Back in the day, movies were released in two different ways: either in theaters or on TV. Then, the VHS was born, and with it, the third class of release. We called it “direct-to-video.” While “direct-to-video” evolved over the years into Laser Disk, DVD, and BluRay, the three classes harmoniously co-existed, and we, the audience, knew exactly what to expect.
But streaming services and the release of Disney’s latest movie TOGO might be drastically changing those expectations.
Movies with a wide theatrical release were usually the biggest deal and the biggest budget. We associated theatrical releases with having a far higher quality than films released on TV or Video. This is especially true with Disney movies. Growing up, there was a distinct difference in quality and budget between Disney feature films, Disney Channel Original Movies, and those straight-to-video/DVD.
TOGO is proving to be different. Disney’s latest epic adventure film based on a true story will not be released in theaters. But, TOGO has none of the classic earmarks of a made-for-TV or straight-to-video film. It is a high-quality movie shot on set with marquee talent.
TOGO director talks about the Disney+ premiere
When asked about how he felt about his movie being released on Disney+ rather than in theaters, TOGO director Ericson Core had this to say:
“It’s interesting. My past two films — including Invincible, which was for Disney — were theatrical releases. As a filmmaker, it’s always the hope that you have a theatrical release because people viewing it in a group audience is really a very special circumstance. However, the truth is the marketplace and the audiences for these inspirational films — the things that used to get made all the time and put out in the theaters, as Invincible was and was number one at the box office the two weeks it was out — doesn’t exist as much anymore. There was always that conversation that digital media was going to take over the theatrical experience at some point, and I think it’s upon us.”
There is a lot of truth to this. While theatrical releases still hold a golden honor, and there is an experience you get in the theater that you can’t get at home, it is a matter of marketing and reaching your audience. We don’t see a lot of inspirational films of this caliber in theaters anymore. But that is not to say TOGO can’t be as successful out of theaters.
“Frankly, one of the advantages of it is that we get that slow burn that you don’t otherwise get. A film like this, I think is really going to affect people in a big way and word of mouth is going to do a lot for it. When you’re trying to get into a theater, you’ve got to be incredibly competitive or you’re out. So it’s nice that I know that it’s going to live for a long time on the service, and I think people will arrive at it in a different way. It’s new to me and I’ll have to see how it all goes. But it certainly seems like it’s the new way and the best way to get our stories told and seen.”
Disney+ certainly provides that “slow burn” this film will need to make the proper impact. But what this also shows is that many times the value of a theatrical release is in name only.
Straight-to-Streaming: The New Class of Release
With its films TOGO, and Lady and the Tramp, and even with its original serials like The Mandalorian, Disney+ is proving that straight-to-streaming does not have to stoop to the same level as the conventional TV or straight-to-video platforms.
Disney is helping define the new “Straight-to-Streaming” platform. This new direct-to-consumer medium can afford to have all of the funding as a major motion picture with the same immediate access as a direct-to-video release. It is a new frontier that can revolutionize the way we watch movies.
We will always have movie theaters. They are too important to us on a romantic, nostalgic level. But Straight-to-streaming will continue to challenge conventional TV and probably all-but-eliminate the need for direct-to-DVD.
If directors like Core can be let go of the theaters while continuing to give their audiences the same level of quality they’d experience in the theaters, Straight-to-streaming will be driven to an unprecedented apex of quality and accessibility. There is no one better to lead that drive than TOGO himself.