The novel coronavirus keeps collapsing Hollywood's release windows. The latest example comes from Walt Disney (DIS -1.62%) releasing the Pixar feature Onward for digital download today, even though the film is the current No. 1 box office draw in theaters. On top of that, Onward moves on to the subscription-based Disney+ platform on April 3, just two weeks from now.

What's going on?

In a normal situation, Onward would have been expected to hit the DVD market roughly three to four months after its cinematic premiere, quickly followed by digital download and rental platforms. The release window for pay-TV services and subscription-based streaming platforms such as Disney+ and Netflix normally stays closed for the first six months of a movie's released life.

Pushing Onward into digital downloads today, a mere two weeks after the first showing, is a highly unusual move. Jumping to Disney+ less than a month after the premiere is an even more radical move.

A scene from Disney's Onward.

A scene from Disney's Onward. Image source: Walt Disney.

Why Onward jumped ahead

Disney's hand was nudged in this direction by the coronavirus crisis closing down movie theaters across America and the rest of the globe. The House of Mouse already accelerated the release schedules for two other movies for the same reason, but Onward is moving on much quicker than The Rise of Skywalker or Frozen 2.

The lack of available silver screens wasn't the only reason for this move, though. Onward premiered to lackluster box office numbers even though critics and audiences agree it's both funny and heartwarming. From Disney's point of view, it can't hurt to try a dramatically different release structure in this case.