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Remember That Time When A Steaming Service Actually LOWERED The Price?

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In what wouldn’t be out of place in The Upside Down, there was once a time when streaming services might have considered lowering the price. In fact, that’s exactly what Hulu did back in 2019. While an unusual move, we think it is a move many services could benefit from making today.

Compared to today, where the next price increase feels like it is always just around the corner, streaming in 2018 was very different. There was no Disney+, no HBO Max let alone Max, DirecTV Now was one of the best deals in town, Sling TV had the most live TV subscribers, and ad-supported plans weren’t really a thing.

Hulu was still offering its ad-supported plan back then, and in 2018, its Hulu (With Ads) plan was priced at $7.99 a month — the exact same price it is today. That’s not to say the price of Hulu (With Ads) hasn’t increased since then, it has, twice. It is just Hulu made the highly unusual choice to lower the price before those two price increases took effect.

In January 2019, Hulu appeared to be much more focused on expanding its + Live TV service. Hulu’s base live TV package was priced at $39.99 a month (almost half what it costs today) and Hulu had just announced the price was increasing to $44.99 in February.

As part of the same announcement, Hulu confirmed it was also lowering the price of its Hulu (With Ads) plan in February as well. The $2 price decrease took the cost down to $5.99 a month and it was reported that Hulu was decreasing the price to better compete in the market.

The Hulu (No Ads) plan didn’t get a price drop, but it didn’t increase in price either. Something that also seems highly unlikely to happen today.

Price Decreases Seem Impossible These Days

While it was a surprise at the time, it feels almost impossible that a streaming service would lower in price today. If anything, too many streaming services are itching to find any reason to increase the price. So much so that subscribers are just thankful if their price remains the same from one year to the next.

This is also at a time when competition has never been greater. The number of services to choose from today is far greater than it was in 2019 and streaming services are now finding it harder to keep subscribers. While Following Hulu’s price decrease strategy would likely help maintain, and potentially even increase, a subscriber base, most services are more likely to increase prices and blame the increase on the same ‘increased competition.’

There have been times when a streaming service has dropped the price in recent years, but these were very different situations. Netflix, for example, lowered the price of its plans in more than 100 markets last year. Even though this was understood to also be in response to increased competition, the price drops only applied to markets where Netflix doesn’t have as strong of a footprint. This meant that many countries, including the United States, weren’t included in the price decrease.

Then there was Starz. In 2023, Starz lowered the price of its annual plan from $74.99 to $69.99 a year. However, annual plans are not really the go-to option for many, and the Starz annual plan is more often unavailable than available. As importantly, you can nearly always find a better Starz deal when signing up for three or six months. Right now, for example, Starz is offering six months for just $19.99.

In most cases, a streaming service price drop is only a limited-time drop. Not only are they temporary, but subscribers always feel the change when the promotional period comes to an end and their subscription reverts back to the normal price. This is in addition to the additional burden when the price inevitably increases.

In contrast, Hulu’s price increase was a permanent one, and for the plan that most new subscribers are likely to sign up for. Although Hulu has rolled out two separate price increases since its 2019 price decrease, the price subscribers pay right now is exactly the same as it was six years ago.

How many other streaming subscriptions do you currently have that you are still paying 2018 prices for?

John Finn

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