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Disney+ May Not Continue Premier Access in 2022

Ben Bowman

Disney+ Premier Access allows subscribers to watch movies on the same day as they arrive in theaters. In theory, this is a win-win strategy for the streamer and subscribers. The company gets additional revenue ($29.99 per movie) while the audience gets the chance to watch a movie at home earlier than normal. But the plan hasn’t worked quite as well as Disney might have hoped. Now, CEO Bob Chapek says the company hasn’t committed to keeping Premier Access beyond its 2021 release slate.

The biggest Disney+ release was the July 2020 premiere of “Hamilton,” but that was available to all subscribers. Its success may have inspired the Premier Access plan, which was first available for “Mulan.” But the “Mulan” release only drew a fraction of “Hamilton’s” new subscribers. The next Premier Access title, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” drew fewer still.

Part of the problem may be that these Premier Access titles are available to regular Disney+ subscribers who are willing to wait three months for the films to be included in the regular subscription price. For a remake like “Mulan” or an original film not based on a pre-existing property like “Raya,” the wait appears not to bother Disney+ subscribers.

The biggest test will come on July 9 with “Black Widow.” It will be the first Marvel movie to hit theaters in over two years, and it’s widely expected to be one of the top box office draws of the year. If Disney+ can’t rake in the money with a Marvel film on Premier Access, it’s probably not worth continuing the program. (Disney’s live-action “Cruella” will hit Premier Access on May 28, but it doesn’t offer the same buzz as the MCU.)

On today’s Disney earnings call, Chapek explained that Premier Access exists, in part, to provide a viewing option to audiences who may not feel comfortable seeing a movie in a theater. But this afternoon, the CDC announced that if you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart (minus some exceptions). As more Americans get the vaccine, you might imagine the appeal of staying home to stream yet another movie may wear thin.

Chapek’s announcement that they have not committed to extending Premier Access beyond 2021 seems to make perfect sense. But if “Black Widow” can move the needle, you can expect that it will stick around, especially for the biggest Disney properties.

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