Disney CEO Bob Chapek. Photo by Bloomberg.
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The Risks of Disney’s Quick Fix for Subscriber Growth

Photo: Disney CEO Bob Chapek. Photo by Bloomberg.

Disney has figured out an ingenious way to jump-start its streaming subscriber growth—give people less of a choice! Since late December, Disney has automatically included Disney+ and ESPN+ in one of its Hulu offerings, at a slightly higher price than it previously charged, we learned today. Ingenious! It’s a reminder that the customer-unfriendly DNA of the television industry still lurks in the genes of companies like Disney.

There’s only one reason you take this action, and it’s to juice subscriber numbers. The strategy is working so far. Disney executives said the bundling—which they called a “strategic decision,” whatever that means—accounted for half of the surprisingly strong North American subscriber additions for Disney+ in the quarter. And sure, it’s a good deal for consumers right now: Even after the price raise, the bundle implies a hefty discount on all three services. But it’s a slippery slope. Forcing people to take services they don’t necessarily want is how the cable TV became a cash-printing machine, before steady price rises eventually alienated so many customers it went into a decline that is still underway. 

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