In a move surprising everyone except th0se of us who’ve been telling you it was coming for months, Disney announced today that their 2020 live action adaptation of Mulan will hit Disney+ on September 4th in a new category of content described as “premium service,” through which subscribers can view Mulan through the streaming site’s new VOD option. This will be simultaneous with limited international theatrical distribution.
Mulan opens in limited markets next month, specifically countries without Disney+ and where movie theaters are open for business. The studio will take advantage of cinematic release where it cannot go direct to consumers, while everywhere else Mulan will be available in-home to Disney+ subscribers for an additional fee.
To recap my own points, back in April I published an article explaining how streaming and VOD — specifically, a nuanced combination of the two — was the future of distribution for the majority of new content, including films and major branded franchises. I got a lot of pushback against my beliefs at the time, but I followed up with a few additional articles (about Netflix, about Tenet’s release, and about movie theaters) as events continued to reinforce all of the lessons pointing toward this inevitable future of entertainment distribution and consumption.
Now, another big neon sign is flashing to tell us we are approaching an all-in moment on the new distribution approach that’s become necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, but that was already the endgame for Disney+ and many other studios with their own streaming services. The question was the precise combination and utilization of options.
I personally favored the one that included initial $30 VOD release but only through the streaming subscriptions first — that way, you subscribe to the studio’s streaming service first, and then through that you can access a VOD option. It bundles subscription and early access to new blockbuster releases, ahead of a potential wider VOD release at a higher $50 price (for example) for non-subscribers, and then eventually a release on the regular Disney+ subscription platform for no extra charge besides the basic subscription fee.
As it turns out, so far Disney has kicked this off with the initial subscription-VOD bundle I’ve favored. I also think it’s worth considering adding another step in the distribution process, so that after the broader VOD release but before it hits regular streaming for no additional charge, it could enjoy a couple of weeks at a higher-tier monthly subscription rate for “early access” to new content, an idea suggested by Sean Gerber of Marvel Studio News and the MCU Fan Show.
The price-point of $29.99 is also right where most of us expected it to be, with $50 as a high-end alternative for a broader VOD distribution that eschewed subscribers-only access. But subscribers-only is exactly where the initial VOD offering needed to be — a point I’ve also made along with several other people, including Mr. Gerber.
Last month I wrote that the summer movie season was dead and that everybody needed to process that fact and move forward instead of trying to resist it. I realize that part of the reluctance to publicly admit summer season is dead and to officially move to VOD/streaming distribution for many (or most) of the big would-be-blockbuster studio releases is the fear it will spook investors on Wall Street and investors in film projects.
Pushing the release dates further into the future has been a strategy to both monitor the situation in case theatrical distribution somehow magically does pull a rabbit out of its hat, but also (and, I’d argue, primarily) to maintain appearances ahead of quarterly reports, at a time when studios are also selling enormous amounts of debt and trying to keep investors on board as the overall economy has many believing we are headed for a financial crash.
Now, Disney has taken the first big step. The next one will be after Mulan makes enormous amounts of money on VOD — which will happen, make no mistake about it — and Disney’s subscriber numbers jump, when Disney has confirmation of what they (and a lot of the rest of us) already know: it’s a viable distribution model, and Black Widow will generate another big flurry of new subscribers VOD revenue.
I think Disney will approach 100 million subscribers if both Mulan and Black Widow release before the end of 2020, and generate massive record-breaking VOD rentals. If the results are as impressive as I expect, then it will go a long way toward confirming and establishing this new distribution model going forward. I won’t repeat all of my prior points about theatrical also remaining part of the equation, albeit a smaller part, so I’ll refer you again to my earlier articles (linked above) about all of this.
Mulan seems like a perfect film to set this new standard, as it’s as close to a “guaranteed hit” in the global market as you’re likely to find this year, and if not only the studio but also subscribers are pleased with the approach, it will be easy to further popularize it with another “sure thing” hit like Black Widow.
Going forward, obviously it will be more desirable to budget the productions at a lower rate, and to significantly reduce marketing expenses as well, but it’s worth any shortfall with these two big-budget releases to use them as record-breakers establishing the new model in the biggest and most impressive way possible.