The performance at both box office and premium VOD of Disney’s Black Widow has focused minds in Hollywood. Has the dilemma of release windows and playing off exhibition against streaming been cracked?
Well, not so fast.
As outlined by NAB Amplify, cinema versus streaming is no zero-sum game and exhibitors aren’t out of the picture but the odds are stacked in the studio’s favor.
Black Widow’s domestic opening BO gross of $80 million isn’t chicken feed but the movie’s progress was stalled when traffic fell 41% from Friday to Saturday, “an almost unprecedented drop for a Marvel title,” says The Hollywood Reporter.
READ MORE: ‘Black Widow’ Stunner: Disney’s Streaming Revenue Reveal May Be Game-Changer (The Hollywood Reporter)
There’s no doubt its theatrical outing was cannibalized by a day/date release onto Disney+. But that’s okay — for Disney — since the studio got to take home 100% of the $60 million in revenues (which IndieWire calculates as meaning that about 2 million of Disney+ 103 million global subscribers paid $30 to screen the film at home.)
“On that basis, Disney would have so far earned more from PVOD than in theaters,” says Indiewire’s Tom Brueggemann. “A single weekend’s performance is not the final word for movies, theaters, or even Disney, but it suggests major implications for all concerned.”
READ MORE: ‘Black Widow’ and ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ Set PVOD Precedents: First, Get the Money (IndieWire)
Comscore’s box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian tells THR that overall domestic revenue crossed $100 million for the first time since before the pandemic struck. He also noted that the marketplace is still grappling with “latent consumer reticence.”
“If the pie is big enough to power $158.8 million worth of global theatrical revenue plus $60 million worth of streaming, it shows that consumers love to have a choice,” Dergarabedian says. “But this model does not apply to all movies, and that’s why each film’s big-screen/small-screen success must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”
And therein lies the rub.
But not all studios are Disney, and not all films are Black Widow. Not even all Disney films are Black Widow.
Disney didn’t release streaming numbers for its major cinema and PVOD release Mulan in 2020 nor for animated feature Raya and the Last Dragon, which made just $8.5 million in theaters, according to Wired.
True, those were released in the midst of the pandemic when cinemas weren’t open or simply not an option for many but Wired’s point is whether or not a movie is a success in theaters and on streaming depends on the type of movie and the audience it serves.
“It’s a crapshoot,” says Wired’s Angela Watercutter. “While there’s little doubt the traditional 90-day window between a movie’s theatrical release and its debut on streaming/VOD is permanently closing, how studios — and, for that matter, theater chains — will navigate that is full of open questions.”
For a movie with a built-in fan base like Black Widow, it’s a no-brainer, Wired says. Put it in the theaters, and send it to Disney+. For a movie like F9, which is part of a franchise built around the moviegoing experience, keep it theater-only, at least for a few weeks. Indies can go to art houses and streaming the same day — cinephiles will find theaters, everyone else will Netflix and chill. A movie like Dune, meanwhile, probably has enough hype to hit HBO Max the same day as theaters and still make money.
These hybrid strategies are likely to shift movie to movie even if Disney follows through on its plans to return to a theatrical-first pattern later this year.
What Disney has also done in releasing PVOD numbers for Black Widow is shake the tree for how strategies are accounted for.
Industry chatter suggests that Disney revealed the numbers in order to prop up an apparently underperforming title. A Marvel movie that does less than $200 million opening is considered a fail.
Or it released numbers to put pressure on exhibitors not playing ball and demanding too much take for showing the film (Japanese exhibitors are fingered).
Either way, the move puts “pressure on studios to reveal such information going forward on behalf of filmmakers, talent and agents” says THR.
Disney is unlikely to make a habit of it. Who wants to admit failure if they don’t have to? Consequently, the jury is out on whether it will show and tell for day-and-date Premier Access releases, such as Jungle Cruise, starring Dwayne Johnson.
Strategies will change as audience behavior does. Welcome to the new, flexible release pattern.
“Appointment TV viewing may be dead,” Gartner analyst Eric Schmitt, tells Wired, “but appointment movie watching is just making its debut and looks to have a long runway ahead.”