Disney unveils Star, its Hulu replacement for international Disney Plus subscribers

Star, Disney’s international answer to Hulu, will roll out in certain European countries, Canada, and New Zealand beginning on February 23rd, the company announced today.

Star is a free tier within Disney Plus for subscribers in Europe, Canada, and New Zealand that will be fully integrated into Disney Plus. It will be accessible as the sixth brand tile in the app. Essentially, this will carry a number of shows from Disney’s other non-main franchise brands. That means shows from FX and movies from 20th Century will be available to stream. People will be able to choose if they want to watch shows with higher age ratings.

The company is also introducing Star Plus to Latin American subscribers. The new streaming service will carry Disney-owned entertainment from its top brands but will also carry ESPN and ESPN Plus content. This is one of Disney’s biggest pushes into making a streaming service carry linear sports content. Star Plus launches in June 2021. The news comes as Disney announced it has more than 137 million subscribers across its various streaming platforms, including 86 million on Disney Plus alone.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek first talked about Star in early August, announcing plans to launch an international streaming service that would effectively become a more general entertainment platform similar to Hulu. Unlike Hulu, Star won’t carry titles from other studios. Instead, Star will only carry TV shows and films from ABC, FX, Freeform, Searchlight, and 20th Century Studios. The streamer will also have localized content for various countries in which it operates. Chapek believes that adding Star will “enable us to grow our business even further in the years ahead.”

“In terms of the general entertainment offering internationally, we want to mirror our successful Disney Plus strategy by using our Disney Plus technical platform, bringing in content we already own and distributing it under a successful international brand that we also already own, which is, of course, Star,” Chapek told analysts at the time.

Disney Stars Studio is a big brand overseas. When Disney acquired Indian conglomerate Star India and its subsequent streaming service Hotstar in 2019, the company rebranded the streamer to Disney Plus Hotstar. Now, Star is known as Disney’s Star India. Having “Star” become the international brand name, on top of Disney Plus, makes sense.

Absent from Chapek’s announcement were details about what is happening with Hulu. Prior to Chapek announcing Star in August, the plan was to bring Hulu to international markets. That was the case up until February 2020 under former CEO Bob Iger. If Hulu remains a domestic-only streaming service, it can only amass so many subscribers.

Chapek pointed out in August that “Hulu has no brand awareness outside of the US.” But is Hulu still a priority for Disney? The company is facing a multibillion-dollar payout to Comcast in 2024 and, while Disney is seeing “very, very strong demand for advertising on Hulu,” according to chief financial officer Christine McCarthy, Hulu’s place in the overall Disney streaming empire is a bit of a conundrum.

Since former CEO Randy Freer stepped down at the end of January, a number of Hulu executives have left the company. Disney executives have been brought in to oversee the service. Now, Hulu will be overseen in part by Kareem Daniel, who heads up Disney’s new media and entertainment division and is in charge of all things streaming. Chapek and Daniel made it clear this afternoon that Star is a big part of Disney’s future — whether Hulu is, remains unclear.

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