The past year has completely changed the film industry as we know it, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made the traditional moviegoing experience ebb and flow. As a result, major studios have had to revolutionize how they release their blockbusters, either by delaying them entirely, or releasing them both in theaters and on streaming services. The Walt Disney Company has taken a unique approach to that, launching a Premier Access tier that allows fans to pay a flat rate for digital access to films. Thus far, that strategy has been used on Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella, Black Widow, and Jungle Cruise, and the circumstances of that have continued to be a topic of conversation. During Disney's recent investor call, company CEO Bob Chapek defended the hybrid theaters and Premier Access strategy,
"Last year, in light of the prolonged and unpredictable nature of a pandemic, we needed to find alternative ways to bring our movies to consumers while theaters were closed," Chapek explained. "And once they began to reopen, there was still widespread reluctance to return. Therefore we adopted a three-prong strategy for releasing our films that consisted of theatrical releases, direct to Disney+, and a hybrid of theatrical plus Premier Access, as we did with Cruella, Jungle Cruise, and Marvel's Black Widow, the top performing film at the domestic box office since the start of a pandemic. Bob Iger and I, along with the leaders of our creative and distribution teams, determine this was the right strategy because it would enable us to reach the broadest possible audience."
Chapek also indicated that Premier Access releases will still be used on a film-by-film basis in the future, something that fans had wondered about amid the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
"And just to reiterate, distribution decisions are made on a film-by-film basis based on a global marketplace conditions and consumer behavior," Chapek added. "We will continue to utilize all available options going forward. Learn from insights gained with each release and innovate accordingly, but always doing what we believe is in the best interest of the film, and the best interest of our constituents."
The defense comes amid Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson suing the company over the hybrid release, arguing that her contract was breached with regards to potential theatrical profits. The lawsuit has left the entertainment industry buzzing in the weeks since, with Disney lawyer Daniel Petrocelli most recently calling it a "highly orchestrated PR campaign."