The struggle within the industry between studios and exhibitors over changes to theatrical release windows has gone mainstream. In this article from the Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal, theatre owners sound off on their frustrations with Disney for demanding a relatively high percentage of the box office and releasing their key upcoming films on Disney+ on the same day when they open in theatres. Disney’s decision to release its upcoming Marvel superhero film Black Widow day-and-date with Disney+, was particularly galling, as theatres have traditionally delivered multi-billion dollar returns to the studio for similar films from the Marvel cinematic universe. Disney’ chief Bob Chapek has been unfazed, saying that his company’s strategy for each film at this point is being decided on a case-by-case basis, in order to maximize revenue. Chapek has repeatedly stated his interest in making the company’s entertainment available to consumers directly, under the mantra of “consumer choice”. Notably, Disney is not bypassing theatres with their most important upcoming film releases, Cruella on 5/28 and Black Widow on 7/9. But they are making those films available simultaneously on Disney+. Disney counts more than 100M current subscribers on Disney+, and has forecasted that this will grow to 260M subscribers by 2024.
Byron Berkley, an independent theatre owner in Texas and president of the Independent Cinema Alliance, commented, “We feel what [Disney’s] done was a contradiction of their previously expressed belief in the importance of the theatrical experience and suggests to us that they are an unreliable partner of exhibition.”