Disney+ continues to bank on straight-to-streaming approach for Pixar movies

Disney has announced that its upcoming Pixar film, Turning Red, will be skipping theaters to debut exclusively on Disney+ on March 11th. When the movie hits the streaming platform in a couple months, it’ll mark the third consecutive Pixar release to head straight to Disney+, following both Luca and Soul from last year.

By contrast, Disney Animation’s Raya and the Last Dragon was released simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney+ (for $30), while the recent Disney Animation film Encanto was given an exclusive 30-day window in theaters before coming to Disney+. It’s likely that Disney has been experimenting with release strategies to see what works best in the middle of a pandemic.

At the same time, as noted by Variety, Disney has been quite deliberate with its Pixar movies in particular, as if the firm is saving its “crown jewels” to bolster its streaming platform. Disney+, which has reached almost 120 million subscribers since it launched a couple years ago, has experienced a recent slowdown in subscriber growth, adding just 2 million subscribers in its last quarter compared to over 12 million in the quarter before that.

“For the SVOD OTT market, competition has entered a new stage. Consumers are largely aware of the top services and what they offer, so competition has become even more intense,” said Brett Sappington, Vice President of Interpret. “In addition to acquisition of new subscribers, Disney and other service providers are considering churn, retention, and re-acquisition of customers in their original content release strategies. Offering premium Pixar movies is a way to both keep and attract viewers.”

While there’s no question that Disney+ has benefitted from its exclusive programming like The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Wandavision, and more, there are many families with children who may not wish to risk entering a theater to see a new animated film from Disney/Pixar. Moreover, with so much market instability around the box office at the moment, Disney clearly wants to prioritize a strategy that does more for its bottom line – much to the chagrin of struggling theater operators.  Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, said in a statement recently, “Given the delayed box office recovery, particularly for family films, flexibility remains at the core of our distribution decisions.”

Interpret’s VideoWatch shows why animated films are so important to Disney+ as a platform. Disney+ leads all other streaming services when it comes to subscribers watching family/animated content in the past week. In fact, both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are seven percentage points behind Disney+ in this category.