Could Black Widow Debut on Disney+? Mouse Doubling Down on Streaming As Theater and Park Industries Falter

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Image: Marvel Studios

Earlier this week, Disney announced that it would be undergoing a dramatic reorganization that places streaming at the forefront of its business strategy thanks to the incredible success of Disney+, which has managed to rake in over 60 million subscribers since its debut last year (November 12).

While it isn’t clear how long Disney was planning this (CEO Bob Chapek claims it was long in the making), the move makes perfect sense in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled the theater and theme park industries with severe consequences. (Just last month, Disney announced that it’d be laying off 28,000 employees in its parks, experiences, and consumer products segment.)

“Under the new structure, Disney’s world-class creative engines will focus on developing and producing original content for the Company’s streaming services, as well as for legacy platforms, while distribution and commercialization activities will be centralized into a single, global Media and Entertainment Distribution organization,” the press release reads.

The shakeup has gotten Disney+ subscribers wondering whether the mouse will take a deeper plunge and release additional blockbusters (à la Mulan) straight to streaming. Thursday’s announcement of Soul (Pixar’s newest animated feature) heading straight to Disney+ has certainly supported that notion, but what has really gotten people thinking is a letter written by Dan Loeb (via Variety), a major investor who thinks day-one streaming would be the ideal way for Disney to leapfrog its competition.

“What Netflix has is this immense subscriber base that allows it to invest in an enormous amount of content and amortize that to get more subscribers,” Loeb explained in a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek. “Disney isn’t there yet, but they need to get there as quickly as possible. If they don’t get critical mass in their subscriber base, they will be permanently disadvantaged versus Netflix.”

Loeb then name-drops Marvel’s next big release, Black Widow, suggesting that it would be a perfect way to blow up Disney+’s subscription numbers even higher.

“My understanding is that the old-line executives don’t want to go over the top with their big tentpole movies, which is why they announced they were pushing ‘Black Widow’ and other movies to 2021,” Loeb said. “I don’t think they appreciate the tiger they have by the tail, which is to say the value they can drive by moving into a subscription model, which has been adopted by everyone from Microsoft to Amazon. It’s so value accretive.”

With Black Widow delayed until May 7, 2021, there’s plenty of time for Disney to consider skipping the traditional theater circuit for one of its biggest upcoming releases. And while we can’t predict whether Natasha Romanoff’s origin story will debut on streaming or not, a Marvel movie would set a huge precedent for other blockbusters going forward.

Tsing Mui
News poster at The FPS Review.

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