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.

Ampere Research: Pandemic Breaks Down Value of Theatrical Window

The pandemic has opened a door to breaking the theatrical window.

Research firm Ampere modeled various fictional scenarios of windowing during the pandemic, comparing the income post-COVID 19 to the income a title would have expected to have generated pre-2020.

“In a pre-COVID world, many of the scenarios would have offered only marginal gains (with significant risks) compared to a traditional release strategy,” according to Ampere. “However, in post-COVID markets, these options have started to look like viable opportunities.”

To assess the viability of a selection of alternative approaches, Ampere created a fictional mid-tier movie and modeled a series of windowing scenarios based on market trends, designing four scenarios of new windowing practices studios may adopt:

  • Scenario 1: Replace the first window theatrical distribution with premium video-on-demand (PVOD).
  • Scenario 2: Adopt strategies of using PVOD and theatrical windows sequentially, similar to Universal’s recent deal with AMC.
  • Scenario 3: Replace traditional windowing with a pure direct-to-consumer offering.
  • Scenario 4: Release films theatrically before making titles available exclusively on their own direct-to-consumer services.

The firm found the Universal deal with AMC (Scenario 2) was the most viable model for mid-tier releases. In Scenario 2, Ampere found that an accelerated PVOD window, such as the deal between Universal and AMC, is the most stable for exhibitors and studio groups, offering comparable returns for cinemas and increased revenue for the studio on mid- and lower-tier releases. However, top-tier titles are likely to be better monetized via traditional windowing models. The presence of theatrical releases still offers consumers the opportunity to view the movie with a cinema experience, meaning that this model doesn’t risk ‘lost’ transactions — unlike some of the other scenarios Ampere explored. The success of the model depends on negotiations with exhibitors and retailers, Ampere noted. Before agreeing to an earlier window, exhibitors will want to ensure that the mid-term future of the theatrical business is not being eroded to the extent that it will sideline them in future periods. Studios will need to work with digital retailers to ensure that films are adequately signposted as premium releases and are not unfavorably compared to catalogues of cheaper rentals, according to Ampere.

There is a significant appetite for home rental and purchase, with the domestic U.S. transactional video market at roughly 40% of theatrical’s size, according to Ampere. In principle, some titles could earn comparable amounts from PVOD as from theatrical distribution. However, for high-end blockbuster titles, which are typically able to obtain greater cuts of box office revenue, and international releases (in markets where the digital rental and retail market is less well developed), a pure PVOD approach would be far more risky. To account for this, split models would be more appropriate, with strategies tailored according to local importance of a title and the appetite for home rental and retail, according to Ampere.

Ampere’s research revealed that a theatrical to direct-to-consumer model is likely to be more feasible than a pure D2C model (bypassing theatrical entirely). However, both approaches are dependent on numerous influencing factors. Whether the model suits any given title is contingent on the retention of any new subscribers who signed up to watch the movie, and therefore the strategy is reliant on keeping both wider catalogue costs, and subscriber churn rates, down, according to Ampere.

“Looking forward, Ampere believes some of the major studios will adopt split strategies that can utilize PVOD while maintaining the benefits of theatrical distribution,” said Ampere analyst Peter Ingram in a statement. “Most of the studios have been experimenting with strategies during lockdown that completely eschew the theatrical window. However, despite the change we are expecting to the cinema market, theatrical remains one of the best revenue streams for titles throughout their life cycle. Not only do most people see the film in its theatrical window, but tickets are charged on an individual basis. By comparison, when a film is bought via PVOD, or watched via an SVOD service, it can be shared with friends and family under a single transaction.”

Lionsgate’s ‘Antebellum’ Bowing on PVOD Sept. 18

On the same day that it reported a healthy 20% spike in quarterly home entertainment revenue, Lionsgate on Aug. 6 announced that the time-shifting horror drama Antebellum will debut in homes on premium VOD at $20 on Sept. 18, rather than in theaters. Starring Janelle Monáe, who plays a successful modern-day writer trapped during America’s slavery era, Antebellum will have a same-day theatrical release internationally.

“While the theatrical experience will always be the heart of our business, we are thrilled that we are able to seize the opportunity to match [directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s] urgent and immediate film with a release strategy befitting this moment of extraordinary change,” Joe Drake, chairman of the Lionsgate motion picture group, said in a statement.

Previous Lionsgate PVOD releases include The Secret: Dare to Dream on July 31 and I Still Believe on March 27.

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Drake said Lionsgate still values the traditional theatrical window, but with ongoing challenges toward fully re-opening theaters, the company has to seek alternative distribution channels.

“I would love to see every one of our movies released theatrically,” Drake said, adding that Antebellum “speaks strongly to our times,” which he said factored in the decision to forgo theatrical distribution for PVOD.

He said the “extrodinary demand for content and short supply,” makes the economics of PVOD look “really strong.” Drake said the channel allows Lionsgate to “speak to the consumer directly.” At the same time, he said the company would aggressively exploit theatrical distribution when that channel re-opens.

“[PVOD] is a really good [business] model for us,” he said. “But so is theatrical.”

‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ VOD Release Moving Up to Aug. 28

Bill & Ted Face the Music will come out on VOD and in select theaters Aug. 28, moving up from the Sept. 1 date announced during Comic-Con@Home.

Bill & Ted star Alex Winter revealed the news on Twitter.

In the Orion Pictures film, the stakes are higher than ever for the time-traveling William  “Bill” S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Theodore  “Ted” Logan (Keanu Reeves). To fulfill their rock and roll destiny, the now middle-aged best friends set out on a new adventure when a visitor from the future warns them that only their song can save life as we know it. Along the way, they will be helped by their daughters, a new batch of historical figures, and a few music legends to seek the song that will set their world right and bring harmony in the universe.

 

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Warner Bros. Releasing ‘Tenet’ in Chinese Theaters Sept. 4

Sept. 4 is turning into a pivotal day for Hollywood studios. Warner Bros. announced it would debut director Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller Tenet in Chinese theaters Sept. 4. That’s the same day Disney will release Chinese-themed live-action drama Mulan on premium VOD exclusively to Disney+ subscribers for $29.99.

Both Tenet and Mulan have been seen as key pillars to jumpstarting national exhibitors such as AMC Theatres, Regal Cinema and Cinemark.

Warner, which has delayed Tenet three times due to coronavirus-related issues delaying re-opening of movie theaters, is set to begin rolling out the movie on Aug. 26 in several international markets. The studio will also debut the movie on Sept. 3 in select U.S. theaters, such as in Georgia, which approved theatrical re-openings on April 27.

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Analyst: Imax ‘Insulated’ From Streaming, PVOD Threat

With its massive 72 feet by 53 feet screen — about 10 times bigger than 35mm film — Imax theaters deliver oversized movie screen images with surround sound. Those attributes are what some observers believe makes the company immune to threats from streaming and premium VOD.

The company reported second-quarter (ended June 30) revenue of $8.9 million, which was down 92% from revenue of $104 million in the previous-year period.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said Imax’s financials remain unimportant until the pandemic ends. He expects the exhibitor to resume “impressive top and bottom-line” growth once a vaccine is found and introduced into the market.

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“We do not think Imax’s survival is at risk,” Pachter wrote.

Additionally, with AMC Theatres upending the traditional box office window by allowing Universal Pictures to deliver new-release movies into consumer homes just 17 days after their theatrical bow, the analyst says Imax’s unique consumer offering makes it immune from PVOD and subscription streaming services.

“Imax screens are largely insulated from the threat of streaming services, we expect [the company] to resume expanding its market share,” Pachter wrote. “We think Imax is best positioned within theatrical exhibition for a full rebound.”

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That said, the analyst contends the overall health of the box office is key to Imax’s return to screen growth and could take some take time. Pachter said Imax would benefit if more studios choose to release films internationally and in China before domestically.

“Should screen growth resume earlier, we would expect the [Imax] share price to materially improve,” he wrote.

Regal to Now Begin Opening U.S. Theaters Aug. 21

Regal will begin opening its U.S. theatrical locations Aug. 21 “in response to the recent changes in the upcoming theatrical release schedule,” according to parent company Cineworld.

The theater chain had previously announced it would open July 10.

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, opening in the United States Sept. 3, will headline new films coming to the theaters such as Unhinged, Greenland and Broken Hearts Gallery, along with the film slate scheduled to release throughout the remainder of 2020, including Wonder Woman 1984Black WidowNo Time to DieSoul and The King’s Man, according to the company.

“Welcoming theatergoers back to our cinemas will be a celebration for not only our team and our industry, but most importantly for the fans who have been anxiously awaiting the year’s upcoming releases,” Mooky Greidinger, CEO of Cineworld, said in a statement. “With the health and safety of our staff, customers and communities as our top priority, we are happy to invite audiences to return to the timeless theatrical experience that we have all dearly missed.”

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Regal theaters will enforce previously announced health and safety measures that adhere to the latest CDC and public health guidelines, including sanitization procedures, new social distancing protocols, and mandatory mask policies for Regal employees and guests, according to a press release.

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“Regal will continue to monitor the situation closely and follow any changes to regulations or guidance from public health officials,” according to the press release.

For additional information, consumer can visit the mobile app or REGmovies.com.

Disney Delays ‘Mulan’ Theatrical Release Indefinitely

Disney has pulled live-action Mulan from its theatrical slate, citing ongoing concerns with the coronavirus pandemic. Disney has not announced a replacement date. The move follows Warner Bros. yanking Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet from its box office slate.

COVID-19 infections have now topped 4 million in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. AMC Theatres earlier July 23 announced it would delay re-opening 600 theaters in the U.S. until the middle of August from the previously-delayed July 30 date.

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“Over the last few months, it’s become clear that nothing can be set in stone when it comes to how we release films during this global health crisis, and today that means pausing our release plans for Mulan as we assess how we can most effectively bring this film to audiences around the world,” Disney said in a media statement first reported by Variety.

Like Tenet, the latest delay for Mulan is the movie’s third, following separate pushbacks to July 24 and Aug. 21 from the film’s initial March 27 release date.

With Disney still slated to release Marvel’s Black Widow in November from its original May debut, further delaying the superhero movie to 2021 would result in the first year Disney has not released a Marvel title at the box office since 2009.

Disney Delays ‘Mulan’ Theatrical Release to August

As expected, Walt Disney Studios June 26 announced it is delaying for the second time the theatrical release of live-action feature film Mulan to Aug. 21 from the movie’s previously-delayed debut on July 24. The film had been originally slated for March 27.

The big-budget remake of the 1998 animated movie that generated more than $300 million at the global box office is being pushed back due to a resurgence of coronavirus infections throughout the country, notably California, Texas and Florida.

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“While the pandemic has changed our release plans for Mulan and we will continue to be flexible as conditions require, it has not changed our belief in the power of this film and its message of hope and perseverance. Director Niki Caro and our cast and crew have created a beautiful, epic, and moving film that is everything the cinematic experience should be, and that’s where we believe it belongs — on the world stage and the big screen for audiences around the globe to enjoy together,” Alan Horn, co-chairman and CCO, and Alan Bergman, co-chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, said in a joint statement.

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The delay, coupled with Warner Bros. pushing back Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller Tenet to Aug. 12, is another setback for major exhibitors such as AMC Theatres, Regal Cinemas and Cinemark, which have staked much of their fiscal return on re-opening screens with new content.

Warner Bros. Q1 Operating Profit Declines 55%

With studio operations shuttered for nearly a third of the quarter due to the coronavirus pandemic, Warner Bros. April 22 reported operating income of $249 million, down about 55% from operating income of $547 million in the previous-year period. Revenue from theatrical product dropped almost 27% to $1.1 billion, from $1.5 billion last year.

Television content revenue increased 9% to $1.77 billion from $1.6 billion. Home entertainment and video games saw revenue drop less than 10% to $365 million from $399 million during the previous-year period.

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Oscar-winning Joker remains the studio’s top-selling packaged media of the year.

Warner, like other studios, has pushed back release of tentpole titles such as Wonder Woman 1984 to later this year or into 2021.

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