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Is Disney Plus With Ads Worth it?

I tested it for a week, and it may not be so bad for those people willing to spend $11.

Disney+ on an ipad
Sarah Tew/CNET

When it first debuted in 2019 for $8 a month, Disney Plus was considered a great value for its commercial-free access to Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and the legendary Disney vault. To top that off, you can stream on four screens at a time. Though there were some major titles missing at launch for US customers, the streaming service has since become a major player.

On Dec. 8, Disney rolled out its Disney Plus Basic plan, which costs $8 per month and includes ads but no downloads. The ad-free version is now $11, but can also select from three Disney bundles. Disney owns a majority stake in Hulu, so you may wonder if Disney Plus ads play in a similar format. 

I tried it out, and I can assure you it's a different experience than Hulu's. But I'll note that sometimes the commercials interrupt what you're watching at odd intervals during a scene.

For many of you, paying $11 per month to stream without ads may be worth the cost for you and your family. Here's a rundown of what I learned while testing the new subscription plan and what you might want to consider.

Read more: Best Streaming Services for Kids

There are ads in Disney Plus kids' content, but not all of it

When I tried Netflix with ads, I noticed there were no commercials on kids' titles, and Disney Plus seems to be doing that for some children's content. Though ads played during the animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid film, Rodrick Rules, there were no commercials in Bluey episodes. Encanto, however, had a preroll of ads as well as three commercial breaks during the movie. I streamed all three on an adult profile.

If you have a child's profile set to "Junior Mode," Disney Plus reduces the number of available titles. This applies to ad-supported and ad-free subscriptions. There are only 26 animated films you can stream on this profile type, and it excludes the most popular features, such as Encanto, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Lightyear and even the 1950 animated version of Cinderella (which is rated G). While the limited number of TV series and movies available in Junior Mode are ad-free, you will probably want to adjust the parental controls so your kids can watch more. 

Toggle off Junior Mode and change the content rating on the child profile to enable additional titles, including PG-13 and TV-14. Cinderella will be restored along with other Disney favorites like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coco. However, many of these family-friendly releases have commercials, so count on sitting through a few ad breaks while watching Encanto, Descendants, Finding Dory and more. That's the trade-off that could make or break this subscription option for you.

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You'll have to watch Encanto with commercials, friends.

Disney

Sometimes ads won't play 

I found that when watching some shows, not all the ads would play. Disney Plus typically plays a preroll of ads before a show or movie begins that lasts either 30 or 45 seconds, and then additional ad breaks are shown on the progress bar. While watching the new Rodrick Rules movie, I sat through the preroll and then noted two commercial breaks set to play in the middle. I only watched the first set of commercials. The second break came about 30 minutes in, but for some reason, it was skipped as the movie played.

Finding Dory had three commercial breaks embedded in the middle of the film, but the second and third ad breaks were skipped. I did fast-forward through this film a few times, so I'm unsure if that affected commercial playback.

The frequency of ads varies

Like Netflix, the number of commercial breaks in a Disney Plus movie or TV show varies, but the length of each break averaged one minute. You can tell how many ad breaks are coming up by looking for dots on the progress bar. Home Alone had three ad breaks in the middle of its 1-hour, 44-minute runtime. All three lasted for one minute. 2018's Black Panther only had one commercial break after the preroll, and it was for 60 seconds. And the aforementioned Rodrick Rules aired 60 seconds' worth of commercials during its first break.

Encanto, which is a little over an hour and 50 minutes long, had three, one-minute commercial breaks after its preshow set of ads. The 44-minute Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special had two ad breaks in the middle after the preroll. One was 20 seconds long and the other didn't play, and I did not pause or fast-forward through this movie. 

In addition to a preroll, there were two 60-second ad breaks in a single 54-minute episode of Willow. I played two episodes of The Simpsons and each had a 23-minute run time. One had a 30-second set of commercials before the episode and two ad breaks during the show which lasted one minute each. The other episode had a 45-second pre-roll and two 60-second commercial breaks.

Zootopia Plus, a new animated Disney Plus series, had a short set of commercials before its nine-minute episode, but zero ads during the show. Maybe because it's rated PG for "alcohol, implied language and kidnapping of a character"? PJ Masks, on the other hand, didn't have any commercials at all -- just like Bluey.

When compared to its rivals, Disney Plus does things differently. In one test, Hulu showed about five minutes' worth of commercials in one 22-minute episode of Bob's Burgers. HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death has episodes that run for about 30 minutes. The platform ran one 25-second round of ads at the start of the show, and two more ad breaks for about 30 to 45 seconds each. Netflix shared that it airs roughly four to five minutes of ads per hour of content, and during my test, many of the commercial breaks lasted for 75 seconds each. Disney Plus is averaging about 2.5 minutes of ads per piece of content. 

As far as the types of ads, there were spots for Nintendo Switch, Lego, Panera, Dior, IHG Hotels, Toyota, Barbie, Macy's and other major brands. There was even an ad about RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). You can't fast-forward during an ad break, and unlike Hulu, there are no random prompts asking you to select what types of ads you prefer to see.

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Kevin's toothbrush caper is interrupted by ads. 

Disney

Oh, you can't stream Disney Plus Basic on Roku

If your go-to media player is a Roku, you're out of luck for now when it comes to signing up for this subscription plan. According to Disney's help center, the following ad-supported Disney Plus subscriptions are currently unavailable on Roku devices: Disney Plus Basic, Disney Bundle Duo Basic and Trio Basic. This is likely to change sometime in the future, however. For now, viewers have the option to use a different streaming device or sign up for an ad-free plan instead. I didn't encounter any issues when streaming on a FireTV device, smart TV, Apple TV box, Chromecast, iPad or PC web browser. Your mileage may vary.

Skip this subscription if you'd rather avoid ads for your kids

The biggest question comes down to whether you prefer that your children can stream anything they want without any commercials. Junior Mode is all ad-free, but it's missing so many titles -- both animated and live-action -- that kids love. Classics like Pinocchio, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid will at least play commercials before the movie begins, and may or may not feature ads in the middle of the program. The same goes for other family-friendly releases like Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi, Aladdin or Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Some of you may find the ad-based experience similar to watching the Disney Channel on cable and don't mind it. But not everyone is on board with that just to save $3. Though the price is now bumped up to $11 monthly for ad-free Disney Plus, you may want to stick with it so everyone in your household can enjoy watching without commercials.