Disney CEO Bob Chapek believes that the coronavirus pandemic has already changed the movie industry forever. Chapek spoke at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference on Monday, where he talked about the results of movies going up on streaming apps and into theaters simultaneously — and the expectations going forward.
"The consumer is probably more impatient than they've ever been before," Chapek told the virtual crowd, "particularly since now they've had the luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home pretty much when they want them. So, I'm not sure there's going back. But we certainly don't want to do anything like cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run." Chapek's comments come as Disney prepares to release its new animated movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, as a paid video-on-demand offering for the price of $29.99.
This will be Disney's second PVOD release since COVID-19 closed theaters, the first being its live-action adaptation of Mulan. The company also released the newest Pixar movie, Soul straight, onto Disney+ at no additional cost. According to a report by The Wrap, it plans to do the same with the 101 Dalmations prequel Cruella in May.
"This is a fluid situation and its fluid for two reasons," Chapek said. "The short term impact of COVID on the number of screens open and on consumers' willingness to go back, but also the fundamental changes of consumer behavior, which might be more profound. We are watching very carefully... to see how long term those preferences are going to shift. and that's why we talk about flexibility so often."
So far, Disney's experiments in these new methods of distribution have been inconsistent. Pixar's Onward struck many as a streaming-only release, though it actually had an abbreviated theatrical run before the pandemic truly hit the U.S. Some are also baffled by the price tag on Mulan and Raya compared to Soul and Cruella, unable to discern why Disney assigns so much more value to some than others.
Disney's control of other beloved franchises also raises a lot of questions. Fans have now been waiting months for the new Marvel Studios blockbuster Black Widow, which has been completed for a while. The company has not said anything about the possibility of putting that movie upon its streaming service, instead continually pushing its theatrical release date back.
Disney must also consider its competitors' moves, many of whom are getting bolder about non-theatrical releases. Every Warner Bros. movie in 2021 will be available on HBO Max at no additional cost for a limited time, while some Paramount films will get a similar deal on the new Paramount+. However, these kinds of deals risk outrage from the theater proprietors, who are still struggling and looking at an increasingly long road to recovery.