At the beginning of 2021, Disney launched a new content hub called Star, which is currently available in a whole bunch of countries across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in Canada and South Africa. It’s basically a space for all of the stuff that Disney owns that doesn’t fit inside its core Disney Plus brands of Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and National Geographic. That means movies from 20th Century Studios, shows on FX, and yes, things that stream on Hulu. Right now, when I log into Disney Plus here in Canada, I’m greeted with promotions for Dancing With the Stars, The Kardashians, Quiz Lady, and A Murder at the End of the World, in addition to the finale of Loki’s second season.
So what will Hulu inside of Disney Plus look like? Probably just another rectangle at the top of the app, much like Star.
It may seem odd to have all of those shows and movies sitting alongside Disney’s more typically family-friendly offerings. And to be fair, I have experienced some cognitive dissonance when using the service, like when the app recommended I check out Ratatouille after I watched The Menu. But really, the inclusion of Star makes Disney Plus a much more full-featured experience and puts it in line with its core competitors like Netflix and Max. It still has those blockbuster Marvel and Star Wars tentpoles to lure in subscribers, but the service is fleshed out with the likes of What We Do in the Shadows or old episodes of The X-Files.
It’s not any more confusing or strange than other streaming apps. I have two young kids, and those big, branded squares at the top of Disney Plus make it pretty clear what they can watch. They know “Disney” and “Pixar” are safe, in the same way that they know they’re only allowed on YouTube if they use the YouTube Kids site. It’s certainly more straightforward than scrolling through the grab bag that is Prime Video, where they might accidentally start playing The Boys.
That sure sounds a lot like cable. And in the case of Disney, having all of those distinct and largely well-known brands like Marvel, National Geographic, and soon, Hulu fits that model very cleanly; it has a bunch of preexisting channels bundled together, each aimed at a slightly different part of the household.
So I get the initial confusion: why would Disney want to dilute that brand by adding Golden Girls reruns and made-for-streaming horror movies? But the reality is that Disney Plus with Star is a much better service and appeals to a wider audience, and as the company’s studios push in more adult-oriented directions, those questions of kid-friendly branding are largely becoming moot anyway. And all of those same benefits will likely apply to Hulu in Disney Plus, too.
In the current streaming landscape, it seems you either have to serve one niche very well, like Criterion, or you do as much as you can to lure in huge numbers. For Disney, the simplest way to do the latter is to transform Hulu into one channel in a much bigger package. It’s a strategy that has already worked in the rest of the world — now, it’s America’s turn.