Black Widow a success for Disney Plus - but what does that mean?
Selling a lot of virtual tickets may not be as important as it seems... yet
You just know when a company has something to boast about when it releases numbers for things it used not to - and that is exactly what's happening with Disney and Black Widow: the House of Mouse reported on the opening weekend of the Marvel Studios movie as it always does but, this time, included its streaming service, Disney Plus, in the announced figures. Natasha Romanoff's last adventure scored $80 million in ticket sales in the US alone, $78 million in international territories - 46 countries, crucially excluding China - and no less than $60 million in Disney Plus Premier Access sales.
The total figure of $215 million for the opening of any movie is impressive - especially by pandemic standards - and a sign of hope for a movie industry that has gone through the worst 18 months in its recent history due to COVID-19. The world is nowhere near to getting rid of the coronavirus, of course, but it seems as if - where safety measures are applied and respected - cinemas will be staying open even partially from now on. But this has apparently not happened quickly enough: streaming services have now a seat at the table of the discussion about new movie releases and the numbers of Black Widow on Disney Plus seem to be proof of that.
Is that $60 million number that important, though?
On one hand, yes, it is. In practical terms, it means that around 2.000.000 people in around 50 countries paid $30 (which is more than three times what a single movie ticket costs in the US) in order to watch a new movie in the comfort, and safety, of their homes. They did so while also paying the Disney Plus subscription fee in the first place. The fact that Disney published that number while it did not for Mulan in 2020 and Raya and the Last Dragon or Cruella earlier in the year means that it was much higher than what any of the others achieved.
On the other hand, no, it is not. It's not a number leading to any conclusion in July 2021 and there are multiple reasons why. Cinemas have not resumed normal operation in most parts of the world, so many consumers probably didn't have the choice between watching this film on their TV or a movie theatre screen. The whole pandemic situation, moreover, definitely affected the decision of many who did have that choice, as going to movie theaters (even with security measures present) is still way riskier than sitting on the living room couch. Then Black Widow is a Marvel movie: these films do not follow the pattern other films usually do, having built a loyal fanbase that will not miss a new movie or show under any circumstances. One could go as far as to say that no kind of movie other than a Marvel one would manage to bring in that kind of money through streaming in one weekend.
So while that $60 million number is not unimportant - in fact, it's admirable in its own right regardless of context - it is also not decidedly indicative of anything... yet. What it is, though, is encouraging for Disney: if Disney Plus is already a platform able to deliver the kind of revenue expected from the US or international movie theatre markets, then it might be worth following that approach for its big movies in the future. Smaller productions, that usually make for smaller theatre turnouts, should be the exception to this. But blockbusters are relatively safe: they are the kind of social event that consumers want to be a part of in its traditional, proper environment.
We might not have a clear picture of what the world will look like post-COVID yet, but it's not that hard to imagine a situation where this choice is always available to consumers. Everyone who wants the complete "movie theatre experience", big screen, crowds, fresh buttery pop-corn and everything, will continue to enjoy that. Everyone who would prefer forgoing that for a quiet night in, would probably not mind paying a premium for the privilege of watching a new film at home. Things were moving in that direction anyway. Maybe it's time to start embracing that model, instead of dreading it. People will ultimately decide anyway!