Every New Streaming Service Has ‘Plus’ in Its Name. That Could Be a Minus

Apple, Disney and BET's repetitive OTT names risk becoming 'meaningless'

GIF of a mountain with a giant plus sign about streaming services all using plus in their name.
Brand experts chide streaming services for their copycat names.
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Streaming services love pluses. Just take a look at the number of companies that have tacked the “+” sign onto the ends of their new OTT services.

There’s Apple, which in March announced Apple TV+, an ad-free subscription add-on to its digital media player Apple TV that will have original programming from stars like Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Aniston.

The name of the service echoed that of Disney+, the subscription streaming product being readied by Disney that will house library and original content from the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic universes. The Disney+ moniker, of course, was patterned after ESPN+, the subscription streaming option from the Disney-owned ESPN that houses live and on-demand sports content.

Crackle, the Sony-created free ad-supported streaming service, caused a bout of confusion in March when it became part of a joint venture named Crackle Plus. But the company’s majority owner, Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, clarified that Crackle will continue to operate under its original, plus-free moniker.

By the time BET announced last month that it would roll out BET+, an OTT ad-free subscription offering slated to premiere this fall, the addition of yet another “plus” streaming service began to seem laughable.

Forget subscription fatigue; branding experts say they’re aggrieved by Plus fatigue.

“It [has become] a short-hand—and, I’d argue, lazy—way to convey that you’re providing an added service,” said Hayes Roth, founder and principal of the brand consultancy HA Roth Consulting. “At some point, it becomes kind of meaningless, considering all the companies that are using it.”

"It [has become] a short-hand—and I’d argue, lazy—way to convey that you’re providing an added service."
—Hayes Roth, founder and principal, HA Roth Consulting

Plus signs and the written word “plus” have been used plenty by various industries over the years, Roth said, but in the streaming space, Hulu seems to have been the first to incorporate “plus” into a product name. The Hulu Plus moniker, which was adopted in 2010 and identified Hulu’s ad-free subscriber tier, was dropped in 2015; Hulu’s ad-supported and ad-free tiers are now known as Hulu and Hulu (No Ads), respectively.

Another digital-based TV offering with “plus” in its name, FX+, will shutter next month, but it’s still possible that other “plus” streaming services could still be on the way: NBCUniversal and Discovery are both working on streaming services of their own, and their names have yet to be announced. (Neither company commented on whether they are considering using “plus” in their respective services’ names.)

From a branding standpoint, the symbol conveys exactly what it would seem: that there’s something additive about the product or service. And while the meaning of “plus” in brand names has remained somewhat consistent over the years, the naming convention could end up limiting future product options for the streaming services that use them.

Alexandra Watkins, founder and chief executive of branding and naming consultancy Eat My Words, said streaming services risk “paint[ing] yourself into a corner” by limiting new product tiers, like a cheaper ad-supported option for a formerly ad-free service, or a top-tier product that has even more streaming options than the company’s original offering.

“What is it going to be, Plus-Plus? Plus Squared?” Watkins said. “Anytime they launch something new or upgrade the service, it’s still going to be ‘plus.’ How will they signify that?” (Roth jokingly offered another suggestion: “Plus-Minus.”)

Representatives for Apple TV+ and Disney+ did not respond to a request  to comment about their use of the “plus” moniker. In a statement, BET+’s general manager Devin Griffin said the “+” was intended to keep viewers connected to the BET brand while signaling its expansion with new stories and voices.

“The main idea for us is that BET+ is additive to BET linear, bringing our audience more of the content they crave and love,” Griffin said.