New York (CNN Business)Even as the pandemic pummeled its businesses, Disney managed to eke out a blockbuster success with its streaming service, Disney+. But to keep those subscribers — and, crucially, to attract new ones — the company needs content.
That includes “Cruella,” the origin story of the dastardly-yet-fashionable villain from “101 Dalmatians” starring Emma Stone. That film, which Disney announced on Tuesday is set to debut simultaneously in theaters and Disney+ for an extra fee on May 28, is just one of Disney’s many live-action reboots that will be available soon in your living room.
Remakes of “Peter Pan” and “Pinocchio” will be Disney+ exclusives, bypassing theaters entirely. That’s a trend that’s likely to continue.
The reboot formula hasn’t always been a box-office success, but Disney is betting the nostalgia for some of its most beloved (or reviled) heroes and villains will attract new subscribers to the platform. Releasing some of these films, often with an additional fee, directly to Disney+ — now the most essential part of the House of Mouse — helps both maintain and grow subscriptions.
A stream is a wish your heart makes
Disney’s businesses are still getting hammered by the pandemic. But Disney’s stock is thriving because Disney+ has not stopped growing. The company announced earlier this month that the service surpassed 100 million subscribers, shattering its own projections.
To keep that growth going, Disney+ needs to fill its library. That’s why Disney+ has a bunch of new Marvel and Star Wars shows on the way, and it’s also why one of its biggest films of the year, Marvel’s “Black Widow,” is heading to the service for an additional fee of $29.99 on July 9. Disney+ costs $6.99 a month.
As for “Cruella,” that film too is just another example of Disney+ filling its content coffers, even though viewers have the option of seeing it in theaters.
It’s a strategy that Disney has used before.
The service launched in 2019 with “Lady and the Tramp,” an exclusive live-action remake of the 1955 animated film for the service. And Disney released its “Mulan” remake on Disney+, albeit for an extra fee, after its theatrical premiere was delayed multiple times because of the pandemic.
While it could be argued that some of Disney’s other big brands like Star Wars and Marvel are better for the big screen than the small one, Disney’s live-action reboots can go either way. Some are huge hits, and some are misses.
But as weird as it might sound, the brand’s uneven track record is precisely what makes it a great fit for Disney’s potential release strategy going forward.
It’s really about flexibility
Disney’s live-action brand has unquestionably had some big hits.
For example, 2019’s “The Lion King” made $1.6 billion, and 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” made $1.2 billion. Others like “The Jungle Book” and “Aladdin” have also been blockbusters.
However, it’s also had some pretty big disappointments: 2019’s “Dumbo” missed the mark, making only $353 million worldwide, and 2016’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass” was a complete flop, making only $299 million worldwide, according to Comscore (SCOR).
Yet in the streaming world, those numbers don’t really matter.
Viewership metrics are mostly kept under wraps in streaming, so how something performs is not as important as what something is. Case in point, it may be more important to the health of Disney+ that it simply has film with Cruella de Vil’s iconic name in the title, rather than how many people choose to stream it.
Ultimately, the company will decide which film goes where on a case-by-case basis, Disney (DIS) CEO Bob Chapek said on the company’s earnings call earlier this year.
“It’s going to be dependent on what our slate of titles are and whether we think that we need to put something on the service for those particular guests, or whether this is something that we could use as another data point in our exploration of Premier Access,” he said.
Chapek added that it’s really about “flexibility.”
“We’re going to steer our decision-making over time,” he added. “given what information that we get from our guests and our subscriber base on what they prefer.”
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