Disney Dooms Disney+ To Salvage Its Box Office Success

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A hand holding a phone with the Disney+ app open

Credit: Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

It seems like Disney is trying a new tactic to salvage its success at the box office.

Disney+ got off to such a strong start. The streaming service launched months before the start of the pandemic – which led to a boom in streaming as Disney fans tried to replicate the Disney Park magic at home – and managed to sign up more customers in one day than HBO Now, CBS All Access + Showtime, ESPN+, DAZN, and Crunchyroll had signed up, ever.

However, it’s since seen a massive decline in viewership and subscriptions.

Disney+ ad featuring Disney and Pixar characters
Credit: Disney

Related: Disney+ Desperate, Scraping for Content Amid Destruction of Streaming Service

According to Disney’s Q3 2023 Earnings Call, Disney+ subscribers have dropped to 146.1 million. This falls significantly short of Disney’s goal of 154.8 million subscribers, and follows another massive loss in Q2.

There’s been plenty of speculation as to why Disney’s seeing such a massive drop-off on what was initially a successful streaming service. As declared by Disney CEO Bob Iger, the studio is currently pulling back on new releases and scrapping numerous original titles – which means less content on Disney+ and less motivation to pay for the service in general.

Disney officials presenting Disney+
Credit: Disney

Disney’s latest tactic is unlikely to improve the issue. With the announcement that one of its most successful films of 2023 – The Little Mermaid – is set to hit Disney+ on September 6, 2023, it just broke its record for the longest window between a theatrical and Disney+ release.

By the time The Little Mermaid is available on the streaming service, it will have been 103 days since Halle Bailey first hit the big screen as Ariel. Considering that audiences have come to expect short wait times between a film’s theatrical and streaming release, bucking the trend isn’t likely to encourage fans to keep up with their Disney+ subscription.

Ariel (Halle Bailey) resting on jellyfish and talking to Sebastian
Credit: Disney

It also seems like this may be the new norm for Disney releases in general. Elemental (2023) first hit theaters on June 16. Its release is not listed on Disney+ for September, meaning audiences will be waiting at least 106 days for it to reach Disney+.

In some ways, this is a good thing for Disney. Longer theatrical releases mean more time for word-of-mouth marketing to push new Disney movies to the masses, which means higher box office revenue. If any film is proof of this, it’s Elemental, which was dubbed a “flop” after its opening weekend but has since become Disney’s most successful original movie since the pandemic.

Wade and Ember ride the subway in 'Elemental'
Credit: Pixar

Related: ‘Elemental’ Has Broken Yet Another Disney Record

Last year, the gaps between theatrical and streaming releases were extremely short for the studio. There were just 30 days between releases for Strange World (2022) – which has cemented itself as one of the biggest flops from Walt Disney Animation ever – and 47 days between releases for Lightyear (2022), which, of course, was also an infamous failure.

The fact is that if audiences know they won’t have to wait long to see a film on streaming, they’re less likely to spend the money to go out and see it in the theater. Disney’s new tactic makes sense from a box office perspective. However, this may just be another nail in the coffin for a streaming service that’s already struggling to provide enough quality content to retain subscribers.

Do you prefer short or long windows between theatrical and streaming releases? Let us know your thoughts on Disney’s new strategy in the comments!

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