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.”
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.
The copycat branding evident in the prevalence of “plus” isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Two decades ago, companies were tacking “.com” to the ends of brands to indicate a digitally oriented company, a signifier that quickly evolved to cramming an “e” onto the beginning of the brand name. Later, companies looked to mimic the brand recognition of Apple’s iPod and iPhone by tacking a lowercase “i” in front of the names of their products or services. After Netflix’s arrival onto the home entertainment scene—first with DVD lending, then streaming—a new crop of copycats began borrowing the “flix” suffix.
Watkins said brands that copy others’ names risk dating themselves when certain terminologies go out of vogue. There’s another risk, too: “People don’t like copycats,” she said.
While Roth and Watkins agreed original names are often the better route, the other names for streaming services haven’t exactly wowed them, either. Watkins balked at the name Hulu, which former CEO Jason Kilar said in a since-deleted company blog post was derived from two Mandarin words (one of which translates to “interactive recording”).
“There are no four-letter domain [names] left where it doesn’t look like someone got drunk and played Scrabble,” Watkins said. “I always think that’s where names like Hulu come from.”
Other companies that didn’t jump on the “plus” bandwagon have opted for other suffixes. WarnerMedia, for instance, announced HBO Max, a streaming service of its own that will contain the ultra-popular sitcom Friends along with programming from WarnerMedia properties like HBO, TNT and TBS. The product adds to WarnerMedia’s other streaming products, which include HBO Go (streaming for HBO cable subscribers) and HBO Now (streaming for those without an HBO subscription).
Zack Jordan, an account executive at Eat My Words, said HBO lacked enough distinguishing language between its offerings to easily make sense for consumers.
“I have probably downloaded the wrong version of that app three or four times, to the point where I am no longer subscribed to HBO,” Jordan said. “It’s just a pain in the butt.”
Roth, though, liked the choice of Max, since it conveys added value while fitting into the nomenclature of the other existing products. The only major downside, he said, was the term might limit additional products that extend beyond the Max tier.
“Sooner or later there’s going to be something new, and they’ll have to get more creative,” Roth said. “I suppose Max+ is always an option.”