The Confusing Times of Black Widow’s Delay

Yesterday what everyone has expected for about a week officially happened as Disney removed Black Widow from the theatrical calendar without a new release date. With Black Widow off the schedule, Disney is now sitting on four movies (soon five with Artemis Foul) without set release dates and money being lost by the day.

The popular article people ran yesterday was speculating about how the delay could derail the entire MCU. That’s not something I’m going to speculate about right now, because such articles are assuming that Disney is just sitting on their hands and they aren’t exploring any option to recover their lost revenue.

The closure of every movie theater in the United States, and in several other countries around the world, is a huge blow to movie studios like Disney who spend billions of dollars to produce a slate of movies, which are now sitting and collecting dust. Their money is now seriously being threatened, and when that happens they realize they need to adapt or die.

“The world’s changing. It’s time we changed too.”

Yesterday a ran an article speculating that Disney would follow Universal’s lead and release their theatrical movies via VOD. Universal is using Comcast’s streaming platform to release The Hunt, The Invisible Man, and Trolls: World Tour for $19.99 via a 48 hour rental. I speculated that Disney could harness Disney+ for something similar, possibly adding an optional higher-priced tier for access to the day-and-date movies.

A lot of people really didn’t like the idea because they demanded the movie be released in theaters (one fan Twitter account even threatened violence against the studio if they didn’t do so), others were scared about theaters going away because they worked at one or they have a close tie to the theater industry. Believe me, I sympathize. I love going to the theater to see a movie, there’s no better way to experience one. But these are confusing times and the world is rapidly changing.

There’s still no guarantee that theaters will reopen within the next few months. It’s entirely possible they remain shuttered throughout the summer. And even if they were to reopen in August or September, there’s the problem of people being afraid to go around crowds. It’s entirely possible that if and when theaters return, they’ll be forever changed.

That’s why studios like Universal are looking towards VOD. Releasing the movies that way not only gives people content to enjoy when they’re locked in isolation, but it also saves the studio from losing money with the movies they spent money to produce not playing in theaters.

I saw people yesterday claiming they wanted Black Widow to be in a theater because they couldn’t afford to pay to see it streaming. Which makes no sense. The average movie ticket price in the US is about $10, but realistically people are paying much more than that. It’s not uncommon for a ticket to be $15-20 in many areas. That’s why Universal is charging $20 for their VOD movies.

The other big complaint I saw was that Disney+ wasn’t world-wide yet. It’s launching in much of Western Europe and India next week, and the reason why it’s taking longer for other countries is due to existing licensing deals regarding Disney’s content. Disney licensed out their movies and shows to other companies prior to their streaming decision, and those deals need to expire or be renegotiated before the service could launch in those countries.

This is just speculation, and I don’t know if it could realistically happen, but perhaps Disney could launch a VOD-only version of Disney+ just to distribute their day-and-date movies early in those other countries. Then when those licensing deals expire and they can release the rest of the catalog, the service can be upgraded to what it is around the world.

Whatever happens, it’s a bit too early to speculate how the Black Widow delay could derail the entire MCU. Disney isn’t going to let money, and their biggest franchise, to sit on the table and go to waste. Even though everyone is working from home, I’m sure they’re having daily meetings via Skype or Zoom to figure out the next step. And it probably won’t be too long until we hear what they decided to do.