The world was different on February 25, when Bob Chapek, a veteran executive of the amusement parks division of The Walt Disney Company, was appointed, to the surprise of many, as the company’s new CEO. His name was then in few pools to replace Robert A. Iger, who, in his 15 years at the helm, had transformed what was a limping studio into an unparalleled entertainment superpower, thanks in part to the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel. , Star Wars, Fox and, finally, every brand of gold that was allowed to be bought in Hollywood. Leaving the colossus in the hands of someone in their 60s, more accustomed to parks than cinema and television, seemed to respond to a reason: Chapek, in addition to knowing the company well, which he entered in 1993, was a friend of Iger. He would know how to keep the same lucrative course. Years of continuity were coming and with it, of benefits.
But that was then and this is now. Disney tries to cope, like everyone else, in a new, hostile and unpredictable world. The coronavirus has forced all the parks to close, so they have lost, according to their calculations, about 4.27 billion euros (5 billion dollars). In that division alone, 28,000 employees have been laid off. In cinema they have suspended all their premieres without being very clear when they will be able to fill a room again. The value of the company plummeted 91% in the first three months of the year.
But in the middle of that bleeding there is a fact that shines with its own light: Disney +, the platform of streaming which holds almost the entire catalog of the study and which was launched in November in the US and in March in many other countries, including Spain, already has 60 million subscribers. Chapek himself admitted this week that the house did not expect to reach that figure until 2024. The world is collapsing. Internet television does not fail.
This Monday, Chapek announced one of his first decisions as CEO and, also, one of the biggest rudders in recent Disney history: as of now, the streaming it would become a high priority in the global entertainment headquarters of the 21st century. Not movie theaters, not cable television, not international distributors, not the many other sources of income with which Disney also fed much of the audiovisual industry. Now, the content (no longer movies or TV movies or series) would be shot regardless of its distribution channel, which can suddenly be both a cinema and the platform directly. “Given the incredible success of Disney +, we are going to strategically reposition the company in a way that furthers our growth strategy and increases shareholder benefits,” the statement read. Another way of understanding it: the paradigm that the house has maintained since its birth has to change.
In the audiovisual industry it was the news of the week. Perhaps not unexpectedly, since Disney had already made the experiment, on September 4, of releasing one of its great assets of the year, Mulan, directly on the platform, for 25 euros plus the price of the subscription. According to reports from the consulting firm 7Park Data, they made 261 million dollars with it in the United States: more than what they raised Tenet in the same territory. But not because it is unexpected, it is better received. Disney seems to be taking for granted that the custom of watching movies in theaters created for it, such as reading the paper press, is coming to an end.
“We are all on automatic pilot that the situation is not going to reverse. But market research tells you that a growing segment of the population has decided to embrace this way of consuming. Even the digital lazy have gotten the hang of it ”, warns Elena Neira, author of the book Streaming Wars. “What these reports say is that, according to what most of the people declare, when things turn around, they will not change.” Disney announced this week that another of its great movies of the year, Soul, from Pixar, it would premiere directly on Disney + and at no additional cost.
One thing is all this, the guiding principle of the decision, and another what is going to happen in reality. Nobody has said that the movies of The Avengers go straight to television or that, in a world not plagued by a virus, Pixar will divert its films to the platform. The statement does not clarify it and the leadership of the study at the moment changes little: a new division has been created, led by Kareem Daniel, who by the way joined the company as an intern 15 years ago, focused on distribution. But the decisions in each area will continue to be taken by the usual ones, the creatives who direct them: Alan Horn and Alan Bergman in film; Peter Rice on television and Jimmy Pitaro on sports.
“Disney is not going to withdraw its large blockbusters from cinemas, because that’s where they make money, ”Neira said. “But there are a lot of premieres that are not blockbusters and that they will find their niche on the platform rather than in a megaplex. They may start producing less expensive but prestigious content that would never make it to the big screen. In the end it is about raising the value of digital ”.