There’s still no sign of when the theatrical industry will return to normal, but one glance at the upcoming release schedule will instantly let you know that it isn’t going to be this year. There are very few high-profile titles left on the calendar, with the vast majority being delayed until 2021.
Several major blockbusters have debuted exclusively on streaming in the interim, but that approach only benefits studios that have their own in-house service because they get to keep the vast majority of the profits. For instance, Mulan is reported to have made more from Disney Plus Premier Access sales than Christopher Nolan’s Tenet did from theaters, and the Mouse House will also be releasing Pixar’s Soul exclusively onto their own platform on Christmas Day.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Widow, meanwhile, has been pushed back twelve months as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and many fans were hoping that Disney would follow the Mulan formula and send it straight to streaming instead. That hasn’t happened yet, of course, but one of the company’s major shareholders would like to see the studio head down that route.
Dan Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund hold a billion dollar stake in The Walt Disney Company, and in a recent interview, he admitted that the uncertainty created by the pandemic makes the streaming model more valuable than ever and Black Widow would strengthen Disney Plus’ foothold in an increasingly competitive market.
“What Netflix has is this immense subscriber base that allows it to invest in an enormous amount of content and amortize that to get more subscribers. Disney isn’t there yet, but they need to get there as quickly as possible. If they don’t get critical mass in their subscriber base, they will be permanently disadvantaged versus Netflix. My understanding is that the old-line executives don’t want to go over the top with their big tent-pole movies, which is why they announced they were pushing Black Widow and other movies to 2021. I don’t think they appreciate the tiger they have by the tail, which is to say the value they can drive by moving into a subscription model, which has been adopted by everyone from Microsoft to Amazon. It’s so value accretive.”
Of course, Kevin Feige is said to be very much against the idea of releasing Black Widow straight to streaming, but with Disney facing huge revenue shortfalls this year, there’s every chance that those in the boardroom might have their hands forced in an effort to keep their shareholders happy.