Disney CEO Bob Chapek explains the company's decision to release select films in theaters and on Disney+ simultaneously via Premier Access, including Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt's summer action-comedy Jungle Cruise. Premier Access, priced at $29.99 for exclusive and unlimited access to titles for three months before they join the Disney+ library, launched in September with the live-action re-imagining of Mulan when domestic theaters could not screen the film amid the coronavirus pandemic. Disney's animated Raya and the Last Dragon in March was the first film opted for day-and-date, a strategy the studio will follow for Cruella (May 28), Marvel Studios' Black Widow (July 9), and Jungle Cruise (July 30).
"We're trying to monitor, 'Are consumers ready to go back into theaters?'" Chapek said Thursday during The Walt Disney Company's Second Quarter financial results conference call. "Of course, let's say 90% of the domestic marketplace is open right now. And we're encouraged in terms of polling in terms of that growing going forward, but if you look at last weekend's box office for an example and you compare it versus an average of the last three years of pre-COVID box office, it was 85% low domestically and 67% below internationally."
Acknowledging that "the market is not quite there yet" for theatrical-only releases, Chapek added Premier Access gives Disney "the ability to go ahead and try to release things into the market and try to reprime the pump."
The $29.99-priced straight-to-streaming strategy benefits consumers who "are a little leery still about going into a packed theater," Chapek said, adding audiences anticipating such films as Black Widow "can go ahead and watch it in the safety and convenience of their home."
Disney reportedly considers the Premier Access model to be temporary, according to sources close to the company, as Disney is looking to "revive the theatrical business," according to a report from Deadline. Chapek did not confirm whether this at-home strategy would continue into 2022, a year that has dates earmarked for such films as Pixar's Toy Story spin-off Lightyear, Lucasfilm's Indiana Jones 5, and four hotly anticipated Marvel Studios sequels, including Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
"In terms of going beyond this fiscal year, we've not announced exactly what our strategy is going to be in terms of which titles will be theatrical plus Disney Premier Access, which ones will be direct to Disney+, or which ones will go into theaters," Chapek said, "but know that we'll continue to watch the evolution of the recovery of the theatrical marketplace and we'll use that flexibility to make the right call at the right time."
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