The announcement last month that Pixar’s Soul would debut on Disney+ free for subscribers, without the $30 “premier access” price tag attached to Mulan, led to speculation that the live-action remake’s performance had been underwhelming. However, Disney CEO Bob Chapek claims this was not the case, and in fact hinted that more films could receive the premier access treatment in the near future.
“From a studio content standpoint, we were very pleased with the results of Mulan as a premier access title,” Chapek said on an earnings call Thursday, while seemingly admitting that the controversy around the film damaged its performance: “Unfortunately, that title met with some controversy, both in the U.S. and internationally, shortly after we released it. But we saw enough very positive results before that controversy started to know that we’ve got something here in terms of the premier access strategy. And I think we’ll talk a little bit more about that at the investor conference in December.”
Mulan generated a wave of negative buzz after viewers noticed “special thanks” to several Chinese government entities in the film’s credits, some of which have been directly linked to China’s genocidal efforts against Uighur Muslims. Disney has stated that they merely cooperated with the Chinese government in order to film brief landscape shots within the country. Earlier, controversy also arose after Mulan star Yifei Liu shared a social media post in support of the Hong Kong police force, which was under international scrutiny for alleged brutality against pro-democracy protesters.
Disney has yet to disclose any official data on Mulan’s financial performance.
Chapek added that Soul was intended to further increase the value of the Disney+ library. “In terms of Soul, we also realized… that part of the lifeblood of Disney+ is providing great content to the base-level subscribers that are in there,” the CEO said. “And so the idea is that we thought it was a really nice gesture to our subscribers to take Soul during the holiday period and provide that as part of the service. But I think what we’ve learned with Mulan is that there’s going to be a role for it strategically within our portfolio of offerings.”
Disney+ has remained a bright spot amid a difficult year for Disney, which has seen its parks business and box office earnings drastically reduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. (2020 marked the company’s first annual loss in more than 40 years.) The streaming service gained another 16 million subscribers in the fiscal year’s fourth quarter, for a total of 73.7 million just a year after its launch.
“We’ve got a unique combination of assets in this company that are all at play right now in Disney+, where we’ve not only got the most desirable library in the world… but we also realize that new content that we put [out] adds subscribers,” Chapek said.
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