• Jacob Borsting

Another Movie Premiers Online: What is Next for Theaters?

'Old Movie Theater Sign' CC Jeramey Jannene

It seems like for a while now, consumers have been anticipating the demise of the once-great movie theater. In a day and age where most have access to streaming services offering thousands of movies and tv shows for just a few bucks a month, paying a premium to watch a movie in a crowded theater is a tough sell to begin with.

Price point aside, the cinemas have always had one thing going for them, it is an experience. All the high-speed internet and in-home entertainment technology in the world can’t replicate the experience of shelling out cash for overpriced buttered popcorn and sitting in a theater full of strangers for the latest theatrical release.

But with American theaters shut down amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the studios have begun distributing their own films. It started in March when Universal decided to push forward with their release of ‘Trolls World Tour’. With theaters closed and a high budget marketing-campaign already under way, the studio broke with tradition and released the film directly to video on demand. The move frustrated theater chains, but proved successful for the studio as they saw themselves keeping more of the revenue and beating their financial expectations.

Since the surprise success of Universal’s industry-shaking launch, more movies have been released directly to digital. Warner Brothers released a full-length Scooby-Doo animated movie entitled ‘SCOOB!’ back in May. In June, Pete Davidson’s ‘The King of Staten Island’ was released directly on-demand as well.

Then Tuesday, Disney announced they will be releasing Mulan directly to home video via their Disney+ streaming service. Subscribers to Disney+ will be available to pay a premium of $29.99 beginning September 4th to stream the movie. Mulan is said to have had a production budget of over $200 million dollars.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek described the decision as a ”one off” during an earnings call, citing the pandemic as the reasoning for the decision. It will be interesting to see how this decision pays off for Disney. The film’s budget is nearly double that of ‘Trolls World Tour’ and is being released on a service in which users can ultimately anticipate it’s arrival. While the film will be released theatrically in markets without Disney+, the outcome of Disney’s experiment could still have huge ramifications for the future of movie-going.

If Mulan succeeds financially with its online release and the pandemic continues to force theaters to remain closed, perhaps this trend in the film industry will gain even more momentum. The studios keep a much higher percentage of sales and in Disney’s case, can even use blockbuster releases to drive subscriptions to their streaming platforms. Not to mention, it is unclear what success theaters will have at bringing in movie-goers if they are to reopen any time soon.

Will film fanatics flock to the box office amidst a historic pandemic, mask mandates, and social distancing guidelines? Or will consumers opt to watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters straight from their living room? For now, it is unclear. But with so many studios experimenting with new ways to release their films, it's safe to say the film industry will never be the same.

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