LOS ANGELES - The Walt Disney Company is pivoting to a "direct-to-consumer first" business model, which means putting new and existing content on streaming platforms such as Disney+ - and increasingly bypassing cinemas and traditional television channels.
It revealed that Disney+, which launched a year ago, now has 86.6 million subscribers globally. This is compared to the 195 million subscribers to Netflix, currently the No. 1 on-demand streaming service worldwide.
The media behemoth also announced that Disney+ will launch in Singapore on Feb 23 next year, with more than 500 films and 15,000 episodes of content accessible for a subscription fee of $11.98 a month or $119.98 a year.
In a presentation for investors and fans beamed from its Los Angeles production lot on Dec 10 (Los Angeles time) - and as the company's stock price hit an all-time high - it unveiled dozens of upcoming films and series from Disney and other brands within its stable, including Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and National Geographic.
Many are reboots and spin-offs from titles in its vast library, but with an emphasis on "quality, not volume", according to chairman Bob Iger.
Over the next few years, the company will release - as "Disney+ Originals" - roughly 10 Marvel series, 10 Star Wars series and 30 live-action and animated series and features. All will be new and released directly on Disney+.
Some of these, such as the animated Pixar movie Soul, were initially slated for a theatrical release but will now debut exclusively on Disney+ in the United States this Christmas. The film opens in cinemas in Singapore on Dec 25.
But chief executive officer Bob Chapek stopped short of replicating rival WarnerMedia's radical announcement that it will release all 2021 Warner Bros films in cinemas and on its HBO Max streaming service simultaneously - a move some observers believe sounds a death knell for the theatrical movie-going experience.
Instead, Chapek said the company will be flexible about when and on which platform it would deliver and debut its content, especially given changing consumer preferences and the "prolonged uncertainty due to the pandemic".
Regardless of where it originates, however, all content will eventually end up on Disney+ and other direct-to-consumer platforms the company owns, which includes services such as Hulu and ESPN+ in the United States.
The company is prioritising and ramping up the production of original content for these platforms and will add something new to Disney+ every week, whether it is a Disney+ Original, a previous theatrical release or something from its library.
In light of continued Covid-19 related challenges in the marketplace, tentpole films such as the animated Raya And The Last Dragon - inspired by South-east Asian culture and voiced by actresses Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina - will be released on Disney+, for a premium, at the same time as it debuts in theatres next March (2021).
Disney+ offerings will vary somewhat in different countries.
In Singapore, there will be content under six banners: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and Star, the Asian content brand and Disney's general entertainment content brand outside the US.
No details have been released on how the launch of Disney+ will affect Disney titles that are currently accessible on traditional TV and cable platforms in Singapore, such as the Fox, FX and National Geographic channels on StarHub and SingTel TV.
Viewers in Singapore can subscribe to the new service on the Disney+ website or the Disney+ app, and register at DisneyPlus.com to receive updates.
Bonanza for Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar fans
Disney has announced a slew of new titles currently in production or development and eventually coming to Disney+. Some of these titles were announced previously; some were announced for the first time at the presentation in Los Angeles on Dec 10. It did not specify whether all the following will be released first or exclusively on Disney+, or as "Disney+ Originals" in the United States and elsewhere.
Below are some of the highlights.
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron: A movie about a group of fighter pilots which will be directed by Wonder Woman (2017) film-maker Patty Jenkins for release in 2023.
An untitled Star Wars film is also in the pipeline from writer-director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, 2017).
Obi-Wan Kenobi: Ewan McGregor will reprise his role as the Jedi master and Hayden Christian will return as a young Darth Vader for this, one of 10 new Star Wars series headed for Disney+.
Lando: A series devoted to Lando Calrissian, the smuggler-turned-rebel played by Billy Dee Williams and Donald Glover in the films, is being developed by director Justin Simien (Dear White People, 2014).
Ahsoka and Rangers Of The New Republic: Two series set in the universe of The Mandalorian (2019 to now), one of the most popular shows on Disney+.
Michelle Yeoh is joining the cast of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, Marvel's first film with an Asian lead, which opens in July (2021) and co-stars Simu Liu, Tony Leung and Awkwafina.
Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson as superhero Natasha Romanoff, will still open in cinemas next May, and eventually land on Disney+.
A Black Panther sequel: T'Challa, the hero played by Chadwick Boseman in the groundbreaking 2018 film, will not be recast out of respect for the late actor, who died of cancer earlier this year. Instead, a sequel due out in 2022 and written and directed by Ryan Coogler will explore other characters in that world.
WandaVision: Marvel's first Disney+ series has Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their characters from the Avengers films, Wanda Maximoff and Vision. It debuts in the US in January.
The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan from the Marvel films, debuts in March and is described as a "six-episode Marvel movie".
Loki: This genre-bending series starring Tom Hiddleston puts the villain from the Thor films in the centre of his own crime thriller.
Hawkeye: A series starring Jeremy Renner as the title character will debut in 2021 with Hailee Steinfeld now added to the cast.
She-Hulk: A series starring Orphan Black (2013 to 2017) actress Tatiana Maslany, who will be joined by Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk.
Secret Invasion: A series with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury from the Avengers films and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos from Captain Marvel (2019). Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige dubbed this "the biggest crossover comic event of the last 20 years".
The legendary animation studio is spinning off two new series from two of its biggest hits. Dug Days - about the squirrel-obsessed golden retriever from the movie Up (2009) - debuts late next year. A second untitled show, for 2022, reunites characters from the Cars movies, Lightning McQueen and Mater, as they go on an epic road trip.
Disney Animation Studios
Raya And The Last Dragon - with Kelly Marie Tran voicing a young warrior and Awkwafina as a dragon - will be simultaneously released in theatres and as a premium offering on Disney+ next March.
In 2022 and 2023, there will be a musical series inspired by the 2016 film Moana; a show about Baymax, the robot from Big Hero 6 (2014); and Zootopia+, which explores minor characters from the 2016 film Zootopia, such as the lovable sloth.
Harrison Ford will reprise his role as the swashbuckling archaeologist in the fifth and final movie in the beloved franchise, slated for release in 2022.
Warwick Davis will return as the titular sorcerer from the 1988 fantasy drama Willow in a film directed by Jon Chu and due out in 2022.