This morning Disney has become the latest Hollywood studio to shatter that theatrical exclusivity window by releasing Onward on premium VOD later tonight, followed by a Disney+ release on April 3. This is after Universal is releasing several of their theatrical movies right now on VOD, Warner Bros. is doing early release of a handful of movies, and Sony is releasing Bloodshot.
As I wrote earlier in the week more than once, this is a sign of changing and confusing times. The conornavirus pandemic is changing the world, and with theaters shuttered, Hollywood studios have billions of dollars sitting on the shelf collecting dust. For a long time the theater industry has held both consumers and studios hostage, and now with them out of the way the studios are looking to recoup their money however they can.
Theatrical releases are expensive, they cut into whatever profit a movie makes. On the other hand, digital releases don’t have that overhead. The studio can directly release their movies to consumers without that additional cost. It’s even possible movies could end up making more money this way.
The Walt Disney Studios currently has six movies without release dates due to being delayed because of the pandemic, with a seventh to soon join them (Artemis Fowl). Those movies don’t have theatrical dates because it’s very possible that Disney is looking at some kind of VOD solution to make money off their investments.
Onward had a budget of upwards of $200 million, and based on Pixar’s pedigree it could’ve made anywhere from $600 million to $1 billion at the box office; if there wasn’t a pandemic in the way. It’s the perfect example to kill the narrative that studios wouldn’t put tentpoles or big budget movies out on VOD, meaning those who are swearing that movies like Mulan or Black Widow have to come out in theaters might want to rethink things.
Onward underperformed in theaters because of the pandemic, followed by the theater closures. People weren’t going to theaters because they were afraid. Do you really think people are going to rush to theaters when they reopen? Likely people will still not want to go around crowds, and they won’t have any money left after being out of work for months and behind on rent and bills. Do you really want Black Widow to “bomb” in the same way Onward did?
Disney is well aware of this. They told the Security and Exchange Commission yesterday that they see change coming, “Our businesses could also be impacted should the disruptions from COVID-19 lead to changes in consumer behavior.” That talks about a lot of things, but people not going to movie theaters anymore and instead consuming movies via VOD is exactly that sort of change.
This pandemic is changing the world, and the way we watch movies looks to be changing along with it. Unfortunately there are some people who are going to have a very hard time adjusting to it, but like everything else in these confusing times it’s something we’re all going to have to adapt to.