San Francisco: US entertainment giant Disney said Thursday its online streaming services have boomed while it grapples with how to release films as the Delta coronavirus variant drives viewers from movie theatres.
Disney+ subscriptions in the recently ended quarter more than doubled from the same period a year earlier to 116 million, while its Hulu and ESPN offerings also attracted more members, the company said.
Disney chief executive Bob Chapek said on an earnings call that a priority is to tell “great stories” and win viewers by leveraging hit franchises such as its Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars movies and shows, and Pixar animated features and shorts.
The pandemic prompted Disney to release some films on its streaming service when contracts and conditions were allowed with a focus on remaining flexible, according to Chapek.
“In light of the prolonged and unpredictable nature of the pandemic we needed to find alternative ways to bring our movies to consumers while theatres were closed,” Chapek said.
“We will continue to utilize all available options going forward, learn from insights gained from each release and innovate accordingly.”
Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over its decision to release the superhero movie “Black Widow” on streaming at the same time as in theatres, alleging a breach of contract which cost the star millions of dollars.
Johansson, one of Hollywood´s biggest and top-paid stars, was entitled to a percentage of box office receipts from the much-anticipated Marvel film, according to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The film was originally due for a big-screen release last year, but was delayed multiple times due to the Covid-19 pandemic and was eventually released in July simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+.
“We value flexibility in terms of making as many last-minute calls as we can,” Chapek said about the future of theatrical releases for films.
“We did not anticipate the resurgence of Covid with the Delta variant that would have such a significant impact on the marketplace.”
Disney´s tactics regarding theatrical releases of films will have a “big impact” on the industry, according to Third Bridge senior analyst Joe McCormack.
Disney debuting all of its films simultaneously on its streaming service could potentially cut movie theatre revenue in half, he said.