Over the weekend, Black Widow earned $80 million in theaters and a whopping $60 million on Disney+. This is a game-changer.
Here’s what happened…
After nearly two years of delays, Disney/Marvel released Black Widow into thousands of theaters.
Something else Disney did, though, was release Black Widow — at the same time — on its streaming service, Disney+ Premier Access. For an extra $30, Disney+ subscribers can “unlock” Black Widow.
Why am I using the word “unlock” instead of “rent?”
Because once you “unlock” Black Widow (or any other movie) using Disney+ Premier Access, you have access to it for as long as you subscribe to Disney+. So this is not a transaction where you can only watch it the one time or have access to it for only 24 or 48 hours. Instead, it remains in your Disney+ library for as long as you’re a subscriber. (Black Widow will be available to all Disney+ subscribers on October 6.)
The fact that Black Widow brought in almost as much on Disney+ Premier Access as it did in theaters is a huge deal for two reasons…
First, instead of 40 or 50 percent of that $60 million going to theatrical exhibitors, Disney keeps every penny of it.
Secondly, and this might be even more important, Premier Access is an added value for Disney+ subscribers, and because streaming is where the real money is, anything that adds or holds subscribers is pure gold.
Disney+ currently has 104 million worldwide subscribers. That’s roughly $1 billion — with a “B” — guaranteed dollars floating into Disney’s coffers every single month. In just over a year, Disney+ gained 70 million new subscribers. Since last quarter, it’s attracted nearly ten million more. Streaming subscribers are the golden geese of golden geese. Subscribers are money in the bank — money not split with theatrical exhibitors, pay-per-view providers, cable companies, Redbox, or Walmart.
Right now, Netflix has some 205 million worldwide subscribers. Every month that’s around $3 billion — with a “B” — coming in. Every month! That’s the equivalent of a studio releasing six(!) $1 billion dollar-grossing blockbusters every month. Why six blockbusters instead of three? Because theaters take half the loot. Every penny of that $3 billion goes straight to Netflix.
Believe me, those are the kind of numbers every studio is aiming for. Nothing is more important to content providers than 1) growing that subscriber base and 2) holding on to that subscriber base. To do that, you gotta offer a steady stream of compelling content. Why do you think the last few Pixar titles have gone straight to Disney+ — not even to Premier Access, but straight to Disney+?
Does this mean Disney will continue with the Black Widow model with every title? In other words, will the next Marvel movie, the Eternals (Nov. 5), be available via Disney+ Premier Access? There’s been no announcement either way, so no one knows. But Disney’s next mammoth title, Jungle Cruise, is going the Disney+ Premier Access route.
My guess is that once the studios decide theatrical attendance is back to normal in a post-COVID world or as back to normal as it’s going to get, they will continue to tinker with release formulas. In the end, we might live in a world where, say, every blockbuster is a theatrical exclusive for only ten days, which comprises two weekends. Then, on day 11, it’s released on the studio’s streaming service with an additional fee (like Disney+ Premier Access). Then, after a few months, it becomes available to everyone who subscribes to the studio’s streaming service. Then, a couple of months after that, it’s released to the rest of us slobs via Redbox and DVD/Blu-ray.
There are a lot of moving pieces for the studios to keep track of. Black Widow’s $60 million Premier Access haul is pure profit, no question. And there’s also no question exclusive access to a major Marvel title attracts and holds Disney+ subscribers. The question, then, is where did that Premier Access release cost Disney money down the line, and how much? How many of those Premier Access buyers will now not buy the Bluray? How many would’ve gone to the theater a bunch of times for repeat viewings? Does the Disney+ release diminish what a cable network, like a TBS, would have paid for broadcast rights?
Regardless, thanks to the China Flu and the creation of these streaming services, what the studios finally, finally, finally have is the flexibility to tinker with release formulas. Pre-China Flu, theatrical exhibitors refused to release any title that violated the 120 window between theatrical and home video release, and they held all the cards. Those days are over. The studios now hold the cards, and big changes are coming.