Even though a combined 100 movie and TV series titles were announced today during Disney Investor Day, with 80% of them going to Disney+, let it be noted that the Burbank, CA studio didn’t burn down its 2021 theatrical release schedule, like WarnerMedia did last week, in order to keep the fire going on its streaming service.
At least, not yet.
Let’s not forget, they are the studio that took Mulan and Hamilton away from dying exhibitors at a time when they needed those movies the most. However, Disney was careful today about saying what exactly was intended for theatrical and what was definitely destined for Disney+ so as not to upset the apple cart with exhibition.
Heading into today, there was worry in the air that Disney was bound to emulate WarnerMedia’s recent pandemic response, which entails debuting next year’s slate in both theaters and on the HBO Max service same day. That’s a move that not only enraged talent, agencies, and exhibition, but is poised to do some significant damage to the theatrical window revenue system. One highlight that occurred early during the run of Disney Investor Day was Deadline’s news of CAA blasting WarnerMedia’s Jason Kilar over the studio’s ambitious strategy.
True, Disney has reorganized the company for a streaming future, much likes its competitors NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia. Disney passed 137 million subscribers on their direct-to-consumer services and has a goal of hitting 300M-350M subs by fiscal 2024. They’ll spend $8 billion to $9 billion on Disney+ content in order to get there, with a $14B-$16B WW direct to combined consumer spend for Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus during 2024.
All of that said, Disney CEO Bob Chapek didn’t completely turn his back on the big screen. After today’s electric parade of upcoming series and movies, he mentioned that the studio isn’t in a mindset to quickly abandon theatrical for in-home entertainment.
“We had a $13 billion box office last year, and that’s not something to sneeze at. We built those franchises through the theatrical window,” said Chapek about the grease which has propelled the Disney+ conveyor belt.
“It’s about balance and following the consumer as they make that transition,” he continued, “We need to be flexible to read all the cues, whether it’s COVID or changing consumer behavior so we can nimbly make decisions.”
For a minute this afternoon, it looked like Disney was heading down the same path as WarnerMedia. Toward the top of the Investor session, Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution Boss Kareem Daniel revealed that animated movie Raya and the Last Dragon would get a theatrical release on the same day as the pic’s PVOD access on Disney+. It’s a plan nearly similar to Mulan, with details yet to come. Mulan went for $29.99 premium point for current Disney+ subscribers in those territories where the service was available. More to Disney’s credit this time aroun is that they’re truly giving consumers the choice to see it in theaters or at home by charging at both ends. They’re not giving away the title for free, which is essentially what WarnerMedia is doing with their 2021 slate on HBO Max.
Another sign today that we were poised to see the complete dumping of the 20th Century Studios and Fox Searchlight slate onto Hulu was when that streamer’s President Kelly Campbell mentioned we’re apt to see more of the brand on her service. Alas, there wasn’t any news about 20th’s The King’s Man and Free Guy or Searchlight’s Antlers and The Eyes of Tammy Faye, etc. heading to Hulu. The 13-year old streamer has yet to fully annex its Fox catalog outside of the FX on Hulu menu selection. Hulu is going for indie releases from NEON or niche fare like Tri-Star’s The Happiest Season and Lionsgate’s Run, which have been self-proclaimed hits for them. Interestingly enough, 20th sold The Woman in the Window to Netflix rather than keeping it for Hulu, the feature reportedly having pacing problems.
As Deadline first announced, Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio, with Tom Hanks, and Peter Pan and Wendy are going to Disney+. That was made official today. However, Walt Disney Production President Sean Bailey didn’t include the edgy Emma Stone Cruella in the same sentence, that movie sticking to its Memorial Day weekend theatrical release date. Not only is Taika Waititi working on a new Star Wars movie, but Patty Jenkins is expanding the feature universe as well with Rogue Squadron. Some speculated that Black Widow would go full hog Disney+. Not yet. It’s still set for May 7 of next year, and none of the other Marvel feature titles are slotted to go on Disney+. In fact, they dovetail with their series counterparts. Marvel Boss Kevin Feige even announced another Fantastic Four feature reboot, this time with Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts. So, Disney has long-term big screen hopes. Missing from today: an update on Avatar 2 from big-screen lover James Cameron, as well as Disney’s big theme park plans.
Disney is a very sharp studio, and there’s a reason why many envy them around town. One former Disney executive praised the studio during the pandemic as being able “to make the best worst case decisions.” Disney has been able to keep their stock at record highs during a year that’s decimated their lucrative theatrical, travel, and theme park business. They have a history of flip-flopping brands between theatrical and home mediums (remember Aladdin 2 went to videotape? Also, High School Musical 3 was a huge $253M-grossing cash cow despite the franchise being hatched on the Disney Channel. Disney, above anyone in town, knows how to respond to the needs of the consumer, where to intrigue them, and more importantly, how not to cannibalize them. Sure, they didn’t reveal the revenue results of Mulan; the town believing it was a failure. But they’re toying with the theatrical-streaming model again on Raya.
Disney knows they have to respond to this pandemic in the short-term on a case-by-case basis. But in the long-term, they want to reopen the gates of Disneyland, and yes, they want those $1 billion grossing Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar records back, combined with the success of Disney+. They’re not looking to burn down their future Marvel movie franchises on streaming, like DC is potentially doing with Wonder Woman 1984 and Suicide Squad. Rather, they’re building them and expanding the universe as binge-worthy series. Smart.