Are Disney focusing on Streaming? And the Future of Disney+

On Monday, The Walt Disney Company released a Press Statement, announcing their “restructuring”, which has a focus on streaming. Understandably, the press was quick to decide what that means and write articles on what this means for the, already in trouble, cinemas. Those articles feature clickbait titles saying it could put the nail in the coffin for cinemas. The rest of this post is about how I actually interpret the statement.

This year has one of the most difficult years ever for the film industry. With a pandemic around the world, it stopped all production companies from filming, at least temporarily, and closing cinemas down, with release dates being pushed further and further back. With a large population around the world being stuck in doors because of a lockdown or choosing to stay in rather than going out, streaming services like Netflix were booming, and with the recent launch of Disney+ and Warner Bros launching HBO Max in the US, they were also thriving.

Disney+ had a staggered launch around the world, but that didn’t stop large numbers of people signing up to the service with gives customers access to a huge selection of Disney shows and classic Disney movies that were hard to find on other services. The huge back catalogue plus the promise of original content made specifically for the service, with the big draw at launch being an original series set in the Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian, and more Star Wars content on the way and multiple announced shows that would take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), with Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Wandavision being released on the service in the first year.

Onward, a Pixar film released in March 2020, was a film hugely affected by the diminishing audiences at the box office at the time, and it was decided that the film would go on to Disney+ in the US at the beginning of April to give the larger audience a chance to see the film. It just so happened that at the end of March was the launch date for Disney+ in multiple countries, particularly the UK and France. With production stopping on the Marvel shows, it meant that a big draw for audiences got pushed to later in 2020 and 2021. For US, Canadian, Australian and a couple of other countries’ audiences, who got the service when it launched in November, it was going to be over a year without a big release, leading to some customers complaining about what they are paying for and if it’s actually worth it. Compared to their major rival, Netflix, which have multiple new films and shows on the service each week, Disney+ does have new stuff every week but nothing big enough to grab general audiences’ attention. Netflix might have the easier deal in this scenario. Disney has the family friendly brand reputation so despite having recently bought 20th Century Fox, they decided not to be that content on Disney+. Netflix doesn’t have that sort of reputation and can therefore put anything on their service that they like and leave it up to the customers to decide what is and isn’t suitable, as well as having the feature for a parents to set an age limit for accounts. This means that not only could Netflix have films that are technically owned by Disney that they’ve decided aren’t suitable for Disney+, but films that are owned by other studios and their own original content.

So what does this restructuring mean for Disney+ and cinemas? I believe that this change is just to get more original content on Disney+. Disney crushed the box office last year, owning seven of the nine films that grossed over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, including Avengers: Endgame which became the highest grossing film of all time. I believe the change is to explore the likes of Star Wars with more Disney+ series, we already have The Mandalorian Season 2 in nearly 2 weeks, an Obi Wan Kenobi series, a series featuring Cassian Andor and K2S-O from Rogue One, as well as all the shows announced for the MCU. These series give audiences more time to explore universes that fans love, so doesn’t it make sense that fans want this and it’s for the best for Disney because people will continue their subscriptions as long as they keep putting out Star Wars and Marvel content because fans love them so much.

So will they stop putting films in the cinema? No, I don’t think so. As stated earlier in this post, Disney have crushed at the box office in recent years so why would they want to stop? They will still make money at the box office. The excitement for the next Marvel film is still there. The point of the series is to keep the excitement going, and filling in and expanding the universe, plus Disney have put in too much money into the production to just put it on to their streaming service. There is the benefit that the money goes straight to Disney. A theory that was tested with the release of Mulan straight to Disney+ where you pay £20/$30 to watch the film early, or you could just wait until the film is free if you already have a subscription (what the plan is with Soul for it’s Christmas Day release). To me the statement reads that they aren’t going to be putting out as many films in theatres because why would they want to release too much and compete with themselves. Soul‘s revised release date of late November would have competed with Free Guy in December, so the box office would have clashed, so why risk that. It’s a win for both Disney and fans, if people continue to watch films in theatres and on streaming and I firmly believe that they want that. They also just want to give subscribers enough new and original content to keep people around.

Are cinemas losing out? Cinemas are obviously struggling at the moment with all the releases being pushed (something that I’ve covered in a previous post), as long as Disney and other studios continue to put films in the cinema, they won’t. People will still go for the big films. Yes, the box office has had a huge hit, and it might not ever recover to the same heights of 2019, but financially it is proven with Mulan that people will just wait for it to be part of the subscription instead of paying £20/$30 to watch it from the comfort of your own home, instead of paying less and getting the cinema experience.

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