For months now, entertainment business analysts have been predicting that the shutting down of movie theaters due to the global lockdown had spelled the death of the theater industry. In what can be seen as a confirmation of sorts of such predictions, Disney, possibly the most powerful film and television studio on the planet, has announced its main focus going forward will be on streaming content rather than theatrical releases. Disney CEO Bob Chapek made the statement to CNBC's Julia Boorstin on Closing Bell this past Monday.
"We are tilting the scale pretty dramatically [toward streaming]. I would not characterize it as a response to [the global emergency]. I would say [it] accelerated the rate at which we made this transition, but this transition was going to happen anyway."
At the moment, Disney's streaming platforms across the globe number over 100 million paid subscribers, more than half of whom are on Disney+. While the Mouse Empire was a relatively new entry in the streaming landscape, the brand recognition afforded to Disney through its years of producing blockbuster film and television projects quickly made Disney+ a leader, particularly among the child and family demographic. It was this success that, according to Chapek, prompted the company to pivot its focus toward streaming.
″[Consumers] are going to lead us. Right now they are voting with their pocketbooks, and they are voting very heavily toward Disney+. We want to make sure that we are going the way the consumers want us to go."
The effects of Disney's new focus on streaming have already begun to take effect. Their live-action reboot of Mulan became the first big-budget Hollywood movie to release exclusively on a streaming platform. While the movie's earnings have not been disclosed yet, Disney must have been satisfied with the experiment to a certain degree, since another major movie, Pixar's animated offering Soul was also recently announced to be going the Disney+ route instead of being shown in movie theaters.
Not everyone is thrilled with Disney's evolving priorities. While audiences have long been clamoring to have major movies released on streaming so they can watch new content without risking infection by going to theaters, cinema hall owners have been locked in a battle for their very existence for the past few months. Following the announcement of Soul debuting on Disney+, the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) issued a statement condemning Disney's decision:
"Decisions to postpone titles, to bypass cinemas and the value they create are extremely disappointing - and concerning - and will only delay the day that the whole industry is able to put this crisis behind it. It is not only cinemas and audiences who are missing out - this situation must surely also be deeply frustrating for the creators and talents who want to see their films on the big screen."
Like it or not, streaming is here to stay, and cinemas simply cannot rival the convenience afforded by video-on-demand. Hopefully, the two industries will find a way to co-exist, instead of one spelling doom for another. This news first generated at CNBC.com.