With most of its core business — theme parks, live sports, theatrical releases — off the table right now, Disney could use a jolt. Disney+ seems like the potential savior during this rough patch, but earnings didn’t really reveal much about the plan forward last week. In the time since, we’ve heard about a slew of shows — specifically from Marvel, which is key — in the works. However, all of those options still seemed like a long way out, as has been the case for most of the major draws for Disney+ since its launch.
On Tuesday, however, that all changed with the news that hit Broadway musical Hamilton will be heading to the streaming service on July 3, over 15 months before its slated October 15, 2021 theatrical release.
July’s still three months away, but what’s time anymore at this point, right?
Coupled with the existing back catalog of popular content, Disney+ becomes a shiny new object again for those that let the first sign-up round pass them by. Perhaps they don’t care about kids’ shows and movies. Or maybe they’re just not enough of a Star Wars fan to care about “The Mandalorian,” or Marvel films just don’t really register for them. Whatever the reason people haven’t signed up to-date, this — a premium, streaming opening weekend — could be the selling point they need to take the plunge.
Obviously this isn’t the first time premium, new content has streamed somewhere. Audiences are used to that dynamic dating back to the initial release of “House of Cards” on Netflix, and the episodic release schedules that have been ushered in on numerous competitive services in the years since create some manner of appointment viewing. Movie theater closures related to COVID-19 have also changed the dynamic around film releases in recent months, making direct-to-digital debuts (see Trolls: World Tour as the most notable example) the norm.
Still, Trolls and other movies hitting streaming services are premium rentals or purchases, not included in the price of admission. Hamilton, on the other hand, is a theatrical release simply added onto the service you already pay for — for half the price of a single movie ticket.
Disney originally bought the rights to the infinitely popular musical for $75 million, with the intention of turning it into more. While that’s still the case, Hamilton‘s immediate-term value is the clearest point.
What was once a potential box office windfall transforms into both a streaming-exclusive opening weekend and a long-term anchor for driving subscribers to Disney+. No, Hamilton wasn’t going to be an Avengers-level box office draw, but it didn’t need to be then. It doesn’t now, either. And if it drives even 1 million new year-long subscribers at $6.99 per month, it’s already paid for itself.
Hamilton, while a well-known entertainment property at this point, has still largely trafficked on its inaccessibility for most viewers. This differs from Disney’s other video content properties, which are for the masses. But by giving a previously exclusive property to a larger-scale audience, it potentially allows for both real and sustained hype on par with a film premiere — instead of just another streaming show/movie available on one of numerous platforms available today.
Even if just a one-off work-around for the theater model, this could change the value proposition for Disney+ and all streaming services. Subscribing becomes the secret password to a potential in-theater movie drop. Even if it happens for one well-anticipated film per year, that’s likely enough to keep many subscribed.
With big releases like Mulan and Black Widow still to come later this year, signing up for Disney+ around Hamilton‘s drop holds the allure of that reality becoming the norm. We honestly don’t know what 2020 has in store for theatrical releases. You do know that you’ll have your TV either way. You pay at least $11 in most cities for one movie ticket. Is it worth paying $41.94 for the back half of 2020 on the chance that you’ll see at least two theater-quality movies added brand new to Disney+? Quite possibly.
If not, Disney’s utilization of Disney+ as makeshift movie theater just this time should get competitors thinking about new ways to distribute films AND drive subscribers all at once. If it works — and it would seem likely Disney releases data celebrating as much if it does — AMC might be jumping at the chance to get bought by Amazon (or another big tech or entertainment player) by that point.