Walt Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” is hitting small screens today, with the newest version of the 1998 animated hit getting released on the company’s subscription streaming service.
The film’s thrice-delayed showing, which costs $30 to purchase for unlimited viewings, follows Universal’s “Trolls World Tour” and Warner Bros.’ “Scoob!” in bypassing theaters and going straight to consumers.
While Disney’s streaming service, Disney Plus, is still making money for the company after its late 2019 launch, the entertainment giant in Mayin total losses across its theme parks and other units as the coronavirus shuttered businesses. The following quarter Disney reported a net loss of $4.7 billion.
Before the coronavirus hit, “Mulan” was slated to hit theaters March 27. But the movie was postponed three times before its Disney Plus debut was scheduled. Now, the company views its decision to offer “Mulan” online as a one-time event rather than as a new business model, Robert Chapek, Disney’s CEO told analysts in August.
“We find it very interesting to be able to take a new offering, or premier access offering, to consumers at that $29.99 price and learn from it and see what happens not only in terms of the uptake of the number of subscribers that we get on the platform but the actual number of transactions on the Disney Plus platform, Chapek said.
Disney Plus users who buy Mulan and later cancel the streaming service will still have access to the movie if they reactivate their subscription,.
Big-budget films are typically released in theaters, then home video and TV, but that order has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Efforts to curtail the virus’s spread, including the closure of traditional movie theaters, have left limited options for studios to release films. Universal Pictures in March made its movies available in homes the same day as their global release in theaters.
Disney’s strategy with “Mulan” highlights the company’s willingness to “take risk and disrupt existing models, even while much of its business is effectively shut down due to COVID-19,” UBS analyst Benjamin Swinburne wrote Wednesday in a client’s note. Yet he company’s online release of “Mulan” should not be seen as “abandoning the theatrical window,” he added.
“Long term, the optimal release strategy for Disney may be to make its films available in theaters and on Disney Plus simultaneously and let consumers choose, a distribution model that today is not supported by exhibitors,” Swineburne said.
Disney is releasing “Mulan” in theaters in Asia, where cinemas have been reopening since March, while offering it online to Disney Plus subscribers in Europe.
In the U.S., Disney Plus customers already paying $7 a month who don’t want to fork over the extra $30 can wait until December 4, when it will be released to all Disney Plus subscribers, according to the company.
While “Mulan” is the biggest movie so far to skip theaters and debut online, other Disney films recently released in theaters have been added to the Disney Plus service earlier than planned as a result of the pandemic. “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” both came to Disney Plus three months ahead of schedule. Disney Plus also aired the filmed version of “Hamilton” more than a year ahead of its being slated to hit the big screen.
Conversely, Cineworld Group is banking on a busy weekend at its U.S. cinemas where “Tenet” will be playing. Director Christopher Nolan’s time-bending thriller is among the larger releases since theaters in the U.S. and Europe started reopening. Warner Bros.the release of the due to the virus.