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Disney CEO Chapek: ‘Audiences Will Be Our North Star’ Regarding Theatrical/Digital Distribution

On the heels of Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios’ box office behemoth Spider-Man: No Way Home, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the Marvel Studios’ owner would continue to eye the theatrical window for major tentpole titles — but with a caveat: consumer willingness to go to the movie theater.

Speaking on the company’s Feb. 9 fiscal call, Chapek said Disney is not married to the legacy (or shortened 45-day) theatrical window, opting to release a theatrical title concurrently on Premier Access premium VOD via Disney+, or directly on the SVOD platform.

“We continue to see value in the movie-going experience, especially for big franchise blockbusters,” Chapek said.

Bob Chapek

Disney launches its first 2022 theatrical title May 6 with the release of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, directed by Sam Raimi and again featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange.

Chapek said the year would see consumer audiences as Disney’s “North Star” regarding a movie’s distribution pathway.

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“We do not subscribe to the belief that theatrical distribution is the only way to build a Disney franchise,” he said, citing Disney’s success with the animated musical Encanto, which generated $27.2 million at the North American box office through the Thanksgiving weekend.

The movie was made available no extra cost to subscribers on Disney+ 30 days later on Dec. 24, a decision Chapek said ensured the title’s subdued theatrical result ($237.3 million worldwide) would translate into subscriber stickiness on Disney+.

“This quarter audiences proved us right as Encanto became a phenomenon within days of its arrival on Disney+, after families continued reluctance to return to theaters resulted in a muted theatrical performance,” he said.

Chapek said Encanto became the fastest title on Disney+ to reach 200 million hours streamed, in addition to “taking social media by storm.” He said the Encanto hashtag has been viewed more than 11 billion times worldwide.

He said the movie’s soundtrack featuring songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart within days of its debut, including eight songs reaching Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. One of the movie’s songs, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” became the first Disney song to reach No. 1 since Aladdin‘s “A Whole New World” in 1993.

In addition, Chapek said the movie’s availability on Disney+ saw Encanto branded consumer product sales defy traditional post-holiday declines.

“Sales actually increased following the film’s release on Disney+ on Christmas,” he said. “A franchise engine for the next generation of Disney storytelling.”

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