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Disney Plus: Everything to Know (from Lightyear to the Cheaper Tier)

Disney's streaming service has a cheaper tier coming, while its movie release dates are all over the map. Here's what to know.

Disney Plus logo on a phone
Sarah Tew/CNET

Disney Plus has been the breakaway success among a wave of new streaming services in the last two-plus years, thanks in part to its large library of shows, movies and exclusive originals. During the pandemic, Disney Plus streamed big-screen movies the same day they hit theaters. But recently, Disney has been holding most of its movies in theaters exclusively for weeks -- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for example, just started streaming there Wednesday after hitting cinemas in May. 

Disney Plus also is planning to launch a cheaper subscription with advertising later this year. 

Here are the big details to know. 

When is Doctor Strange available to stream? 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hit Disney Plus early Wednesday. It's available to stream at no added cost for all subscribers. 

That's about 47 days after its wide release in theaters, much faster than the last two Marvel films made it to Disney Plus. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was in theaters for 70 days before streaming on Disney Plus; for Eternals, it was 68 days. 

If Doctor Strange had stuck to that that timeline too, it would have become available on Disney Plus around mid-July. But with this film, Disney is moving closer to the norms of other major studios, which have largely gravitated to a window of theatrical exclusivity at about 45 days. 

When will Lightyear start streaming on Disney Plus? Why isn't it streaming already? 

Disney hasn't confirmed an official streaming release date for Lightyear yet. 

If Lightyear follows the same course as Disney's latest live-action film, Doctor Strange, then Lightyear would arrive to stream on Disney Plus about a month and a half after it hit cinemas, which would be very late July or early August. 

But if Lightyear follows the timeline of DIsney's last animated feature, Encanto, its theatrical period would be shorter -- only one month. That would bring Lightyear to Disney Plus in mid-July. 

And the fact that Lightyear is a Pixar movie also throws a wrench in timing predictions. Lightyear is the first Pixar film since the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit theaters at all. Every Pixar movie since Onward in February 2020 has essentially skipped theaters to stream on Disney Plus instead: Soul in December 2020, Luca in June 2021 and Turning Red in February 2022. So Pixar doesn't have any post-pandemic precedents set yet for theatrical release at all.

When do new movies and new shows hit Disney Plus?

Almost always, Disney Plus releases new series episodes early Wednesday mornings. Disney Plus original films -- that is, movies going "straight to streaming" -- land early Friday mornings. 

All new titles are added to the service at midnight PT/3 a.m. ET on the day of their release. 

How much will the new ad-based tier cost? When will it launch? And are regular prices going up?

Disney hasn't specified a price or launch date for a new tier that will include advertising. But the company gave a very general timeline, and we can make a few educated guesses about price. Generally, the company said the new tier will roll out in the US in late 2022 and will widen internationally in 2023. And the ad-supported tier will surely be priced lower than the ad-free tier, which is currently $8 a month, or $80 a year, in the US. 

However, Disney didn't address whether the introduction of a cheaper tier would affect the price of the ad-free level. 

Disney Plus is already among the cheapest streaming services of its kind, and Disney executives have repeatedly noted that Disney Plus' relatively low subscription price would go up as the service pumps itself full of more programming. Any price increase would be the second for Disney Plus: It launched at $7 a month in November 2019, and it raised the price by $1 in March 2021. 

In February and again in May, Disney CEO Bob Chapek hinted that the company may be in a position to raise Disney Plus prices after September. 

Does Disney Plus have a free trial? Or other free offers? 

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 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 $15.50 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 $20 a month to unlock 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. 

By comparison, Netflix, which has no ads, offers its cheapest tier at $10 a month, while its most popular plan is $15.50. Among the services that have ad-supported options, Hulu by itself is $7 a month with ads and $13 a month ad-free. Paramount Plus charges $5 for its tier with advertising, and $10 for the ad-free version. HBO Max is $10 a month if you watch with ads or $15 a month to strip out all commercials.  

Only Apple TV Plus, at $5 a month, is cheaper than Disney Plus among the the main competitors. 

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. 

A higher tier of the bundle 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 three-way bundle with ad-free-Hulu bundle is $20 a month.

Hulu's prices for its standalone on-demand streaming tiers went up $1 on Oct. 8, but the price of the Disney Plus/Hulu/ESPN Plus bundle didn't change.

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 WarsMarvel, 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, 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 MusicThe 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.) 

Then there's the big slate of original, exclusive shows and movies for the service. 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, SonyAmazon, 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. 

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.