broadway cast. The Hamilton film arrived on Disney Plus more than a year before its originally planned theatrical date. Pixar’s latest animated film, Soul, also went straight to Disney Plus on Christmas Day.
Then Disney introduced its Premier Access model, which sells streaming access to new, big-screen movies for an additional $30 on Disney Plus at the same time they’re also available in theaters. So far, Disney has released two movies this way, the live-action remake of Mulan and animated fantasy Raya and the Last Dragon. Cruella is next up in late May and then finally Black Widow in July.
For some of its forthcoming movies, Disney is simply switching films originally planned for theaters to be Disney Plus originals instead, skipping theaters entirely. This strategy mostly applies to midbudget movies, including Pinocchio, a live-action remake starring Tom Hanks; its Peter Pan reboot; Disenchanted, a sequel to Enchanted that’ll have Amy Adams reprise her princess role; and Sister Act 3, reviving the comedy franchise about nuns.
But the company hasn’t clarified a plan for streaming other megabudget movies set to come out later this year, like Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals. Even as cinema restrictions ease and more people feel safe crowding into movie theaters, it’s unclear if Disney Plus will continue to offer Premier Access for new films.
Typically, before the pandemic, new Disney movies would make their way to Disney Plus about five to eight months after they premiered in theaters. But studios across Hollywood have been collapsing the so-called windows for how movies are released. It’s still an open question how movies will be released when the pandemic is over.
What shows and movies can I stream already?
Disney Plus is designed to be the exclusive home to stream theatrical films, shows and shorts from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney’s own studio and National Geographic. It also has exclusive series and films, some of which are based on those blockbuster franchises, and others that are original.
With the elimination of Disney Plus’ free trial last year, potential subscribers can’t sign up to check out the catalog without having to pay first. But an easy way to see what’s available on Disney Plus without forking over any money is using a third-party catalog search service like Reelgood.
Disney Plus also integrates programming from Fox. All 30 seasons of The Simpsons are on Disney Plus, it’s begun adding X-Men franchise films, and titles like The Sound of Music, The Princess Bride and Malcolm in the Middle live there too. (Disney has also said it’ll mine the Fox catalog for reboots too, “reimagining” past Fox franchises “for a new generation” — a reboot of Home Alone is in the works, for example.)
Generally, Disney Plus houses the entire film libraries of Pixar, Star Wars and its Signature Series and Disney Vault lines of classic hand-drawn animated movies. It has all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies available to stream, with the exception of ones that were made by Universal or Sony. (So, that’s why you won’t find the Tom Holland Spider-Man films on Disney Plus, even though you can stream Holland portraying Spider-Man in Disney-made MCU movies like Avengers: Endgame.)
Because of previous licensing deals, it’ll be a long time before Disney Plus is an exhaustive library of all Disney movies. CNET has a comprehensive list of the major shows and movies still coming to Disney Plus. But starting with 2019’s releases, all of Disney’s new theatrical films stream exclusively on Disney Plus.
Then there’s the big slate of original, exclusive shows and movies for the service.
It’s first major original was Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian, a big-budget series starring Pedro Pascal that takes place five years after the events in The Return of the Jedi and focuses on a bounty-hunting gunfighter. It’s the service’s marquee original series and home to viral sensation Baby Yoda, who became a pop culture phenom. Disney is investing heavily in The Mandalorian. The show’s budget reportedly approached $15 million per episode in the first season. By comparison, Game of Thrones didn’t hit that kind of spending until its final season.
But Disney Plus originals run the gamut. The Mandalorian is a textbook example of a Disney Plus original that feeds off the company’s existing franchises. But, for example, a Taylor Swift film that goes behind the scenes of the recording of her Folklore album is one of the Disney Plus originals without any existing ties to Disney as a company. Disney has many shows, movies and specials like this.
Disney Plus has original documentaries, reality shows, competition series, behind-the-scenes features, nature and adventure titles, animated programming — the list goes on. It’s a place for Disney to show off short films from within the company, like via its Launchpad incubator program designed to elevate opportunities for filmmakers from underrepresented groups.
Disney Plus is even starting to stream two-dimensional versions of Disney’s virtual-reality shorts.
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What devices support Disney Plus?
Disney has wide device support, streaming to phones, tablets, computers, connected TVs and streaming media boxes. The company has global distribution agreements in place with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku, Sony, Amazon, Samsung and LG. That encompasses the makers of:
Roku’s boxes, sticks and TVs.Apple TV, iPhone and iPad.Phones and TVs running on Android operating systems, as well as Chromecast streamers.Xbox One.PlayStation 4.Amazon Fire TV devices.Samsung smart TVs.LG smart TVs.Comcast X1 set-top boxes and Flex platforms. What product features does the service include?
Disney Plus can stream 4K Ultra HD content in Dolby Vision, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos immersive audio. You can see a title’s available formats in any of the Disney Plus apps by clicking to that show or movie’s main page and then clicking on the “details” tab. The app for streaming boxes, like Roku and Apple TV, is also designed to briefly flash a symbol telling you the format that you’re watching; it appears in the upper right corner of the screen for a few seconds when a video begins to play.
Every Disney Plus account can stream to four devices simultaneously and can create seven user profiles for different members of the household. Each account can pick an avatar of a Disney, Pixar, Marvel or Star Wars character, with more than 200 avatars available.
Disney Plus also offers unlimited mobile downloads for offline viewing. Subscribers can download to up to 10 mobile or tablet devices, with no constraints on the number of times a title can be downloaded. The number of titles stored at one time on a device depends on how much storage space is available on the device.
The service is supposed to support English, Spanish, French and Dutch at launch, including user interface as well as audio support and subtitles for library content, with additional languages available for Disney Plus originals.
The app also supports closed captioning, descriptive audio and navigation assistance to help subscribers with disabilities. (In July, the American Council of the Blind gave Disney Plus an achievement award for its descriptive audio, specialized tracks that describe the settings and the action taking place alongside a program’s dialogue.)
Disney Plus offers parental controls in the form of kids profiles. You can designate any profile to be in a kids mode, which has a simplified interface designed for younger viewers. These kids profiles limit the library to programming that’s rated TV-7FV and G in the US, or the equivalent ratings in other geographic markets.
And Disney has a group-watching feature, which lets you synchronize your stream of any title on Disney Plus with other accounts through the app, so you can watch a program at the same time as friends or family even if you’re apart.
Where is Disney Plus available, and when will it launch in new countries?
Disney Plus has launched in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, France, Portugal, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, India (branded as Disney Plus Hotstar), Indonesia and Japan. It has also launched across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Elsewhere, Disney Plus is continuing its global rollout, now under the umbrella of a new international streaming service from Disney, called Star. That expansion begins in Singapore on Feb. 23, followed by Eastern Europe, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea later in 2021.
The service first launched Nov. 12, 2019, in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial launch of Disney Plus came less than two weeks after Apple TV Plus rolled out. Demand to sign up and start using the service caused widespread crashes the first day.
I was watching Disney Plus free through Verizon — what happens when that expires? How do I cancel?
For customers who signed up for Disney Plus through a Verizon promotion to unlock a free year (or another duration of time free), those subscriptions will automatically convert to the $7 monthly plan once the free period has expired.
If you keep the subscription, it will automatically start charging the $7-a-month rate through your Verizon bill. If you purchased an annual or multiyear subscription prior to redeeming the Verizon offer in 2019, then you go back to the original plan you had.
If you want to keep the subscription but are open to changing your wireless service, you could also upgrade your service to one of Verizon’s so-called Play More or Get More Unlimited plans, which include Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus.
If you want to cancel, you should log into the My Verizon customer support portal and choose “Manage Disney Plus,” where you should be able to cancel your service.
What about the Hulu bundle? How does Disney Plus fit in with Disney’s other streaming services?
Disney Plus is a competitor to video streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Now and Apple TV Plus. It’s a paid subscription without any advertising, and it gives customers access to a vast library of Disney’s and Fox’s legacy content as well as new, exclusive TV shows, movies, documentaries and shorts.
Disney’s other US streaming services — Hulu and sports-focused ESPN Plus — run on the same tech platform. Disney plans for all three to be individual subscriptions, but it’s offering the triple-service bundle to get discounts on all three.
Disney Plus includes all of Disney’s family-friendly content and much of its mass-audience fare — basically, anything made for audiences up to a PG-13 rating. It has content from Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm (so, Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. And outside those traditional categories it also offers all 30 seasons of The Simpsons, a feather in its cap from the Fox takeover.
Hulu, on the other hand, is where Disney streams more-adult-oriented material. For example, two series originally planned for Disney Plus — High Fidelity and Love, Victor — were moved over to Hulu instead because of their more mature themes. Hulu is also the official streaming home for FX networks. (FX became part of Disney after Disney bought Fox for $71.3 billion.)
For now Hulu will continue to stream content from three of the broadcast networks, as well as its own original series.
And Disney now has full control over Hulu’s direction. Hulu was jointly owned by four parent companies for years, but in 2019 Disney bought all the shares of Hulu it didn’t already own. That gave Disney the flexibility to offer its bundle discount.
How does this affect Disney stuff on Netflix?
Disney mostly disappeared from Netflix over the course of 2020 (but some content may be coming back).
Since 2016, Netflix had been the first place to watch Disney’s movies with a subscription. That deal meant Netflix was the go-to place for the biggest US blockbusters of those years. The top two movies of 2017 and the top three movies of 2016 and 2018 were all from Disney, and Netflix was the place to binge them all.
But Disney decided against renewing that Netflix deal as it plotted its own competitor. Starting with Disney’s 2019 slate of movies, all those films were destined for Disney Plus. That means Captain Marvel, the first movie Disney released theatrically in 2019, is the first movie on Disney Plus instead of Netflix. It also means that Mary Poppins Returns was the final Disney theatrical release on Netflix.
But licensing is complicated, and one report indicates Disney will return those movies to Netflix — and remove them from Disney Plus — temporarily starting in 2026. It affects movies released between January 2016 and December 2018, which includes Marvel titles like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War; Star Wars hits like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Last Jedi; and Pixar staples like Finding Dory, Coco and The Incredibles 2. It also touches family favorites like Moana and the live-action Beauty and the Beast.
One consideration: Disney Plus won’t lose these titles until six years after the service launches. At that point, Disney Plus will have built a large permanent library of original content, and it’ll continue to funnel all its newest releases to Disney Plus and nowhere else. Presumably, that’ll take some of the sting out of losing these films for a limited time.
And it’s always possible Disney pays through the nose to claw back the rights to those films so they can stay on Disney Plus.
Netflix’s Marvel Defenders shows are complicated too. Netflix has put out five original series based on Defenders characters in partnership with Disney. In 2018, Netflix canceled three of them: Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Then in 2019, Netflix canceled the last two: The Punisher and Jessica Jones. A top executive (who’s since left Disney to lead TikTok) said Disney Plus could possibly revive the canceled shows. But the terms of their original deal could restrict Disney Plus from any revivals until 2020, according to a report.