Disney pulled off a successful misdirection today by getting investors to think less about Covid-19 and more about the invasion of the Huns.
The company said during an otherwise dismal earnings report that it will release Mulan—its twice-delayed big budget release about a young woman who fends off invaders in China—as a rental in September on its Disney+ streaming service for $30. Along with strong growth numbers for Disney+ and Hulu, that news helped paper over a quarter that saw losses of $4.7 billion. Those brutal results were led by the parks and resorts segment, which alone posted an operating loss of $2 billion.
The Mulan decision was just the latest domino to tip in the remaking of the movie business this year—but it could be one of the most significant. Disney CEO Bob Chapek tried to temper the enormity of the move during the earnings call, describing it as a “one off” caused by the pandemic, rather than a wholesale shift in its theatrical strategy. Unlike his counterparts at NBCUniversal, he doesn’t seem eager to tangle with exhibitors.
Disney could have gone even further to bolster its streaming services, for which it now counts a total of 100 million paid subscriptions. It could make Mulan free for all Disney+ subscribers as it did with Hamilton. That would be a truly radical move, perhaps too radical for the company’s new CEO. Time will tell whether the Mulan move is truly a “one-off” or a harbinger of something more dramatic down the line.