Amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year, and into this year when the vaccine roll-out was just beginning in the United States, The Walt Disney Company elected to delay most of its movies. Some of their films however were switched to Disney+ exclusive releases like Artemis Fowl and Luca, while others were given a hybrid release, premiering in theaters and on Disney+ "Premier Access" for an additional fee. Since then their strategy has seemingly shifted back to theatrically exclusive releases for their major movies and speaking during their Investor Relations call Disney CEO Bob Chapek said they continue to monitor the performance of the films they release this way. He also noted the reluctance of some audience types to return to theaters could affect what films become Disney+ exclusives and what goes to theaters.
"What we're seeing is some recovery of the theatrical exhibition marketplace, which is a good thing by the way," Chapek said. "At the same time, we're watching very, very carefully different types of movies to see how the different components of the demographics of that market come back. And we're watching very carefully our family films, as they are released over the next couple of months to make sure that that market will come back to theatrical exhibition as the general entertainment with say the films that appeal to a younger target audience have come back."
Chapek continued, "So we're sticking with our plan of flexibility, because we're still unsure in terms of how the marketplace is going to react when family films come back with a theatrical first window. I should say that -- you'll notice that the films that we are putting into the marketplace, in theatrical, that are family films, have a fairly short window, at least in terms of any reference point to what history might have been. And we're doing that so that we can get our films quicker to Disney+ and -- but at the same time see if the theatrical market can kick back into full gear as we prime the pump with these films."
It's unclear how short of a window that will be as Chapek didn't confirm specifically, previously Disney set a 45 Day window for Marvel releases, nor did he note which of their movies they consider "family" films. Looking at the larger release schedule for the company the upcoming Encanto from Walt Disney Animation Studios seems like the film he was referring to as a "family" feature they're keeping an eye on. Earlier in the same investor call Chapek specifically mentioned the theatrical exclusive window for Eternals and Encanto as coming to the streaming service afterward.
In the end however, Chapek noted that the dollar speaks above all and that they're going to make their theatrical vs streaming decisions based on how it will effect the bottom line. To that end though he confirmed that Disney will forego their previous strategy of announcing movies years in advance so as to avoid further delays and shifts in release strategy.
"We're going to do what's best for our shareholders ultimately," Chapek said. "And we don't announce our films that far in advance, like we used to because we know that we're in a time of flux and change still. And while COVID will be in the rearview mirror, God-willing, I think changing consumer behavior is something that's going to be more permanent. And so we're reading that on a weekly basis and make our decisions going forward accordingly."