Disney is now said to planning to send a bunch of its big releases directly to Disney+, bypassing a cinema outing altogether.

The sands continue to shift in the turbulent world of theatrical exhibition. It’s a situation that one might charitably describe as ‘fluid’ with news or rumour every day sparking concern or relief for exhibitors everywhere.

Yesterday’s news that Wonder Woman 84 will receive a theatrical release (albeit heading to HBO Max streaming in the US) would have come as a crumb of comfort to cinemas, even if here in the UK there are serious doubts as to whether cinemas will reopen at all before the end of the year. With another day though comes more uncertainty, with Deadline reporting that Disney is seriously considering moving much of its slate over to premiere on its Disney+ streaming service.

The films reportedly being mooted for a streaming release include several of the stature of Soul and Mulan, movies that have already foregone a theatrical release in favour of a streaming debut.

The Robert Zemeckis-directed Pinocchio, starring Tom Hanks, David Lowery’s Peter Pan And Wendy and Cruella, the 101 Dalmatians prequel starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, are all reportedly set to make a bow on the streaming service rather than waiting for a theatrical release.

With 73 million subscribers already, the studio has almost tripled its subscriber growth since the world went into lockdown in March. That figure dwarves the kind of growth seen by Netflix (who admittedly have a huge market share already) or HBO Max, who have struggled to engage new customers in its native US market.

The numbers are certainly impressive and with all of that subscriber data at their fingertips, it may well be that the House of Mouse is seeing theatrical releases making their bows instead on Disney+ is simply more valuable in terms of boosting subscriptions, an ongoing payment model, as opposed to launching a theatrical run.

There’s no indication yet as to whether these titles will be placed in the service for no extra fee, like Pixar’s Soul will be, or whether a surcharge will be added, as it was with Mulan. What does seem to be apparent however is that Marvel films, including Black Widow are still not being considered for a streaming debut at this time.

The reports will come as another bitter blow for beleaguered cinema chains as they yet again see releases that would have once been big-screen certainties continue to pivot towards the small screen instead. As such, cinemas continue to struggle to amass the kind of high-profile slate slate that will be needed to tempt audiences back in 2021. When we do hear solid confirmation of Disney’s plans though, we’ll let you know.

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