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Disney Plus might have done the ad-supported service right

It’s been a long time in the works and now it’s finally dropped. Disney+ is now offering an ad-supported in the UK and Europe.

It’s been running for nearly a year in the US, although the version that’s made its way to the UK and Europe is not quite the same. There is a ‘Standard with Ads’ (or Disney+ Basic as it’s called in the US), but we also get a ‘Standard’ tier without ads that plays content in HD, while 4K HDR has been pushed to the ‘Premium’ tier.

Usually, the introduction of ads is a cause for concern in getting the balance right between the viewing experience and supplementing that with ads. While we’ve all gotten used to uninterrupted viewing with the likes of Netflix and Disney+, other streaming services like Freevee, YouTube, or UK catch-up apps like ITVX and Channel 4 regularly break up content with ads. But you don’t want to splatter ads throughout a film or programme to the point where it breaks up the immersion.

The compromises are solid

Having seen a demo of the ad-supported tier before it went live on November 1, I think Disney managed to do it right. Compared to the Hulu streaming service, where our reviewer Chris Smith mentioned that “even a 20-minute episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia feels besieged by unskippable ads”, what I was shown was not particularly intrusive at all.

The Mandalorian series 3

In a preview of The Mandalorian, there were two ads in the 45-minute programme, the first was around 15 seconds (with a timer ticking down in the top corner) and not skippable but brief enough for it not to be annoying. For a TV series I’m not too fussed about ads, and its position in the show felt like a natural break in the action.

With films, you’ll be shown pre-roll ads before the start but nothing during, so that level of immersion in a film isn’t broken. If you pause the film and return to it later, you shouldn’t see an ad either, but if you restart the film there will be pre-roll ads. I think that’s a solid compromise.

Whose to say whether it’ll stay like that, but if it’s a success then hopefully the presence of ads will remain minimal.

From what I was told by Deborah Armstrong (General Manager of Media Networks and Advertising, EMEA) and Luke Bradley-Jones (General Manager of Disney+ EMEA), the ad load is reduced compared to the US, with ads provided by the likes of Charlotte Tilbury, H&M, L’Oreal, Pandora, and John Lewis. Kids’ profiles won’t be targeted by ads, while different age profiles will receive different types of ads. That all sounds sensible enough.

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There is very little point now in railing against the dying of the light. Streaming services are converging, and becoming more and more like TV, the boom of the first few years has contracted because of increased competition – there’s a case to be made that disruption isn’t too helpful. I suspect that prices for streaming services are only going to go upward rather than retreat.

4K should be standard

I’m still a bit miffed that 4K isn’t the standard resolution across all pricing plans, especially since the majority of TVs people buy are 4K. At the very least it would have made sense for the ‘Standard’ tier to support 4K HDR10, with Dolby Vision HDR held back for the premium tier if you’re going to split resolutions across plans.

But for the time being, this Disney+ ad-supported seems rather sensibly done, and while I would prefer to hold onto the Premium tier, for those who want to save money, the new tier is not too onerous for those feeling the cosh of the cost-of-living crisis.

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