After Mulan, Disney may tap streaming service for more high-price theatrical releases

(Logo: Walt Disney Company/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Disney executives told investors last week that they were pleased with how well the company’s live-action reboot of “Mulan” fared on Disney Plus over the summer.

With movie theaters closed and many stuck at home due to the ongoing coronavirus health pandemic, Disney decided to release the feature film directly to consumer by way of Disney Plus, its blockbuster streaming service that now has nearly 74 million global subscribers.

The movie wasn’t free to Disney Plus subscribers: Customers had to fork over a one-time fee of $30 for the movie.

On Thursday, Disney’s chief executive Robert Chapek said the company was pleased with the performance of the film, though he declined to specify how many subscribers actually paid for it — even with a controversy brewing over how and where the movie was filmed.

“We saw enough very positive results before that controversy started to know that we’ve got something here in terms of the premier access strategy,” Chapek said. “What we’ve learned with Mulan is there’s going to be a role for it strategically within our portfolio of offerings.”

In other words, Disney is likely to release more feature films through Disney Plus with a one-time fee attached to them. How many movies will be released this way remains unclear. Less clear is if the company will stick to that strategy once movies begin to re-populate on the other side of the health crisis — whenever that might be.

Not all films will be released with a premium price: Disney still plans to offer full-length movies to subscribers who shell out the normal $7 a month or $70 a year. Chapek said it was Disney’s intention to ensure subscribers still have access to a plethora of films and TV content without paying anything beyond the base price.

Streaming remains a high priority for Disney: The company recently reorganized its top units — including its film studio, distribution arm and television broadcast subsidiaries — with a renewed focus on producing and distributing content through streaming platforms.

In addition to Disney Plus, the company owns a majority, controlling stake in Hulu and also operates ESPN Plus. Internationally, the company operates Hotstar, a streaming service run in tandem with its pay TV satellite service Star TV in Asia.