Instead of labeling it a premium video on demand (PVOD) release, Disney created a new category for the $200 million tentpole: Premier Access. Any Disney+ subscriber will be able to see the film through the streaming platform if they pay $30 when it goes live Friday in the U.S. and other territories with Disney+. As long as subscribers don’t cancel, they will retain access to the film and can download it and watch it an unlimited number of times.
As of November 2 at 11:59PM PT, the Premiere Access window will close, according to the Disney+ website. After a month, regular access to the film without a charge will begin for all Disney+ subscribers.
The live-action remake of the studio’s 1998 animated title, directed by Niki Caro, met a cruel fate due to COVID-19. Days after its world premiere in Hollywood, and within sight of its scheduled March 27 release, the pandemic forced the closure of movie theaters in much of the world. After a nearly zero-revenue movie summer, the first titles have begun to test the waters, starting with Tenet tomorrow. For several months, Disney and other studios kept pushing titles back and hoping theaters could reopen, but a large wave of new coronavirus cases across much of the U.S. kept multiplexes largely offline.
New York and LA remain dark due to health and safety concerns. Exhibitors and distributors have been lobbying state and local officials for the chance to get going again, though Warner Bros decided to move ahead with Tenet this weekend in the U.S. after its strong international start.
Realizing its plan to reap hundreds of millions from the theatrical release of Mulan was in jeopardy, Disney last month made the call to mobilize the film on Disney+. Unlike Hamilton, which provided a boost on July Fourth weekend as a free title for subscribers, Mulan was positioned as a premium item within the Disney+ environment, something no general-entertainment subscription streaming platform has not yet tried.
Since launching last November, Disney+ has already reached the low end of the company’s five-year subscriber projections, with 60.5 million paying customers as of the first week of August.
Release plans for Mulan via Blu-ray and transactional VOD or other windows have not yet been confirmed. Typically, the holiday season has been a moment when Disney maximizes potential in those windows. The company’s CEO, Bob Chapek, got the top job in February. While he was best known for his stint running the company’s theme-park unit, he accumulated a significant amount of operating experience overseeing the company’s home entertainment efforts and early streaming forays.
During a conference call with Wall Street analysts on August 4, Chapek referred to the pattern for Mulan as a “one-off” that would allow the studio to learn about subscriber patterns and customer appetites.
Financial analysts and industry observers have wondered if the company might be using Mulan as a test for an entirely new way to put feature films into the marketplace. They have been watching the rollout closely. It comes after a summer when Universal and AMC set a precedent-setting deal that will enable films to exit theaters and head to streaming and other windows after just 17 days. Many other studio titles have opted for pure PVOD, where the splits are much more tilted toward the distributor.
In the case of the novel Mulan debut, one hugely valuable commodity is the data on viewership that could inform future decision-making about Disney+ and the film studio. Because it will be available only via Disney+, the company will be able to control all of those insights. Most PVOD releases rely on third parties like Amazon, Apple and Roku to reach consumers, with those tech platforms able to glean data.
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