That's a scheme by which subscribers, who already are paying a monthly fee, will get first dibs on new high-profile content — so long as they pay another fee. There's only been one entrant in the Premier Access program thus far: the live-action remake of Mulan, which saw its theatrical release evaporate in the spring of 2020 thanks to the global pandemic.
Instead of biding its time, Mulan made the leap to streaming on Disney+. It wasn't the first release to do so — Hamilton vastly moved up its release date and hit Disney+ over the summer. But Mulan was the first (and so far remains the only) film to be part of the Premier Access program. Along with the monthly subscription fee for Disney+, you'd have to pay another $29.99 to watch the movie. Once that fee was submitted, you could watch Mulan as many times as you want, so long as you keep your Disney+ subscription.
But Mulan also faced a fair number of headwinds both before and after its digital release. Its star spoke out in support of Hong Kong police in 2019, just as pro-democracy protesters were being brutalized. There also was the issue of parts of the film having been shot in the Xinjiang province, where more than 1 million Uighiur Muslims have been forced into concentration camps.
Neither of those issues helped Mulan at all. And questions have surrounded the Premier Access program and whether it was a flop, or whether Mulan was a bad fit for it — or whether consumers would simply be willing to pay twice for a film.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek downplayed those concerns on Nov. 12 during the company's Q4 and year-end earnings call.
"We were very pleased with the results of Mulan as a Premier Access title," Chapek said. "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."
Chapek didn't give any numbers to back that up but said they'd talk more about Premier Access at Disney's Investor Day event on Dec. 10. Mulan is now available for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD and will make the leap to the Disney+ general population in early December.
He also acknowledged that Premier Access perhaps can't be used for every major release going forward, however. Pixar's Soul — another film that missed a major theatrical release thanks to the pandemic — will hit the "basic" Disney+ lineup on Christmas Day. Chapek likened it to throwing subscribers a holiday bone.
"We also realize that part of the lifeblood of Disney+ is providing great content to the base-level subscribers that are in there. 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."
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