Disney Might Change Theatrical Release Strategy in Wake of Coronavirus Pandemic

Since Disney+ was announced a few years back, it's been the primary focus of the Walt Disney Company. Officially launching last November, the streaming service has now come in above expectations the Mouse had laid out. In fact, earlier this year, the service announced it had reached 28 million subscribers far sooner than it initially anticipated. One would think things are business as usual for the streamer, but it's no secret the coronavirus pandemic has thrust most companies into an unprecedented situation. In the case of Disney, it's a case that could result in the shifting of priorities as the company tries to balance Disney+ with its multi-billion-dollar studio empire and expansive amusement park offerings.

When it comes to Walt Disney Studios keeping afloat, Disney chief Bob Chapek says the company may have to shift its theatrical release strategy should theatres continue to remain closed for an extended period of time. During the company's latest earnings call Tuesday afternoon, Chapek admits the company will have to assess situations on a case-by-case basis, though theatrical releases are certainly at the forefront of the line at the moment.

“We very much believe in the value of the theatrical experience overall for large blockbuster movies,” Chapek said on the earnings call. “We also realize that either because of changing and evolving consumer dynamics or because of certain situations like COVID, we may have to make some changes to that overall strategy just because theaters aren’t open or aren’t open to the extent that anyone needs to be financially viable.”

One of the biggest changes the Mouse has made so far — outside of delaying tentpole films like Mulan and Black Widow several months — is pulling Artemis Fowl entirely off its theatrical slate. Instead, the YA novel adaptation will soon find its home on Disney+. While it may be pulling the cart before the horse, it stands to reasons Fowl won't be the only Disney flick that finds its way to streaming after initially having a theatrical release date.

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When it comes to the box office, it's a catch-22 for all involved. While some states are allowing theatres to reopen, studios don't want to debut new releases until the masses can turn out for the showings. Then you've got the case of Universal Pictures, which double-downed on moving more releases to VOD instead of theatres, something that resulted in an instant retaliation from AMC Theatres.

Cover photo by Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

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