As the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes continue on, AI is an issue at the forefront of not only workers’ minds but the minds of studios like Disney — and not necessarily in the way you’d think. The Mouse House, along with several big name companies we’ll discuss shortly, is reportedly getting ready to go to battle against AI despite publicly supporting using AI to scan background actors’ likenesses to then use them for an undisclosed amount of time.
That’s not the only battle Disney is willing to wage; remember how Disney reported a loss of over 4 million subscribers earlier this year? The majority of those who left were subscribed to Disney Plus Hotstar, Disney Plus’ streaming service offered in India. The service saw a mass exodus of subscribers after it stopped streaming Indian Premier League cricket matches for free, instead hiding matches behind a paid subscription. Now, Disney wants to right this wrong and get these Hotstar subscribers back using the “only” tool left in their arsenal: more cricket.
Winning back previous Hotstar subscribers will definitely help Disney win back some of the money they lost this year in the box office and from streaming growing pains, but the best thing to help with Disney’s recent string of less than great MCU projects (not you, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) would be The Marvels rising above the rubble to actually get people excited about the MCU again. Let’s talk about it.
Disney reportedly part of a growing list of companies defending themselves against AI
In an exclusive report from CNN’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter, Disney is among several news and media companies taking a stand against AI, albeit behind the scenes. These newsrooms and other organizations have implemented code in their websites in order to prevent AI bots, including OpenAI and GPTbot from scanning their sites and taking content. This defensive measure prevents these bots from using these site’s immense archives of well-written content to train ChatGPT and similar technology.
While none of the many companies and news organizations taking this quiet step in the battle against AI have spoken publicly on the matter, CNN spoke with one news executive anonymously who voiced their thoughts: “Most of the internet is garbage. Traditional media publishers, on the other hand, are fact driven and offer quality content.” Point taken. Similarly, Danielle Coffey, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, shared that despite their silence, media organizations are taking a cautious approach when it comes to AI.
“I see a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to addressing the use, and misuse, of our content. One publisher told me it is an existential threat. Another publisher told me there isn’t a business model with certain uses of A.I. … there is a sense of urgency to address this.”
As of writing, none of the companies named in the article have taken any serious legal action against AI companies, despite Coffey’s assurances that they feel “on solid legal ground” when it comes to protecting intellectual property. That being said, Disney being included in that list is somewhat of a surprise given its previous support of AI, both when it comes to scanning essentially any actor attached to a Marvel project or its now famous use of AI in the Secret Invasion credits. Though, as the anonymous news executive says, preventing AI from using companies’ intellectual property doesn’t necessarily mean they’re completely opposed to using AI, but that they want to be consulted first.
If you’re curious, the full list of organizations mentioned in the CNN report that have taken preventative measures are as follows: CNN, The New York Times, Reuters, Disney, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Axios, Insider, ABC News, ESPN, The Gothamist, Condé Nast, Hearst, and Vox Media.
After losing millions of Disney Plus Hotstar subscribers, Disney is going to offer free cricket to try and win them back
After overestimating Disney Plus Hotstar viewers’ willingness to pay to watch Cricket matches, Disney is now going to offer free cricket on both smartphones and tablets in order to win back the subscribers who left en masse just a few months ago. Via Reuters, Hotstar will stream live matches of the Asia Cup beginning Aug. 30 and will additionally stream the World Cup in October and November.
It’s a strategy similar to the one behind Disney Plus’ recently announced U.S. price raises; with more users using the free version of the streaming service, Disney will see increased advertising revenue while also increasing their revenue from paying subscribers. Hotstar has more subscribers than Disney Plus (even after those 4 million left earlier this year) and was acquired by Disney when the company purchased 21st Century Studios and its global assets in 2019.
Hotstar’s biggest draw has always been its cricket matches, which Disney made part of a paid subscription plan in 2020. Disney lost its IPL TV broadcast streaming rights to JioCinema, a streaming service based in India, earlier this year and when the latter began streaming these matches for free, HotStar subscribers left in droves. One internal source told Reuters, “We were bullish on Indian subscribers’ propensity to pay. That’s not worked out. Free cricket is the only bullet left.”
A lot is riding on these free cricket matches; according to Reuters, Hotstar had 61 million users in October of last year and has lost 21 million by July.
The Marvels could be a winner for both Disney and Phase Five if it can recapture what made Captain Marvel a $1 billion success story
Streaming isn’t the only place Disney has been feeling the heat after its spent nearly $1 billion on four high-budget projects without seeing positive results in the box office. Two of those four were failed Marvel Studios’ projects — Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Secret Invasion — which continues a disheartening trend as the MCU’s Phase Five carries on.
We could rehash the common complaints one would hear from most Marvel fans — poor plotlines, underwhelming visual effects, and the feeling that most of these movies are just a placeholder to get us to the next big MCU moment rather than a standalone story — but the crux of the issue is that we really just want to watch a good movie.
Could The Marvels be that movie? It wouldn’t be the first Phase Five project to get it right (I already mentioned Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 was a rare hit) and it is the sequel to a $1 billion blockbuster, Captain Marvel. As much as people like to hate on the Brie Larson film online, the fact is the movie was well-received both commercially and critically, and as noted here, fans of movies like Barbie could enjoy the The Marvels in a similar way if it leans into a more feminist plot. It also helps that the new MCU film is shaping up to be the shortest Marvel Studios film yet; a film that doesn’t overstay its welcome will be a welcome change when many of the studios’ films trend toward three hours.
After reports Dune: Part Two has been delayed due to the SAG-Aftra strike, The Marvels will have little competition when it comes out on Nov. 10 (or as early as Nov. 3 if rumors are to be believed). Now, the movie just needs to be good, and we’re golden.