WarnerMedia’s decision to release their 2021 film slate on HBO Max, day and date with theatres, isn’t the first major shift that a studio has made during this pandemic. It wasn’t too long ago that Disney made their own ripples in the entertainment industry with their new Pixar film, Soul. In October of this year, Disney announced that it had made the decision to release the new Disney/Pixar film Soul on Disney+ at no extra cost to subscribers. At $6.99 a month, Disney+ is still one of the cheaper streaming service options that audiences have access to, which means current and new subscribers are paying significantly less than what they would have paid for in theatres.
While this was billed as a “Christmas present” to Disney fans, since the movie will premiere on Christmas day, it’s a little hard to believe that Disney would be so altruistic especially with the film looking like another hit similar to Inside Out and Toy Story 4. Studios have been puzzled with what to do with their films that can’t get theatrical distribution. Previously Disney decided to experiment a new distribution method with Mulan. Months prior, Disney announced that the “live action reimagining” of Mulan would be released on Disney+ rather than theatres, for an extra $30 premium fee added to the $6.99 subscription fee.
The extra $30 no doubt was a way for Disney to recoup some money for what would surely be a financial loss. While the price seemed steep at the time, analysts were quick to point out that Mulan would have a hard time making back its budget without it. Disney was using Mulan to test the market to see if audiences would flock to Disney+ with similar numbers to the 2019 The Lion King release that was a billion dollar hit. The experiment seems to have failed.
On the flip side, Soul helps solve a considerable problem with Disney+; its lack of scripted content. Disney had announced tons of new shows and movies to be released on their platform, but ended up canceling most of them, or shifting them to Hulu; only keeping The Mandalorian as their headline show. The pandemic also stalled the release of the three Marvel shows that were expected to drop. As far as new content goes, Disney+ has been relying very heavily on docu-series’, so the release of such a high profile film is a much higher draw to new potential subscribers.
These days, everyone is just trying to get by. Like many industries, Disney has had to lay off tons of employees, in all divisions, from studios to the parks, and everything in between. While it may be nice for a consumer to not have to pay a premium fee for new content on a service they already pay monthly for, perhaps, some kind of fee might be in order. Maybe not the $30 fee that seemed like a very steep ask for the “house of mouse” to make to its consumer base, but a $10 fee may have been doable. Sure, studios need to find new ways to diversify their income, in order to ride out this pandemic, but giving a movie to consumers for free is only going to hurt the ones trying to make ends meet.
If there is one thing that everyone is taught, it’s that nothing is actually free. While this may be a nice gesture for consumers who are struggling financially right now, how many people would have to lose their job to justify the loss that this move would inevitably make? Disney will recover and Pixar will continue to make classic films that people will watch for generations to come. Soul won’t mean the end of Pixar and certainly not Disney. At least, as far as Disney is concerned, this move seems to be a one time deal, since the upcoming Raya and the Last Dragon will be available for the $30 premium fee.
On Christmas day, when everyone sits down to watch Soul, please remember that it’s alright to enjoy the film. But we cannot forget what the potential ramifications of this move is. Hopefully the people who will lose their salaries will be alright and everything will turn out for the better. Maybe things aren’t so grim over there and this move will help more people then it will hurt. Only time will tell what the ramifications will be.
Alright… I’m getting off my soap box. This was a hard piece to write and I’m sorry it’s such a downer. I’m excited to watch Soul and I think everyone should be. Happy Christmas everyone.