Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek says the release pattern of Black Widow will be a “last-minute” decision, a sentiment that won’t reassure movie theater owners or others rooting for a Covid-19 rebound.
The executive made the comments to Bloomberg Television while standing in front of Disneyland, which just set its limited-capacity reopening for April 30. (Watch the full interview above.)
Marvel’s Black Widow has been delayed multiple times due to the pandemic and is now set for May 7. Disney has not yet indicated its plans for how it will release it. Speculation has grown that the film could be a Premier Access title on Disney+, which could limit its theatrical reach. Major theater chain Cinemark, for example, did not play Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon this month because it was available for Premier Access for $30 for Disney+ subscribers at the same time it hit theaters.
Asked if Black Widow would stick to its release date, Chapek did not answer directly, instead emphasizing the need to embrace “flexibility” in every sense.
“Our situation and our conditions change,” he said. “Just a few weeks ago, theaters in New York and Los Angeles weren’t even open. Now, all of a sudden they’re open, so we’re waiting to see how prospective theatergoers respond to these reopenings. We’re going to remain flexible. We’ll make the call probably at the last minute in terms of how these films come to market, whether it’s Black Widow or any other title.”
Chapek has spoken often about the importance of movie theaters to Disney’s overall business, but the company’s alpha and omega lately is Disney+. The streaming service just passed 100 million global subscribers and has premiered numerous theatrical features, including Pixar’s Soul and last year’s live-action remake of Mulan.
“We love the theatrical window,” Chapek said. “We think it’s important for building our franchises. At the same time, we don’t think it’s the only way to do it. … We’ll see what happens over the next couple of months. So much is changing, it’s such a dynamic environment. It’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen with consumer behavior in the next month as it comes to re-emergence back into the world of normal. We’ll be watching the call carefully and make the call when we have to.”
The global picture has dimmed due to rising Covid infections and vaccine struggles in some territories. That has forced new delays for some big movies like Sony’s Venom 2, which has shifted back to fall and Universal’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, which left 2021 for the presumed viability of 2022.
As to parks and the news of Disneyland reopening April 30 with limited capacity, Chapek said initial customer response has been positive. “I think guests know that Disney’s going to do things right,” he said.
The long-term closure of Disneyland, a first in the six-plus decades it has been open, has enabled Disney to implement certain improvements, Chapek said. “When we re-emerge, we’re going to do so in a way that’s going to improve the experience,” he said.
At locations like Disney World in Florida or parks in Asia, which have been open for months, he said surveys indicate that “guests are even more satisfied than they were before the pandemic.”
Chapek acknowledged that Disneyland Paris could wind up being the last Disney park to reopen as continental Europe battles a resurgence of Covid infections and a balky vaccine rollout. Asked about prospects to get the Paris park open again this summer, the CEO said, “We certainly hope so.”
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