Why Isn’t Disney Releasing Fox’s Films on Disney+ With Premier Access?
In March 2019, Disney officially acquired 20th Century Fox. From that moment on, future Fox content would be controlled by Disney, and Fox’s film content would be distributed the same way as Disney’s films. Or would they? In response to the CoronaPocalypse, Disney decided to add Premier Access to Disney+. This meant, as Disney+ is primarily a streaming service, subscribers would have to pay a little extra (US$29.99, basically $8 plus the average movie ticket price) to watch them. While some of their films that were originally intended for a theatrical release like Artemis Fowl, Hamilton, The One and Only Ivan, and the Pixar movies, Soul and Luca were released straight to Disney+ for the regular subscription, Disney began using Premier Access to release their movies starting in September 2020 with Mulan. This summer of 2021 was…interesting…to say the least. Disney released four films. Black Widow, Cruella, Jungle Cruise, and Free Guy. Disney released the first three simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+ Premier Access. I’m gonna be using the word “simultaneously” a lot. Based on the fact that Disney now owns 20th Century Fox (I refuse to call them by their new name) and their content, you’d think that Fox’s new releases, including Free Guy, would have been given the same treatment…right? Wrong.
Fox’s releases were given a different treatment. While some were released simultaneously in theatres and to rent on other VOD platforms (i.e. iTunes; Amazon) like The New Mutants, only in theatres like Free Guy or straight to one of Disney’s streaming services (depending on the film’s MPAA rating) like Vacation Friends, others were sold to other third-party streaming services. For instance, Fox 2000 Pictures’ last production, The Woman In The Window starring Amy Adams, was sold to Netflix, despite Disney having a 67% equity stake in Hulu in the U.S. and Disney+ having the STAR content hub outside of the U.S., allowing them to carry R-rated content. If Disney/Fox released it exclusively on Hulu in the U.S as “A Hulu Original” and on Disney+STAR in Canada as “A Star Original” and sold the rights to distribute in others countries to Netflix (or Apple TV+, seeing how the Steven P. Jobs Trust holds 7% of The Walt Disney Company’s stock) for half the film’s budget, that would’ve made more sense. Then again, Paramount and Universal sold a lot of their films to other third-party streaming services like Netflix and Amazon despite having their own respective streaming services, Paramount+ and Peacock. Besides, Disney/Fox dodged a HUGE bullet. I don’t even take out my own trash bags. Let someone else do it. One man’s trash is still trash in someone else’s eyes. This is the same studio that made Artemis Fowl, Mars Needs Moms, The Lone Ranger and The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, and The Woman In The Window is the film they sold to Netflix. As if being a ripoff to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, one of my all-time favorite movies, wasn’t bad enough. I mean, for goodness sake, the opening scene showed the ending to Rear Window on the TV screen, so already they ask us to make comparisons. Netflix didn’t even bother giving the film a limited theatrical release before its premiere on Netflix and it wasn’t because theatres were closed because they weren’t. In fact, Netflix released Zack Snyder’s Army of The Dead that same month and it was released simultaneously on Netflix and in select theatres. The Woman In The Window was not and you know a Netflix Original movie is gonna be good if they don’t screen it in select theatres first (COUGH Bright; COUGH COUGH The Cloverfield Paradox). Disney/Fox could’ve sold the U.S/Canadian distribution rights to HBO Max, as a way of saying “thank you” to Warner Brothers for selling Cloud to Disney+. But Netflix bought the worldwide distribution rights to The Woman In The Window from Disney/Fox. They won’t #SaveHellboy3 (yet) but they’ll buy every studio’s garbage.
But let’s be honest. The only reason Disney bought Fox was so Disney would get the rights to distribute the first 6 Star Wars episodes and the rights to make X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool movies. Everything else is just dead weight unless it’s a profitable franchise. The Woman In The Window is just one of many unwanted stepchildren. Why do you think Disney shut down Blue Sky Studios instead of selling it like they sold Miramax Films (but another topic for another article)?
But The Woman In The Window is not the only Fox release that has been sold to a third-party streaming service. The rights to distribute Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a New Regency production, worldwide (except China because Hollywood’s all about those Chinese profits) have been sold to Amazon Studios. Not exactly surprising. The only Regency (co-)productions on Disney+ thus far, or that I could find anyway, are the live-action Alvin and The Chipmunks quadrilogy (because life is a joke), Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ad Astral, and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. I can’t seem to find any of the others. Not even, surprisingly enough, Daredevil and its spin-off, Electra (in North America at least) despite being co-produced/co-financed by Fox and being based on the Marvel Comics of the same name. You’d think they’d be one of the “Marvel Legacy” titles on Disney+ alongside Fox’s X-Men and Fantastic Four movies, but no. Then again, this isn’t Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. This isn’t Drew Goddard’s writing/directing. This is Mark Steven Johnson’s writing/directing. This is Ben Affleck’s pre-Batman acting. Again, trashy. Then again, Fant4stic and Dark Phoenix are ten times worse than Daredevil and Electra and they’re on Disney+.
But I digress. If Disney/Fox didn’t finance any part of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and were only acting as a distributor, why would they turn down an opportunity to earn free money off of distributing third-party content (which Regency presumably financed via pre-selling the non-U.S./non-Canadian TV distribution rights to foreign distributors) for an 8-10% distribution fee? All they’d have to worry about is advertising costs. Then again, Paramount sold their distribution rights to the Best Pictures-nominated Cross Creek Pictures/Amblin Partners co-production, The Trial of The Chicago 7 to Netflix despite Paramount only serving as a distributor and having Paramount+ and Universal sold their distribution rights to Amblin Partners’ upcoming Finch to Apple TV+ despite Universal only being a distributor (or at least I think) and having Peacock. If Disney/Fox released Everybody’s Talking About Jaime exclusively on one of their own streaming services, then Regency wouldn’t make any money off it unless Disney/Fox compensated them. But would Disney have sold Everybody’s Talking About Jaime to Amazon if Fox financed any part of it? If Disney/Fox released it in theatres and on Premier Access and it failed to break even at the box office worldwide, Disney+ could pay Regency a backstop for the remainder of the money they spent on it. At least Amazon actually bothered giving Everybody’s Talking About Jamie a limited release in select U.S. theatres before its premiere on Prime Video.
So why exactly isn’t Disney releasing Fox films on Premier Access? It wasn’t until recently, I realized Disney has the option to distribute their films simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+ Premier Access because Disney holds the pay-TV/SVOD rights to their own movies. Then, it dawned on me. Before the Disney-Fox merger, 20th Century Fox made pay-TV/SVOD output deals with HBO (in the U.S.), Crave (in Canada; either directly from Fox or under exclusive sub-license from HBO), and Sky (in the UK, Ireland, Italy, and Germany) where once a year, the streaming service and/or premium network pays Fox a huge amount of money (i.e. FX paid Universal $300 million before their contract got terminated) in exchange for exclusive pay-TV/SVOD rights Fox’s upcoming slate of films. The deal with HBO began in 2012 and expires in 2022. So Disney would then have the option to release Fox’s upcoming films (that are NOT rated R as Disney+ doesn’t carry R-rated content in the U.S.) in the U.S. simultaneously in theatres and on Premier Access next year. I’m not quite sure when the deals with Crave or Sky expire. If Crave sub-licenses THEIR rights from HBO, then there you go. So, until each deal expires, Disney may not have the option to release Fox’s upcoming films in theatres and on Premier Access, at least not simultaneously or in the countries I have mentioned, because HBO, Crave and Sky have the first pay-TV/SVOD rights to them, so they won’t be available on Disney+ until after each film finishes their run on HBO, Crave and Sky. If Disney did release them simultaneously in theatres and on Disney+ Premier Access said countries, that would technically be a breach of contract and Disney has enough lawsuits on their hands as it is (COUGH ScarJo). Unless…unless Disney paid each of Fox’s said partners a large sum of money to allow Disney to release Fox’s films simultaneously in theatres and on Premier Access during each film’s 90-day theatrical window or, at least, the last 45 days and then take them off Disney+ until after they finish their run on HBO, Crave and Sky. But why would Disney want to spend more money releasing a few movies on Premier Access? They wanna risk losing less, not more. Unless they knew for sure it would make a ton of money.
But Disney wouldn’t need to do that with HBO because Disney has Movies Anywhere, a United States-exclusive cloud-based digital locker and VOD platform. Disney wouldn’t need to release Fox’s films on Premier Access in the U.S. because they already have a VOD platform there for buying/renting movies. Disney could release Fox’s films in the U.S. simultaneously in theatres and to rent on Movies Anywhere for the average movie ticket price. But then that begs the question. If Disney has Movies Anywhere in the U.S., why does Disney+ have Premier Access in the U.S.? It makes sense for them to have it outside the U.S. as Movies Anywhere is only available in the U.S. but why have Premier Access in the U.S if Disney already has a VOD platform? Perhaps for the same reason, Warner Bros. releases their films simultaneously in theatres and on HBO Max despite WarnerMedia’s parent company, AT&T also owns DirecTV, which also has DirecTV Cinema for buying/renting movies. It’s all about preferences, popularity, and connivance. Streaming services are all the rage now. So, the average person would use an SVOD (subscribe video on demand) service as oppose to a VOD (video on demand) service. Because it’d be cheaper. Why spend hundreds of dollars buying/renting movies and shows when you can get hundreds for just a monthly subscription? But then how do the studios recoup their money off a monthly subscription? At least Disney+ has Premier Access for additional charges. HBO Max, Peacock, Hulu, and Paramount+…don’t.
With (almost) everyone getting vaccinated and (almost) no one dying and with the backlash, Disney got from how they released Black Widow, Disney decided to release the latest MCU entry, Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings ONLY in theatres. Warner Bros. made a similar deal with AMC Theatres for screening their films at their various locations 45 days before HBO Max streams them. Don’t get me wrong. I long for the day we get to see a movie ONLY in theatres without having to worry about Covid, but is it worth risking death to see a movie ONLY in theatres today when the officials haven’t exactly given the “all clear” to come out of self-isolation? How long before the next lockdown again? Disney at least, recently, made Free Guy available on VOD platforms 45 days after its theatrical release. Disney recently announced their upcoming theatrical release schedule. So far, no mention of Premier Access that I could find.
As for Fox’s films, Premier Access doesn’t seem to be an option (at least not for their G, PG, or PG-13-rated films in the U.S. until 2022) so long as Fox’s contracts are still active. HBO’s contract expires next year and 2022 is right around the corner.
Honestly, of all the films Disney could’ve sold to Netflix, I’d be surprised if Disney/Fox didn’t sell the international distribution rights to Mathew Vaughn’s upcoming Kingsman: The Secret Service prequel, The King’s Man to Netflix for half the film’s budget, seeing how Netflix technically owns the source material via Millarworld. That could work. Disney/Fox retains the distribution rights in the United States, Canada, and wherever Netflix isn’t available (including China). Disney releases the film simultaneously in U.S. theatres and to rent on Movies Anywhere and/or iTunes and pay to Crave a handsome amount of money to allow them to release it simultaneously in Canadian theatres and on Disney+STAR with Premier Access. Netflix streams it exclusively wherever they’re available with maybe a limited release in select UK theatres. But why would Disney/Fox do that if Kingsman is a profitable franchise? Knives Out was profitable too but Lionsgate still sold Knives Out 2 & 3 to Netflix. Then again, Lionsgate isn’t a major studio like Disney or Sony.
Heck, with all the time Sony delayed Morbius, I wouldn’t exactly be surprised if they sold the international distribution rights to the movie to Disney+ while keeping the rights to distribute in the U.S., Canada, and wherever Disney+ isn’t available. Especially since Sony doesn’t have its own streaming service. Unless you count FunimationNow, Crunchyroll (which Sony bought from WarnerMedia), and their 5% equity stake in Crackle but the first two are only for anime and Crackle is only for free with ads. Sony would be less likely to sell the international distribution rights to Venom: Let There Be Carnage or SpiderMan: No Way Home to Disney+ as those are sequels to moneymakers. The first Venom made money but didn’t do so well with critics. Luckily, Venom 2 is being directed by Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther co-star Andy Serkis, replacing the one-hit wonder-hack known as Ruben Fleischer. Good thing too. Serkis’s a pretty good director. You should see his Netflix movie, Mowgli. Totally underrated. Venom 2 is in good hands.
But I digress. Premier Access may not be an option for Disney to release Fox’s films so long as their contracts are still active. By the time they expire, the pandemic will probably be over. But I could speculate all day. What say you?