As this weekend saw the biggest slump in first to second week takings in the history of the MCU franchise, US theater owner were quick to slam Disney’s decision to put Black Widow up for rent on Disney+ Premier Access at the same time as its cinematic release, claiming the decision has driven down the potential box office takings of the movie as well as giving video pirates a perfect opportunity to steal money away from the industry.
The National Association of Theater Owners released a statement which didn’t hold back on its condemning of the decisions made by Disney around the release of the first Marvel movie in two years. The movie scored big at the box office, making more than any other post-pandemic release so far in its opening weekend along with a huge haul from Disney+ Premier Access buy in, but despite that, it is what could have been that has riled NATO into action. Gross figures dropped by 41% between the movie’s opening Friday numbers and the Saturday of that weekend, while the second weekend takings were down by an astonishing 67% on the previous week, something never seen before for a Marvel movie.
The statement released by NATO said that “Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life. The many questions raised by Disney’s limited release of streaming data opening weekend are being rapidly answered by Black Widow’s disappointing and anomalous performance,” they continued. “The most important answer is that simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.”
While there is no doubt that the dual release will have impacted theater numbers, exactly to what extent is always going to be unclear with so many what ifs and possible scenarios as to what would have happened if the movie was released in cinemas only. Would those who paid to watch on Disney+ have still ventured out to theaters at the moment or just waited for whatever subsequent home release was scheduled? It could easily be argued that most releases in the last three months have suffered similar collapses in their second week, and while NATO are eager to leave simultaneous releases “to history with the pandemic” it is clear to many that the pandemic may now be on the backfoot, but it is certainly not over.
“One can assume the family-oriented Disney+ household is larger. How much? How much password sharing is there among Disney+ subscribers? Combined with the lost theatrical revenue and forgone traditional PVOD revenue, the answer to these questions will show that simultaneous release costs Disney money in revenue per viewer over the life of the film,” NATO went on. Piracy no doubt further affected Black Widow‘s performance, and will affect its future performance in international markets where it has yet to open,” the release continued. “Pristine digital copies became available within minutes of release on Disney+. Black Widow was the most torrented movie for the week ending July 12.”
While the arrival of movies on a digital platform has instantly opened up a goldmine of opportunity for pirates who would have otherwise been running the gauntlet to sneak footage from a cinema, the numbers don’t suggest that this necessarily took money away from the release as the figures still make Black Widow by far the biggest movie out of the traps this year. The piracy problem may be an issue, but that is one that will not simply go away by returning to a cinema only release. Having said that, both Disney and Warner Bros. have already said that post-pandemic they will return to a cinema only release schedule, but when that will be is still anyone’s guess. The Hollwyood Reporter first reported this.