Time to alert your friends and family members who have access to your Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ accounts. The House of Mouse is officially putting those dastardly U.S.-based customers who dare share their passwords on notice. Netflix already started cracking down on password sharing last year, so it was only a matter of time before other streaming services followed suit.
If you’re paying monthly for the privilege of watching all your favorite Pixar movies or the latest season of The Bear, then by March 14, Disney will restrict your account to you and your immediate household.
Hulu customers received an email late Wednesday notifying them the company was “adding limitations on sharing your account outside of your household, and explaining how we may assess your compliance with these limitations.” These updates to the company’s subscriber agreement read, “You may not share your subscription outside of your household,” in which the word “household” refers to the “primary personal residence” and all those people who live there. Disney owns a controlling share of Hulu and eventually plans to merge both into one giant homunculus of a streaming app.
But Hulu isn’t stopping there. Unlike Netflix, which makes use of customers’ IP addresses to determine whether an account is accessing the account outside the regular home, Hulu says it will analyze users’ watching habits and might even ban accounts if the company finds the customer shares their password with a friend. Hulu updated its subscriber agreement on Jan. 25, though previous versions of Hulu’s terms of service didn’t mention account sharing or even the word “households” at all.
Gizmodo reached out to Hulu for clarification about how it plans to monitor account-sharing activity, and we’ll update this story if we hear more.
Here’s the full language of the new terms of service:
Disney has been talking about this password-sharing crackdown since last August. In November, Disney tightened its massive, white-gloved fist around Canadian users, which meant it was only a matter of time before the media giant came for its fellow users in North America.
The biggest streamers are competing for the most-anti-consumer prize. Netflix put an end to password sharing on its platform last year. Just this week, Prime Video finally enacted its plan to add ads to its streaming service by default, requiring customers to spend more to receive the same service they did before.
Disney looked at how well Netflix has done since its password-sharing crackdown and thought it, too, could gain top-up on subscribers if it forced freeloaders off the platform. Still, Disney+ is a different beast than Netflix. Data from streaming analyst firm Antenna shows that far more people are canceling their Disney and Hulu subscriptions every month compared to Netflix. This “churn,” which is described as the ratio of cancels per month compared to subscribers at the end of the previous month, fluctuated far more in the last few months of 2023, while Netflix’s churn rate remained flat.
Essentially, there are far more people dropping, then occasionally re-upping their Disney+ and Hulu accounts than Netflix. Disney did report that its core subscribers numbers were up around 3.3 million at the end of its last quarter of 2023, to more than 150 million subscribers. Compare that to Netflix’s reported 13.1 million new users gained at the end of last year. Disney is desperate to get its numbers up, and it thinks playing follow the leader to the world’s biggest streaming service will do the trick.