Every time Disney CEO Bob Iger does an earnings call with investors we end up with several big new headlines. Yesterday was no different. The man, as per usual, was completely on brand with promises of more reboots, fewer theatrical releases, and a loss-leading consumer offering which will kneecap the competition. I react to all of that below:
Home Alone, Night at the Museum, Wimpy Kid Are Getting Disney+ Reboots – MovieWeb
In the streaming wars, a leading talking point has emerged: volume. At the Television Critics Association Press Tour last week, Amazon’s Jennifer Salke memorably proclaimed, “We’re not in the volume business.” Netflix, however, is. Thus the two opposite poles: do you carefully curate your content and emphasize quality over quantity or do you simply take a firehose approach and shoot more content at consumers than anyone could ever reasonably anticipate?
Iger’s entire philosophy on the film side of things has been to pare back the quantity and focus on brands while also hopefully ensuring a bare minimum of quality. He’s now bringing that to Disney+, which won’t try to beat Netflix at the volume because it doesn’t have to.
At launch, Disney+ will have a fraction of Netflix’s total hours of original content, and according to the company’s own projections that won’t seriously change for several more years. However, Disney+ will be like a grocery store with all of the big name brands you at least know and recognize compared to Netflix’s parade of knock-offs, weirdly marked boxes in a language you don’t understand, and generics. You might find more rewarding and better tastes at the latter, but it’s just going to be easier on your life to stick to the former. Plus, since it’s Disney, they’re going to have all the best brands and a crapton of them.
The above “grocery store” metaphor has been brought to you by “I wrote this right before breakfast and can’t stop thinking about that new yogurt I’m going to get at the store.” Moving on.
Thus it is with a complete lack of surprise that I respond to Iger’s promise to bring new versions of Home Alone, Night at the Museum, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Cheaper By the Dozen to Disney+. Buying Fox was never about buying a company to make brave new movies for theatrical release. It was about gobbling up a rich back catalog to backfill Disney+ and Hulu while also acting as a launching pad for countless reboots and thus adding to the branded volume. They don’t get any more “tailor-made for Disney” than Home Alone, Night at the Museum, Wimpy Kid, and Cheaper By the Dozen. The specifics – who stars?, are they true reboots or sequels/requel?, when will they launch? – will come out in time, but I imagine there will be more reboot announcements like this in the future.
My pitch: do an alt-viewpoint take on Home Alone where we see The Sticky Bandits’ full side of the story. Or do a sequel about Kevin McCallister’s daughter. In fact, I’ll be stunned if there isn’t some kind of gender switch or race switch or both going on here.
Final note: The inaugural entries in the Home Alone and Night at the Museum franchises come in at #’s 9 and 11 on the unadjusted list of 20th Century Fox’s all-time biggest movies. Looking through the rest of the top 20, does this mean it’s only a matter of time before we get a new Mrs. Doubtfire or Alvin and the Chipmunks?
Disney Sets Course for Pared-Down 20th Century Fox Amid $170M Loss – THR
Iger had to spin all of his exec talk on the earnings call around the news that Disney’s financials actually came in below expectations last quarter. That happens more often than you’d think. The House that Walt built might have an ironclad grip on the film business, but it has several leaky boats in other areas – like ESPN and the cable business – which negatively impacts the bottom line. This time, Fox was the culprit as Iger’s big new purchase laid a giant goose egg for him, wildly missing on every one of its new Disney-released movies, big (Dark Phoenix) or small (Stuber).
“The Fox studio performance … was well below where it had been and well below where we’d hoped it would be when we made the acquisition,” Iger said with all the pleasure of a new dog owner sadly reporting that the happy puppy he met at the shelter is now shitting and peeing all over the house. Perhaps, Iger later acknowledged, Fox’s turn for the worse had something to do with its employees living for a year and a half – from when the takeover was announced to when it was finalized – with the specter of losing their jobs simply because Rupert Murdoch got bored and the Justice Department looked the other way. The work they produced during that period is what has been hitting theaters this year.
To be fair, the thousands of layoffs Disney was expected to institute as part of “efficiencies” has thus far barely risen over 100, but THR is happy to point out that a financial quarter like the one Fox just experienced would ordinarily result in heads rolling regardless of corporate ownership. Iger could do that, but he’s already purged the studio of most of its executives and the few that have stayed on to transfer to Disney aren’t apparently going anywhere. Emma Watts, the vice chairman of the 20th Century Fox label, is actually nearing a new deal which would keep her in control of franchises like Avatar and Planet of the Apes.
Going forward, however, Fox is going to have to make due with fewer films. From THR: “Sources say the 20th Century Fox silo could make 10 or more movies a year, with half or more headed directly for Disney’s new streaming service or Hulu, now controlled by Disney.” The studio had been averaging 21 releases a year over the past half decade. That obviously wasn’t going to last under Iger, and now we know that to be true. This means the movie theater industry can expect more and more instances like this last weekend where there isn’t a single new release beyond the latest big blockbuster of the moment. The trends, they a’ trending the same.
As for Fox Searchlight, the Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley-run speciality studio responsible for four of the last ten Best Picture winners, Iger remains vaguely aware of their existence and is cool with them as long as they bring eyeballs to his streaming services. Or, to quote him exactly, “Fox Searchlight will continue to make the prestige films it’s known for, while expanding its high-quality original storytelling into the [direct to consumer] space.”
Disney+ Streaming Bundle Includes Hulu & ESPN+ for $12.99 a Month – MovieWeb
This newly announced bundle – pairing Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN+ for the same price of a Netflix membership – might as well as just be called the “Fuck You, Netflix” plan. At a time when Netflix is nearing its ceiling on a price point consumers will continue to tolerate, Disney+ is just wildly setting a new floor for the entire industry, and we the consumers should absolutely take advantage while we can. Even if you don’t care about sports or whatever infotainment ESPN is cranking out these days, a $12.99 starting point for a Disney/Hulu bundle is an insanely good deal, although it does come with a catch – it’s just the version of Hulu with ads. As of now, there are no plans to offer a bundle which includes the ad-free version of Hulu.