Amid the ongoing global situation, the entertainment industry has been forced to adapt. This has resulted in a lurch towards streaming, with movies that were originally intended to be released in theaters instead being sent straight to people’s homes. Disney has made one of the biggest leaps so far, sending the big-budget live action remake of Mulan to Disney+ and skipping a theatrical release entirely, instead adding a premium fee of $29.99 on top of the standard subscription. Well, the company’s most recent quarterly earnings call indicates that there is more of this to come.
“What we’ve learned with Mulan is there’s going to be a role for it strategically within our portfolio of offerings. Again, we’re going to talk more about that at the investor conference in December,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek explained when discussing releasing more tentpole movies to the streaming services along with Premier Access.
What this means for future releases remains to be seen, as does which movies Disney are thinking of removing from an intended theatrical run. After the successful release of Mulan, many had expected Marvel’s Black Widow to be next, but so far that has not happened, with the MCU adventure recently given a new theatrical release date of May 7, 2021 instead.
The future of movie theaters is still very much in the dark, with closures across the world throwing the industry into despair. Due to this, a top investor at Disney recently urged the company to release Black Widow straight to streaming. Dan Loeb, the hedge fund manager for Third Point, has said that sending high-profile releases such as Black Widow directly to Disney+ is the best idea moving forward as it would attract new subscribers while retaining current customers. “What Netflix has is this immense subscriber base that allows it to invest in an enormous amount of content and amortize that to get more subscribers,” Loeb said. “Disney isn’t there yet, but they need to get there as quickly as possible. If they don’t get critical mass in their subscriber base, they will be permanently disadvantaged versus Netflix.”
Loeb even went so far as to predict that, due to the ongoing circumstances, movie theaters will become nothing more than a “novelty experience,” before saying that the world is “going to go largely toward online distribution.” Clearly, Chapek does not disagree with Loeb’s rather bleak outlook.
While Mulan was not a success by traditional box office metrics, with the lowest opening box office of any Disney live-action remake, Disney have clearly seen potential in the idea of premium releases, and while they may not move right away to bringing such big movies to Disney+, it’s likely that we will see a lot more movies evading theaters.
In fact, it has already begun, with Disney and Pixar’s Soul pulled from a theatrical release and confirmed to be releasing on Disney+ last month. Though, unlike Mulan, Soul will be available to the basic tier subscribers of Disney+, without the additional Premier Access pricing.
Despite huge losses with Disney Parks, it was recently reported that Disney+ has turned out to be a huge success for the company in Q4. “The real bright spot has been our direct-to-consumer business, which is key to the future of our company, and on this anniversary of the launch of Disney+ we’re pleased to report that, as of the end of the fourth quarter, the service had more than 73 million paid subscribers – far surpassing our expectations in just its first year,” Chapek said in Thursday’s announcement.
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