Disney+. Apple TV+. Paramount+. How the plus sign won the streaming wars

Stephen Battaglio
Los Angeles Times

Last summer, mobile wireless company Mint Mobile briefly joined the streaming wars.

The company ran a commercial introducing Mint Mobile+, offering users a single movie, “Foolproof,” a 2003 comedy starring Ryan Reynolds.

Reynolds, who owns a majority stake in Mint Mobile, said on Twitter that the service was being discontinued just a few minutes after its launch announcement. “Our crack data team has already determined Mint Mobile + should probably be shut down by the weekend. We’ll go back to focusing on premium wireless …”

Disney+ logo

The ad was a gag. But parodying the addition of a plus sign to a brand name reflects how it has become the go-to symbol for media conglomerates when they christen their emerging video-on-demand streaming businesses.

Discovery Communications is the latest to enter the marketplace with Discovery+, putting the cable programmer’s wide array of unscripted series in a $4.99 a month package starting in January. CBS All Access — the streaming home for ViacomCBS-owned programs and films — will be relaunched as Paramount+ next year, affixing the symbol to the name of the company’s 108-year-old movie studio.

They join the brigade of plus-named services that include Disney+, ESPN+, Apple TV+, BET+ and AMC+.

Why the fixation with plus?

Steve Kazanjian, president and chief executive of Promax, the trade association for marketing companies serving the entertainment industries, said the repeated use of the arithmetic symbol has made it an efficient tool to create awareness of the new services.

“There is a stake in the ground that’s around ‘plus’ right now,” he said. “It’s in the consumer lexicon. It owns a bit of emotional equity in your brain already, which is really powerful.”

Discovery found that was the case when it conducted surveys and focus groups with consumers on possible names for its service. The company considered dozens of original monikers — testing Latin words and new-fangled creations that came from combined words — a route that Jeffrey Katzenberg’s short-lived streaming service took when it melded “quick bites” into Quibi.

The Quibi name failed to reach critical mass even after exposure to 100 million TV viewers during the Super Bowl, reflecting the challenge a new entity faces in breaking through to consumers.

But the rapid growth of Disney+ — already at 86 million subscribers just one year after its launch — paved the way for Discovery to adapt a plus sign as well.

“Our research confirmed that the plus sign has become synonymous with streaming video on demand services,” said David Leavy, chief operating officer for Discovery.

Adding the plus sign to an established name is a way to tell consumers that the service carries content that goes beyond what the consumer already associates with the brand.

And success breeds imitation.