Disney CFO on ‘Mulan’ Bypassing Theaters: ‘Would a Family Go? Probably Not’

Calling the unprecedented decision to launch $200 million live-action movie Mulan direct-to-consumer via premium video-on-demand “not an easy decision,” Disney CFO Christine McCarthy told a virtual Wall Street event that a lot of factors played into the release strategy.

Speaking Sept. 9 online at the Citi 2020 Global Technology Conference, McCarthy said the decision to release Mulan as a $29.99 “Premier Access” title to Disney+ subscribers on Sept. 4 revolved around the fact that just 68% of theaters were re-opened for business, and internal data suggested consumers were hesitant to return to the cineplex during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“We know what the statistics are on consumer behavior when people are asked, ‘Would you go to a theater?'” McCarthy said. “It’s gone up a bit in the last month, but a lot of that has to do with what demographic you’re in.”

McCarthy said the pandemic has taught management to “take the opportunity that this crisis is presenting,” and re-evaluate how the business units operate. For example, when internal data showed that just 40% of typical moviegoers would frequent screens at the moment, with older consumers less likely to return and younger audiences, whom McCarthy characterized as more likely doing non-approved activities such as social gatherings and partying, more likely to return to the theater — the move toward PVOD became more clear.

“Would a family with young kids go [to the theater]? Probably not,” McCarthy said.

The executive said Disney would release Mulan on Disney+ (without Premier Access) in select markets will soon have access to the SVOD platform. McCarthy said financial results for the film would be disclosed on the next fiscal call in November, adding the film’s  exclusivity on Disney+ contributed to increased subscriber growth, which pleased senior management.

“But that wasn’t the driving force [for PVOD],” McCarthy said.

She said theme parks, movie and TV production return to normalcy remains on a slow path — with much dependent on the rate of COVID-19 infections and development of a vaccine.

“These are unprecedented times. We’ll have to ebb and flow as the rate of infection hopefully will stay low, but if it creeps back up, we may have to adjust accordingly,” McCarthy said.

Disney’s ‘Mulan’ PVOD Experiment Goes Live

The Walt Disney Co.’s much-publicized toe-dipping into premium video-on-demand waters began Sept. 4 with the availability of the live-action Mulan remake on subscription streaming service Disney+. The movie, which costs a one-time $29.99 “Premier Access” fee in addition to the $6.99 monthly Disney+ subscription, will stream for free to subs on Dec. 4.

The movie is available via the Disney+ app on Google Play, Roku and Apple TV platforms. The title is also available through the app on Amazon Fire TV, the e-commerce behemoth confirmed Sept. 4. Once purchased, access to Mulan remains eternal “as as long as you are an active Disney Plus subscriber,” according to Disney.

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Disney, a longtime supporter of the traditional theatrical release window, opted for PVOD distribution for the reported $200 million Mulan production after repeated theatrical delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. In making the announcement, Disney CEO Bob Chapek reiterated the company’s support for the box office going forward.

The movie will have limited theatrical distribution in regions without Disney+ access, including China.

“We’re looking at Mulan as a one-off, as opposed to saying there’s some new business windowing model that we’re looking at,” Chapek said last month on the company’s fiscal call.

Mulan, about a young female warrior (Yifei Liu) who disguises herself as a man in the Imperial Army in place of her ailing father, has received positive reviews, including 81% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.

‘Mulan’ to Stream for Free on Disney+ in December?

With Disney’s inaugural premium VOD launch of the live-action remake Mulan set for Sept. 4, the movie reportedly could be available for free to Disney+ subscribers three months later on Dec. 4.

The later release date was observed on a screen shot for the movie’s $29.99 Premium Access purchase price in the United States on the Disney+ app and first reported by ScreenRant. The December date has subsequently been removed from the purchase link. Scuttlebutt has long suggested Mulan would not be available for free (with a Disney+ subscription) until 2021.

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Disney earlier in August announced the controversial decision to forgo a theatrical debut for Mulan after repeated exhibitor re-opening delays prevented the $200 million budget movie from releasing. The title was initially slated to debut in theaters on March 27, then pushed back to July and again to this month before being removed from the release schedule. The movie will still have a theatrical presence in markets without Disney+ access.

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While studios such as Universal Pictures have embraced PVOD and transactional VOD in response to the pandemic, Disney has steadfastly supported the 90-day theatrical window  underscored by the studio’s global box dominance in recent years through Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm (Star Wars) and Pixar Animation titles.

‘Mulan’ Access Varies by Region; Free in France

The upcoming Sept. 4 premium VOD debut of much-delayed live-actioner Mulan is Disney’s first foray bypassing theatrical distribution for direct-to-consumer access. The movie, with a reported production/marketing budgets around $200 million and $100 million, respectively, is the most-expensive direct-to-consumer release ever.

In the U.S., Disney+ subscribers will be able to buy the movie from $29.99. Subs who access Disney+ via Apple, Google Play or Roku will be able to purchase the movie on those platforms as well. The price is 50% higher than the typical PVOD release.

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Outside the U.S., Mulan costs £19.99 ($26.42) in the United Kingdom; €21.99 ($26) in Spain and Italy; $34.99 ($25.32) in Australia and $39.99 ($28.94) in New Zealand.

In France, Disney+ subs can watch Mulan for free — at an unspecified later date. Disney is making the movie available theatrically in select foreign markets without Disney+ and with re-opened cinemas.

Disney released the first Mulan in 1998 as an animated theatrical feature film, grossing $304 million worldwide. A direct-to-video sequel, Mulan II, was released in 2004. The new live-action movie is based on “The Ballad of Mulan,” about a young girl (Yifei Liu) who masquerades as a man to take her sick father’s place in the Imperial Army. It’s a story of a young woman who must test her inner fortitude to rise to the challenges of a warrior.

If Mulan proves a success with consumers and theaters remain off-putting, Disney could follow up offering Marvel’s Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, and Marvel’s WandaVision in November and December, respectively, on Premium Access.