Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a major shift in how films are released around the world, since with cinemas closed or with restricted seating, film studios have been experimenting with different release methods, including shorter theatrical windows, direct to streaming, premium rentals and a hybrid model.
Disney+ Premier Access has been a controversial experiment on many fronts. Some people didn’t agree with paying a premium to watch a film from home, others liked the option to watch the latest films from the comfort of their homes. But the biggest issue that Disney+ Premier Access caused was when Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit over the loss of income over the hybrid release approach, which caused lots of problems for Disney. With both sides taking their arguments public and splitting opinions over who is right and wrong.
During a recent Q&A session at the Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference, Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke about how they’ve had to adjust deals with talent, saying:
Disney has had a long history of having very symbiotic and cooperative deals with the talent and we will continue to. Certainly, the world is changing and I think the talent deals going forward will have to reflect the fact that the world is changing. But we’re in a moment of time just like so much of what we’ve talked about so far, we’re in a moment of time where films were envisioned under one understanding about what the world would be because frankly it hadn’t really changed much.
But remember those films were made three or four years ago. Those deals were cut three or four years ago. And then they get launched into the middle of a global pandemic where that pandemic itself is accelerating the second dynamic, which is this change in consumer behavior. So we’re sort of putting a square peg in a round hole right now where we’ve got a deal that’s conceived under a certain set of conditions that actually results in a movie that’s being released in a completely different set.
So there’s bit of a reset that’s going on right now. And ultimately, we’ll think about that as we do our future talent deals and plan for that and make sure that that’s incorporated. But right now, we’ve got sort of this middle position where we’re trying to do right by the talent. I think the talents trying to do right by us, and we’re just sort of figuring out our way to sort of bridge the gap. But ultimately, we believe that our talent is our most important asset and we’ll continue to believe that. And as we always have, we’ll compensate them fairly per the terms of the contracts that they agreed to us with.
Dwayne Johnson, Emma Stone and Emily Blunt have all had sequels greenlight by Disney, which will have no doubt have had their deals increased to higher than normal to offset the loss of the Disney+ Premier Access experiment.
Disney has also committed to a 45-day theatrical window for the rest of its 2021 film releases and with the current lawsuit between Disney and Scarlett Johansson underway, these words from Bob Chapek do seem to indicate that they are trying to do the right thing by its talent, while also understanding that box office numbers might not go back to pre-pandemic levels.
This does sound like he is trying to pull back from the situation and with Disney trying to get the public back on side, but we’ll have to see if that situation is going to be resolved privately, which is what I’d expect to happen. These comments will no doubt be used by Scarlet Johannson’s team to indicate something went wrong.
We can expect new deals to be much heavy front-loaded, with larger paychecks to sign on, but with less box office bonuses included, so Disney can take advantage of a quicker release window. This won’t just be Disney, other film studios will and are doing the same. Warner Media had a similar issue when they shifted their entire 2021 theatrical release schedule to HBO Max.
What do you think of Bob’s comments?