We probably could have seen this coming.
Disney announced today that it’s restructuring its media and entertainment businesses to focus on its streaming services—one area that’s currently thriving as other parts of the Walt Disney Company grapple with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, Disney+ has been a monumental success since it launched late last year, with CEO Bob Chapek revealing during the company’s third-quarter earnings report that Disney+ had soared to 100 million subscribers as of August.
Now, the company’s three primary content creation groups, which cover Studios, General Entertainment, and Sports, “will be responsible and accountable for producing and delivering content for theatrical, linear and streaming, with the primary focus being the Company’s streaming services.” In other words, it sounds like Disney’s next big move is to pivot to being Netflix.
“We’re putting the consumer first,” Chapek said during an interview with Closing Bell. “The consumer’s actually going to be who’s going to make this decision. They’re going to lead us with the way they make their transactional decision. Right now, they are voting with their pocketbooks, and they are voting very heavily towards Disney+.”
Disney’s enterprises are definitely feeling the effects of the global health crisis, as businesses must adjust to new mandates for social distancing and proper covid-19 precautions. Many of its movies, like those of other major studios, are seemingly stuck in a kind of uncertain limbo amid theater closures and constantly changing release windows. Its network of parks are a mess, and Disney recently laid off 28,000 of its parks staff as a result of “limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic.”
With no immediate end to the pandemic in sight, studios have been forced to either release their films to modest crowds in the theaters that are currently open, move their big-budget release dates, or release films as premium fixtures of their respective streaming services. For a vertically integrated company like Disney, and with a platform that’s been such a tremendous success, streaming releases offer an opportunity to make back some of what the company sank into a film by charging you $30 to stream its blockbuster films before they officially roll out wide on Disney+ months later.
Right now, Disney appears to be doing what virtually every other content-creating streaming service is doing right now: churn out content at a breakneck clip. Hopefully Disney will avoid the kind of depraved content greenlighting a la Netflix that gave us series like Love Is Blind. But who can really say?