Hulu is quickly becoming Disney's crown jewel of streaming

The Walt Disney Company's fastest growing streaming service isn't its flagship Disney Plus but its general-entertainment service Hulu, according to a new report.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published a report based on data from research firm Antenna that showed Hulu had outpaced Disney Plus in terms of new subscribers for 18 of the last 24 months. The newspaper said total new subscriptions to Hulu had also eclipsed the same metric for Disney Plus over the company's six most-recent financial quarters.

In May, Disney said Hulu had 45.6 million subscribers in the United States who were receiving either its linear, over-the-top service Hulu with Live TV or its basic video on-demand service (the latter is included in Hulu with Live TV). Disney Plus, on the other hand, had 44.4 million subscribers in the United States.

Hulu also brings in more average revenue per user, with the video on-demand version earning $12.77 per subscriber and the live TV plan netting $88.77 per subscriber, according to a review of Disney's quarterly earnings by Fierce Video. That compared to $6.32 per domestic subscriber to Disney Plus and $4.73 per subscriber to Disney's sports-centric streamer ESPN Plus.

Many of Hulu's customers opt for the ad-supported version of the streaming service, which costs $6 a month and offers videos and movies that are occasionally interrupted by commercials. That plan gives Disney two sources of revenue.

Disney Plus, on the other hand, offers commercial-free access to movies and some original series for $8 a month or $80 a year. An ad-supported version of Disney Plus is in the works, and the company's financial success with Hulu could accelerate those plans.

But Hulu's success offers one downside: While Disney is the sole operator of the service, its media rival Comcast still owns a minority stake in the service. In two years, Comcast can exercise an option that would see Disney acquiring its stake in the service, giving Disney full control and ownership of Hulu. Under a deal reached in 2019, Disney would have to pay at least $27.5 billion to own Hulu outright, but that price could climb as Hulu adds subscribers if Comcast thinks the service is more valuable than it was three years ago.

It also remains unclear if Hulu's subscriber growth is fueled by original content and movies or licensed shows. In a few months, that question could be answered when Comcast pulls its NBC shows from the streaming service and moves them exclusively to Peacock. When that happens, shows like "Saturday Night Live," "Superstore," "Law & Order" and "The Voice" will be unavailable to Hulu subscribers unless they also sign up for Peacock, which has a limited free tier and a premium one that starts at $5 a month.

Disney is not waiting around to find out: On its most-recent earnings call, company executives affirmed they are increasing their financial commitment toward the development of original programming and to secure live sports rights for their streaming services. A significant chunk of the $32 billion it will spend on creating TV shows and movies this year alone will go toward general entertainment, which would likely help Hulu.

"We believe that great content is going to drive our [subscribers], and those [subscribers] then in scale will drive our profitability," Robert Chapek, Disney's CEO, said on the call.