News & Opinion

Black Widow was a Success and This Changes Everything?

As just about everyone is reporting, the opening weekend of Black Widow, the Scarlett Johansson-led Marvel movie, has set post-pandemic records. Black Widow was a huge success and some think that changes everything. Yeah, yeah, we know. We don’t care. What we care about are the streaming numbers. And they look pretty great.

Streaming vs Box Office

Black Widow brought in $80 million domestically and $78 million internationally at the box office. Streaming, via Disney’s Premier Access feature, brought in $60 million. This is without the all-important China market which hasn’t seen the movie released yet. After crunching the numbers, we end up with a grand total of around $215 million for the weekend (yeah, I’m not sure how they got that number either).

The two takeaways are that the box office did great (the best opening since the last Star Wars movie released in December 2019) and streaming also did well. But what does this mean for the future?

How Much Money was Lost?

We’ve long wanted day-and-date streaming releases. For those of us that invest in home theaters, we know that few movie theaters can compete with what we have at home. But we have to look at the numbers. Studios and movie theater proprietors have often claimed that simultaneous releases would hurt box office sales. At first blush, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even with the streaming release, Black Widow did better at the box office than every other movie released since the start of the pandemic.

But that’s not how some see it. They see that $60 million that Disney made from streaming and think, “That would have been two or three (or more) times that amount if they had gone to the theater. They aren’t wrong. A family of three or more is easily going to spend more than the $30 Disney charged for streaming Black Widow. But would those people really have gone to the theaters?

Here in the USA, We Think it is All About Us

We have to remember that many places in the world don’t have access to vaccines the way we do in the US. We may be opening up (for better or worse) but much of the world isn’t and can’t. That $60 million in streaming isn’t just from the US. It is worldwide. How many of those dollars would be lost if streaming wasn’t an option? Could they really have converted them to more money by forcing people to go to a theater?

And let’s not forget that many theaters worldwide have closed. Even with the reduced number of theaters, Black Widow still did remarkably well. People did go to the theaters where they could. Where they couldn’t (or, in my case, where I wouldn’t), they streamed. And Disney reaped the benefits.

Is Streaming Here to Stay?

It is far too early to claim that the success of Black Widow forecasts a paradigm shift in how we will consume movies in the future. I would love to say “Yes,” but I wouldn’t believe it. With part of the world opening up, and others still languishing under the pandemic, we are in a unique moment in world history. And don’t think that international companies like Disney don’t realize this.

Day-and-date releases of movies are something that has met huge resistance in the past. But with the pandemic. companies have had the opportunity to experiment with new content delivery methods. And remember, only 2% of Disney+ subscribers chose to stream Black Widow. That’s a lot of people (~2 million households) but not a large percentage. Once the world fully reopens, will Disney continue to stream new releases? That remains to be seen.

The Delicate Balance

The key here is that studios have always felt the need to appease theater owners. Any hint that they might try to shorten the theatrical release window has met with huge resistance. As we look at the box office returns, the streaming revenue is only around 28% of the box office take. But what if that percentage changes? If it gets lower, Disney might decide streaming isn’t worth the bad will from the theaters. If it is higher, the theaters may revolt.

The fact is that Disney is in a very interesting position. They own some of the most desired and profitable franchises (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, etc.). Theaters are going to have a hard time saying they won’t show those movies as an act of defiance. They could strongarm theaters into doing whatever they want. But is it worth the hassle?

It Comes Down to Us

I streamed Cruella. It was fairly terrible and I didn’t enjoy it. But I paid the $30 because I wanted to send a message to Disney: “Give me more of this, please.” The studios have the supply, but we must show the demand. We must let them know, with our dollars, that we want access to day-and-date streaming.

Black Widow was a success pretty much all the way around, and it does change everything. If it had failed at either the box office or on streaming, we would be in a different position. But it didn’t. It did great at the box office showing that theatrical releases are once again viable. And it also did well on streaming showing that day-and-date streaming is also something people want.

Do I think Disney (or anyone else) will start to release all their movies day-and-date to theaters and streaming? No. But if people keep streaming movies when they are available, we can expect the big blockbusters to be more and more available to stream. And for me, that’s a win.

What do you think? Did you stream Black Widow or see it in theaters? Or maybe both? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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