UK venues have been left ‘bewildered’ after Disney reversed a decision to release its live-action Mulan movie in the country’s struggling cinemas, confirming during a 3Q earnings call this week that it will now go straight to streaming service Disney+ for a premium price on 4th September.
Disney rushed to assure fans and exhibitors that the decision was a ‘one off’ and that there are no further plans to release other blockbusters – such as Marvel’s Black Widow – via VOD, but it did little to reassure cinema bosses who are attempting to reopen venues to the public under tight guidelines, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the industry.
“For many this will seem a step backwards rather than forward,” said Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association. “With cinemas across the UK now continuing to re-open and welcome back their customers, the decision by Walt Disney Studios yesterday to put Mulan on their Disney+ service and not into cinemas will be seen by many as hugely disappointing and mistimed.”
Disney reached out to UK cinemas to apologise for the sudden shift in its Mulan release strategy, saying the decision was “not taken lightly” and that “given that COVID-19 has disrupted large parts of the content pipeline and markets are in vastly different situations right now, and after delaying the global theatrical debut multiple times, we are subsequently taking a tailored approach to this release.”
Picture House Uckfield cinema owner Kevin Markwick was less than amused, firing out a tweet that read “Thanks Disney chums, we’ll be here warm & waiting for you when you plan to return, having existed on thin air and love & cuddles and happy thoughts. Just give us a buzz when you are ready. I’ll be sleeping in a doorway outside the bank soaked in my own wee,” later following up with “One other thing special Disney cuddle bums, if sectors of the industry are so sure that VOD and cinemas can live together, why not let us have a bash at showing Mulan at the same time?”
THR notes a UK ‘exhibition executive’ has suspicions that Disney were also worried cinemas might have refused to play Mulan if it was released concurrently on Disney+ anyway, ominously stating that “if Disney think they don’t need cinemas anymore that’s pretty much game over for us all.”
Meanwhile, Disney stock soared after this week’s earnings call and news of Mulan’s Disney+ release announcement, with Wall Street analysts declaring it a bold move.
Doug Mitchelson of Credit Suisse told his clients that Disney is now “even more aggressively positioned as a streaming growth story (where investors have limited investment vehicles), and eventual COVID recovery play.”
The precarious bridge between exhibitors and distributors continues to crumble, with streaming services poised patiently to strike what some are saying might be a killing blow to the reality of movie consumption as we once knew it.