Mulan's Disney+ release is a decisive moment for streaming. Here's why.
The move could mark a major change in the studio's tentpole strategies.
You will finally get to watch Disney's live-action fantasy epic Mulan — at home.
On Tuesday, during the Q3 earnings call for fiscal year 2020, Disney CEO Bob Chapek formally announced that Mulan will release on Disney+ for an additional fee in September. It's a huge move that could have a tremendous impact and influence on the rest of the film industry. But will it be a one-time blip on the radar, or a permanent move away from movie theaters?
What Happened? — On Tuesday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told investors the studio will release Mulan on Disney+ on September 4 for an additional fee (what the studio is calling a "Premiere Access") of $29.99.
This marks the second major Disney tentpole movie to release on video on-demand services, and the first to sell for an extra fee. Artemis Fowl, the $125 million family film based on a series of best-selling books, was pivoted from a theatrical release to Disney+ for no additional fee back in June.
Disney is considering the release of Mulan as a pandemic anomaly and not necessarily indicative of a new widespread release strategy — for now. Chapek confirmed Disney will look closely at how Mulan performs before implementing the strategy for other yet-to-release movies, like Black Widow and The New Mutants.
Mulan was previously slated to release on March 27 but was delayed indefinitely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chapek clarified Mulan will still open in theaters "where theaters are open." That is unlikely to include the United States, where most (but not all) theaters have remained closed, save for drive-in theaters where social distancing is maintained.
What about other movies? — Disney maintained that only Mulan will have this unusual release, and not other major blockbuster movies like Black Widow and The New Mutants.
That's for now, at least.
During the call, the CEO maintained the studio's popular tentpole features are "expensive" and that the studio has to prioritize recouping investments. As Inverse previously reported in March, it was not in Disney's best interests to release major movies like Mulan straight to VOD or Disney+.
Now, months later, Disney is pursuing PVOD after what Chapek called optimistic "research" that suggests the studio could "recapture some of that investment," as well as add "a fairly large stimulus" of subscribers for Disney+.
Said Chapek: "We're fortunate we have the opportunity to bring [Mulan] to our own direct-to-consumer platform, so consumers can enjoy it. But we are looking at Mulan as a one-off, as opposed to trying to say there's some new business windowing model that we're looking at. Mulan is a one-off."
Chapek added they find the situation "very interesting" and a chance to "learn" more about consumer behavior.
"We find it very interesting to be able to take a new offering ... at that $29.99 price and learn from it and see what happens," said Chapek. "Not only in terms of the uptake of the number of subscribers we get at the platform, but the actual number of transactions on the Disney+ platform on that PVOD offering."
When an investor asked a follow-up question regarding the validity of the strategy, Chapek affirmed that Disney is in a privileged position to experiment. "We can test almost anything when we have [our] own platform," the CEO said, boasting Disney+. "We thought we could give it a try to establish a new 'Premiere Access' window to recapture some of that investment we've got. We're gonna have a chance to learn from this and see if that makes sense."
The Inverse Analysis — The pivot of Mulan from theatrical to a PVOD release is by no means a small deal. It is a very big deal. Though Chapek — who did not have his predecessor Bob Iger present, unlike the Q2 call — and CFO Christine M. McCarthy tried to downplay the ripple effect this could have across the industry, it is clear that Disney is using Mulan as a pathfinder to gauge the viability of a somewhat unusual release model.
Mulan, of course, is no film to gamble. With a reported budget of $200 million and visibly tailored to appeal to the competitive Chinese film market, Disney is rolling the dice on its investment by bringing Mulan to Disney+. Even with an added $30.
"We're open to all options how to get programs out to consumers," Chapek said. Another Disney investor conference will be held in the next few months.
Mulan will be released on Disney+ on September 4.
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