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The Mouse That Roared

One of the things that is becoming more evident is that there is an increasing lack of reality in this world of ours. The manipulation of the truth to meet economic and political goals is rampant. I personally have taken to the adage that the truth truly lies in the middle. I think that people make wide statements and, like the man said, the attention is in the details. I really hope that folks will start seeking their own truths and determine what is best for them by themselves and ignoring any screaming harpy espousing a manifesto.

I take a look at the news flowing about the movie exhibition industry and glimpses of euphoric optimism shining out. There are a lot of would-be analysts and prognosticators out there, I am one of them. I can say that I certainly only have my perspective and my own opinion. I am always prepared to be wrong, in some cases I relish it when I am wrong. When I look at things, I ask myself a simple question: who benefits?

I think most people have a hard time understanding that we really have five economies in this country, an underground economy, a free economy, a State-based government economy, a Federal economy, and Wall Street. What is interesting is that the State economy, the Federal economy and Wall Street in their own way have the ability to print money.  They do not play by the same rules as we common folk do. In the case of the State and the Feds, they get in trouble; they simply write a check that future generations have to pay off. Wall Street can issue money creating debentures, warrants, options and stock with a stroke of a lawyer’s pen. Any company which is on Wall Street operates in a different world than we do. They do not serve customers, they are not too focused on the public and they care little for the idea of a movie going community.

When I know companies are public I change my outlook and know full well that they have the ability to disregard much of the reality that the rest of us have to face. The decisions they make are for the sole benefit of their shareholders and the analysts. Whatever effort they put towards customer relations and engagement in the end is all pretenses.

This week Disney announced something that for me has been evident for a while. As a result of controlling in 2019 47% of the theatrical market, what Disney does truly matters. Disney's decision to change the release models for "Black Widow," "Cruella" and other movies under their control has kicked struggling movie theaters right in the proverbial nards. These movies  will now be released in theaters and at the same time on a platform entitled "Premier Access". Disney crowed that this move "reflects our focus on providing consumers choice", this of course is false and what they really are concerned is placing as much revenue on its own bottom line. They also are trying to ensure that the efforts put forward in the launching of Disney + pay off. What they are really saying is “Guys it’s been a blast but from now on you are on your own…it has been a slice of heaven”.

Things were looking like they were on the upswing. The vaccine rollout was speeding up. Theaters were opening in New York and Los Angeles. Announcements by Paramount and Warner Brothers seemed to indicate a willingness to support the theatrical market in some fashion.  The sun started shining again. Suddenly a flying mouse descends on this cheery scene and decides to do damage in the midst of healing.

Black Widow, part of the Marvel Universe, is moving it’s release date from May 7 to July 9, Disney announced yesterday. Disney announced a bunch of other shifts that basically ignore the theatrical economy. Luca, the latest original movie from Disney’s Pixar animation studio, will now be released solely on Disney+ on June 18 at no additional charge. (It will still be released in theaters in countries where Disney+ is not yet available, this should tell you plenty.) Cruella, the live-action child of the  101 Dalmatians, will keep its May 28 release date but will also be streamed in Disney + for $30 bucks.

Part of the reason Disney was uneasy at sticking with Black Widow‘s May release date is maybe due to the shaky situation in Europe in regards to a third wave of the pandemic. Europe makes up about a third of the global box office each year. Covid-19 vaccines have rolled out at a much slower pace there than in other territories. I do not know if this story holds water.

Comic Book tentpoles were supposed to be one of movie theaters’ defense against Netflix . Now as the studio launches their own streaming service the story has changed sharply. Disney+  is getting filled with spinoffs from Marvel. Disney’s decision with Black Widow is a clear and brutal reminder what the intent of the studios truly is.

Disney does not let anyone know the ratings and viewers for any of the content it releases on Disney+. But the numbers generated by Mulan has told them that there is indeed a market out there for streamed blockbusters, now that fact that they are clutching so dear to the performance of “Mulan” (a streaming offering released during a pandemic, not exactly a balanced outlook). “What we’ve learned with Mulan is there’s going to be a role for it strategically within our portfolio of offerings,” Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO, said on a recent earning call.

The bottom line in that no matter what Disney says, in my mind they decided long ago to slowly abandon the theaters. I could be wrong, but in this case I don’t think so.