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French Theatrical Release Law Means New Blockbusters Can’t Appear on Disney+ For 3 Years

Jason Gurwin

After a 2-week delay at the request of the French government, Disney+ will launch in France tomorrow, April 7th. In most countries, Disney+ can stream recently released films — and in fact — that is one of the big draws to the service. Unfortunately though, due to a “media chronology” law intended to protect movie theaters, films in France can’t be released on subscription streaming services until 36 months after they hit theaters.

In the U.S. and many other markets, Disney+ includes all films released by Disney ~6-8 months after they appear in theaters. Due to COVID-19 and the shutdown of theaters, Disney has even brought “Frozen 2” (3 months after release) and “Onward” (28 days after release) to the streaming service.

For French streamers, at launch that means that Disney+ will not include films released more recently than 2017.

So while streamers in many markets can get “Avengers: Endgame”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, and “Toy Story 4”, they won’t be available in France right away. They can still stream all the classics like “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Lion King”, “The Little Mermaid”, as well as Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars films not released in the last 3 years.

This isn’t just a rule for Disney. Services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video face the same restrictions, however the services are less sensitive to the rules. Original content that never appears in theaters is exempt, as well as TV series.

For Disney, that means that original movies that debut on Disney+ will be able to appear right away. So streamers in France, will be able to watch “Noelle”, “Togo”, and “Timothy Failure”. With Disney moving “Artemis Fowl” from a theatrical release, straight to Disney+, that will likely be exempt as well.

The question for Disney though, do these rules change the incentives for them to release films theatrically in France? For instance, “Toy Story 4”, which grossed nearly $1.1B worldwide, only made $30 million in France, despite debuting as the number one movie at its release.

Would Disney be better off holding back a theatrical release in France, in order to release it sooner to streaming?

That would probably get gigantic pushback from theater owners — and probably cause France to change the rules to block films that are released theatrically anywhere. But, in a world moving to streaming, Disney will have to consider all options to make Disney+ as competitive as it can be in France.