Disney investor Dan Loeb argues the studio should release upcoming blockbusters like Black Widow on Disney+ to bolster their streaming library.
Disney investor Dan Loeb says the studio should release massive blockbusters like Black Widow on Disney+ to bolster their streaming presence. Launching last year, Disney+ has already proven to be a monumental success, recently passing 60.5 million paid subscribers. With titles like The Mandalorian, Hamilton, and more becoming major hits, Disney decided to make streaming their primary focus, taking full advantage of not only Disney+'s massive audience, but also Hulu and ESPN+. One only has to look at the sheer number of Star Wars and Marvel TV shows in development to see how important Disney+ is to the Mouse House's future.
Despite coming out with a new streaming strategy, Disney is not going to ditch traditional theatrical releases. This has been a hot topic in 2020, as several highly-anticipated tentpoles continue to be delayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Select Disney movies, like Mulan and Soul, have gone straight to Disney+, but Marvel's Black Widow was pushed back to May 2021, when hopefully theaters will be safer. It's understandable why the studio is keen on giving Black Widow and others a big screen release, but Loeb feels like they should do the opposite.
Speaking with Variety, Loeb explained his stance on Disney streaming, feeling that making Disney+ the home for the studio's blockbusters would give Disney a leg-up on the competition, such as Netflix:
“My understanding is that the old-line executives don’t want to go over the top with their big tentpole 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.”
The theatrical landscape will probably never be the same again in the aftermath of the pandemic. Regal has closed all their locations again, and AMC Theatres could run out of money by the end of the year. It's also unknown when a majority of people will feel safe to go to the theater again; Dr. Anthony Fauci cautioned it may not be until a year after a COVID vaccine is readily available. So, it'd be wise for studios to at least explore alternative models of film distribution for now. It's not a coincidence the latest wave of release date delays happened right after Tenet underwhelmed at the box office, illustrating the risks of releasing a big-budget movie only in theaters at this time. What was poised to be one of the summer's biggest hits failed to break even. That's a fate other tentpoles are hoping to avoid.
There's no question Black Widow would likely drive up Disney+'s subscription base (especially since viewers are starved for Marvel content right now), but it's telling Disney opted to delay it further for a theatrical release instead of making it another Premier Access movie for Disney+. While Mulan proved to be somewhat successful under this model, it probably wasn't enough to convince Disney this was the way to go for all their blockbusters. Granted, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would probably be a bigger draw than Mulan, but it's clear Disney executives still feel uncertain about fully embracing streaming as Loeb is suggesting. As much as the studio wants audiences to see Black Widow, they also want to turn a profit off what is a big investment.