One of the selling points of Disney's own streaming service is the promise of theatrical movies coming to the service shortly after they have rounded out their runs in movie theaters.
However, as time has gone on that gap between theatrical and streaming releases has ballooned.
Avatar 2 Is a Sign of a Changing Disney Strategy
As fans continue to show frustration over the question of Avatar 2's streaming release, this ever-growing gap may be a sign of a new norm at Disney.
By the time Avatar: The Way of Water hits Disney+, it will likely be more than 170 days from the theatrical premiere to the blockbuster showing up on the streamer. (As of the time of publishing, it's been 140 days since it hit theaters)
This would be the longest time gap from a theatrical debut to streaming on Disney+ for one of the studio's blockbusters since Disney unveiled its own streaming service.
Taking a look at the recently released tentpole films from Disney and their Disney+ debuts one can see a trend of these theatrical-to-streaming times getting longer and longer.
See the list of notable titles since 2022 below:
- Encanto - 30 days
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness - 47 days
- The Bob's Burgers Movie - 47 days
- Lightyear - 47 days
- Thor: Love and Thunder - 62 days
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - 82 days
- Strange World - 30 days
- Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania - 89 days
Why Is Disney Holding Back its Disney+ Releases?
This change in strategy is likely due to the ongoing correction Hollywood is seeing as the streaming bubble of the past few years begins to level out.
After the global COVID-19 pandemic almost sunk movie theaters entirely, box office numbers are only just starting to hit that pre-pandemic level again. However, one thing that has changed since the world went into lockdown back in 2020, is the change in viewing habits.
With studios (like Disney) throwing some of their titles directly onto streaming at no additional charge (i.e. Pixar's Soul) or coming to streamers after a shorter than usual theatrical run (i.e. Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings), some moviegoers have opted to wait for streaming rather than spend their money at their local cinema.
And after a bit of figuring out what worked best for their Disney+ releases, it seemed Disney had settled around 30-50 days before a Disney+ launch for a film.
But with changing market conditions and the reality of the cost of streaming settling in, Disney seems to be actively working to disincentivize the behavior of waiting for a title to hit Disney+.
By pushing streaming debuts further out, like they seem to be doing with Avatar: The Way of Water, and having the film either still playing in theaters or available to purchase on video-on-demand storefronts, audiences will be more inclined to spend their money on a film instead of wait for it to come to Disney+.
What will be important here is finding that happy medium, a Disney+ release date that is far enough out for Disney to make the money they want to make, but one that also will not harbor any ill will toward the studio for making fans wait too long and unsubscribing from the streamer.
And this Avatar: The Way of Water-mark may be the thing that pushes this strategy to the edge.