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Last weekend Black Widow arrived in movie theaters, and on Disney+, and had what can only be described as a remarkable opening weekend. While the movie did about $80 million in domestic box office, Disney broke from tradition by revealing what the movie did in opening weekend dollars on Disney+ Premier Access, as a way of boosting the film's profile. However, it's unlikely Disney will be dropping a press release to tout the movie's ongoing success, as the movie saw a significant box office fall in week two, and the National Association of Theater Owners is blaming the decision to release Black Widow to streaming for the drop.
While Disney hasn't dropped a new press release, the National Association of Theater Owners has, and it basically uses Black Widow as a case study in why NATO believes that theatrical exclusivity is "the way forward" for Hollywood. NATO touts Black Widow's critical success and it's box office opening, but argues that based on previous Marvel movie releases, and other theatrical exclusives like A Quiet Place Part II and F9, and Black Widow's own Thursday night preview numbers, the movie should have seen an opening weekend of anywhere from $92 to $130 million. This is compared to the $80 million it received.
In addition, the $60 million that Disney says it received via Disney+ Premier Access isn't quite the windfall for Disney that it might appear to be. First, Disney doesn't keep all that money, as 15% of it is shared with various platforms. It seems that's the revenue split for those that are watching Disney+ for "free" by getting their access through a third party. In addition, NATO argues that the $60 million total isn't "new" money, but simply the PVOD money that Black Widow would have made as a digital release following it's theatrical run, which is simply being added to the film's total revenue early.
Plus there's the fact that Premier Access actually represents a lot more people in lost box office, as most households contain more than one person. And with password sharing added to the mix, that's even more potential theatrical viewers who did not contribute to the film's bottom line. Finally there's the issue of piracy, as movies released to digital platforms can be copied in a perfect condition and Black Widow is already the most torrented movie of the year. According to NATO, films that have seen a simultaneous digital release have seen significant piracy problems this year, while those that have opened only in theaters have not.
Combine all these issues together, and you have a movie that made significantly less money than it could have. You also have a lot of people that have already seen Black Widow, and thus didn't go see it this weekend, leading to the movie's less than remarkable second weekend.
Certainly the National Association of Theater Owners has a vested interest in seeing Disney, the biggest movie studio on the planet, dedicate itself to theatrical releases. By any metric, a movie like Black Widow is a guaranteed money maker and no theater wants to see any lost revenue that it could have made. While it's impossible to know how much box office money was lost due to the Disney+ release, it's obvious that the number is greater than zero.
NATO argues that the simultaneous release isn't just bad for theaters, but it's bad for Disney too, that the studio is actually not making as much money as it could by doing this. We can be sure Disney is running its own calculations in that regard. Of course, it's likely that the Mouse House is also including factors that NATO is not. Disney wants to make a lot of money at the box office, sure, but it also wants to have lots of subscribers to its streaming service, and make that new business profitable. A better theatrical box office that results in less revenue for Disney+ isn't necessarily a worthwhile tradeoff.
Whether Premier Access is the "new normal" or not, remains to be seen. Disney has already announced that its next big release, next week's Jungle Cruise, will also get the shared release, but as of now, that's the last movie that will open that way. Everything going forward will be theatrical only movies.