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Why Disney took calculated risk to release $200M 'Mulan' tentpole on Disney+

Alexandra Canal
·Producer

“Mulan” made its much-anticipated debut on Disney+ for $30 on Friday — and its a calculated risk that shows just how committed the media giant is to its fledgling streaming service.

“Streaming has become such an important part of Disney’s (DIS) business,” Kelly O’Grady, dot.LA’s chief correspondent and an ex-Disney analyst, told Yahoo Finance during a recent interview.

“But Disney also has to ensure that this becomes a profitable segment for them and in order to do that they need to rack up those subscribers quickly,” she added.

“Mulan’s” direct-to-consumer release and platform exclusivity is the perfect experiment to lure in extra users.

O’Grady referred to “an element of stickiness” in the platform, in which subscribers jump from streamer to streamer based on new releases — but are willing to stick around for good content. “Mulan’s” debut is unique, in that it will remain in purchasers’ libraries forever.

Furthermore, Disney’s full access to profits is another added perk for the company as “a dollar spent on Disney+ is way more valuable to [Disney] than a dollar spent at the theater,” O’Grady noted.

“In the theater, AMC might take about 40%-50% of a film’s box office over its lifetime...But Disney is going to take 100% if you buy it directly on DisneyPlus.com,” she added.

Cast members Ron Yuan, Yifei Liu, Jason Scott Lee and Yoson An pose with director Niki Caro, at the European premiere for the film "Mulan" in London, Britain March 12, 2020.
Cast members Ron Yuan, Yifei Liu, Jason Scott Lee and Yoson An pose with director Niki Caro, at the European premiere for the film "Mulan" in London, Britain March 12, 2020.

But the most valuable factor of all might be the ability to harvest data from Disney+ users who purchase the film — something that’s impossible to capture for theatergoers.

“Access to this data is huge,” O’Grady said.

Overall, “this is one of those films where it’s going to be very hard to reach that [coveted] $1 billion mark — whether it’s in theaters or over Disney+,” she noted — referencing the pandemic.

“But it does give [Disney] an opportunity to test this out and say, ‘Hey, are people willing to pay?’” she said.

“If so, this is something [Disney] could start to do more of in the future which would give them more data, and also provide a way to still monetize these franchises in a world where a pandemic happens again,” O’Grady added.

'Tenet' hits U.S. theaters after strong debut overseas

“Tenet” is one blockbuster that has stuck to its theatrical release plan, despite multiple coronavirus-related delays and setbacks.

The Christopher Nolan-led thriller, which hit U.S. theaters on Thursday following an international rollout the week prior, has performed particularly well overseas — grossing above $53 million and beating initial estimates of $40 million.

The film comes at an important time for domestic theater chains after disappointing results from both Russell Crowe’s “Unhinged” and Marvel’s “The New Mutants,” which debuted at $4 million and $7 million, respectively.

Desperate for a lifeline, the U.S. box office — which saw profits soar past $700 million in August of 2019 — only secured $13 million last month.

“Tenet” will serve as the true test for whether or not Americans are ready to head back to the movies, as other yet-to-be released films like “Black Widow” and “Wonder Woman 1984” hold their breath for traditional release dates of their own.

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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