Update: Disney CEO Bob Chapek explained that the company’s distribution approach for Mulan is being viewed as “a one-off” tactic instead of “some new business windowing model.” I’ve added his full statement below our original article, which begins below.
After delaying the release of Mulan several times, the Walt Disney Company has made an unprecedented announcement about the future of its latest live-action remake. The film will be released on Disney+ on September 4, 2020 – but you’ll have to pay $29.99 to rent it.
Director Niki Caro‘s live-action adaptation of the story was originally set to hit theaters back in March, but as the global pandemic began to take hold, Disney thought it would be wise to push it back to July. Then they pushed it to August. And now, despite analysts suggesting that its high budget of $200 million would never allow it to debut directly on Disney+, it will be released theatrically (in whatever markets are open at that time) and on Disney+ on the same day.
But here’s what those analysts didn’t see coming: you’ll have to pay an additional $29.99 to rent the movie on Disney+, which will be the first time the company’s streaming service has introduced the functionality of offering an extra paid tier of content. Thus far, the monthly subscription fee has given subscribers access to everything on the entire service. But that’s going to change with this film.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek made the announcement on today’s quarterly earnings call, and the implication was that viewers would need to specifically subscribe to Disney+ before they could then pay extra for the rental: in other words, it doesn’t seem like you’ll be able to rent it through a rival service like Amazon or iTunes.
Since the pandemic began, some people have been wondering why Disney wouldn’t release Mulan on paid VOD services or directly to Disney+. The accepted answer to that question seems to come down to money: the thinking was that the budget for Mulan was simply too high to recoup through streaming, especially with many Chinese theaters still down for the count. (This version of Mulan was explicitly made to appeal to Chinese audiences – it’s more faithful to the original Chinese legend than Disney’s 1998 animated movie, which Chinese audiences bristled at.)
The idea of putting Mulan on Disney+ in this fashion tells me two things: one, that Disney is willing to adapt in these changing times, and two, that the company really needs an influx of cash after its recent admission that it just experienced a net loss of $4.72 billion in its third fiscal quarter this year.
Update: Later on the investor call, Chapek was asked if the company’s approach with Mulan is being viewed as a one-off. Here’s his answer:
“We’re fortunate that we have the opportunity to bring it to our direct-to-consumer platform so consumers can enjoy it, but we’re looking at Mulan as a one-off, as opposed to say that there’s some new business windowing model that we’re looking at. So Mulan is a one-off. That said, we find it very interesting to be able to take a new offering, a premiere 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+ platform that we get on that PVOD offering…we can test almost anything when you have your own platform…we’re going to have a chance to learn from this.”
Translation: This is a one-off…unless it performs well, in which case nothing would stop them from being able to make this the new normal – or at least the new normal until the pandemic is over.
It’s also worth pointing out that this game-changing approach to Mulan has already been utilized elsewhere under the Disney umbrella. If you want to watch a UFC Pay Per View event, you must subscribe to the ESPN+ streaming service and then pay extra on top of that to watch the event you’d like to see. (Thanks to Twitter user David A. Smith for pointing that part out.)
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