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With movie theaters closed and everybody stuck at home for the foreseeable future thanks to coronnavirus, movie studios have been scrambling to find ways to make up the revenue that they're losing due to films released in theaters that ended up with no audience, and all the projects that were supposed to open that had to be delayed. Several movies that dropped in theaters in the last couple weeks are seeing special digital releases, but now Disney may have just changed the entire game again by announcing that Pixar's Onward will be available for digital purchase starting today, March 20, and will be hitting Disney+ in just two weeks, on April 3.
And with that, the dam is broken. In the case of most of the movies that were technically still in theaters that are seeing early digital releases, the decision was made to offer them for rental, rather than purchase, but at a premium price, $19.99 in most cases. Onward is going up for sale, and will hit Movies Anywhere and other digital storefronts later today, around 5:00PM PST /8:00PM EST.
But what's the even bigger power move by The Walt Disney Company is the announcement right alongside that, that Onward will hit Disney+ in two weeks. If you're a Disney+ subscriber who wants to see Onward, or see it again, you don't even need to spend $20 to buy the digital if you're willing to wait 14 days.
Frozen II saw its release on Disney+ about two weeks after the film's physical Blu-ray and DVD release, about a month after the digital release, but the difference there was nobody knew Frozen II would hit Disney+ so fast until right before it happened. Here, Onward is, obviously, skipping its physical home release entirely, and everybody knows exactly when the film will arriving on the streaming service.
Will people still purchase the movie in large numbers digitally knowing it will hit streaming soon? Will more people subscribe to Disney+ knowing that Onward is on the way? How much money will Disney make off either of these things compared to the costs and revenue the movie was expected to make if things had gone normally during the film's theatrical release?
The answers to these questions are potentially huge. Once the smoke clears and Disney has an answer, it could potentially impact how the studio handles all future releases. Could we see movies making the leap to digital and/or Disney+ a lot faster than what we've been seeing? It certainly seems possible.
This unusual circumstance sees all the studios scrambling. Disney makes most of its money from movies that nobody can go see and theme parks nobody can go visit. The company is hurting. The stock market is in free fall and moves like this potentially make streaming services like Disney+ more important, and thus can make Disney as a whole seem like a more sound investment. However, it can be difficult to put the toothpaste back in the tube, and once Disney has made its streaming service more valuable, taking a step backward can have the opposite effect, so perhaps this really is only the beginning.