Media giant Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is no stranger to miles and miles of headline space, but the media blitz in 2020 is far more negative than usual. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to the House of Mouse.

Coronavirus fallout

Disney closed its theme parks in March. The company's cruise ships sit idle in various ports, Disney's hotels are locked and empty, and the company also had to shutter its movie and TV content production studios along the way. Even the cable TV division is suffering from a lack of live sports and low interest from advertising customers.

In short, Disney's business is at a low ebb right now. The company is still focused on safety above all else, bowing out of an opportunity to reopen Disney World as early as June. Disney is able to survive a very long shutdown with $14.3 billion of cash reserves and another $17.3 billion of untapped credit lines at its disposal.

Black and white photo of Walt Disney talking on the phone.

Let's get Walt on the phone. Image source: Walt Disney.

Why shuffle the movie schedule?

The novel coronavirus has reordered the movie release schedule that's at the heart of everything Disney does -- several times.

  • Pixar's Onward hit the silver screen in early March, just days before movie theater chains were forced to lock their doors. The movie quickly skipped to the digital download and online movie rental market, followed by a debut on Disney+ in the first week of April.
  • The live-action remake of Mulan was supposed to hit the silver screen on March 27. That premiere was rescheduled to July 24, assuming that major theater chains AMC (NYSE:AMC), Cinemark (NYSE:CNK), and Cineworld Group (OTC:CNWG.Y) subsidiary Regal Entertainment are ready to go that early.
  • Jungle Cruise will follow a week later as Mulan occupied the theme park event film's original release date.
  • Marvel superhero flick Black Widow was kicked all the way from May 1 to Nov. 6.
  • Science fantasy adaptation Artemis Fowl will miss the movie theater scene altogether, making its premiere directly on streaming platform Disney+ on June 12.

The health crisis is playing havoc with the movie industry's traditional release windows, and Disney's slate is no exception. The theater chains don't like that side effect at all, threatening to shut studios out of their reopened theaters unless they respect the time-honored timing structures. Disney hasn't stepped on AMC's or Regal's toes so far, but that could change in a hurry.

It's not all bad

I have already mentioned the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis a couple of times. The Disney+ video-streaming service hit the ground running in November and only accelerated in the COVID-19 period. Consumers are stuck at home, hungry for entertainment, and ready to try something new. Disney+ is powered by Disney's unmatched original content portfolio, ranging from Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to classic Mickey Mouse shorts and cultural touchstones like Lion King or Beauty And the Beast.

Disney+ has earned 54.5 million paying subscribers in 6 short months. The service should collect revenues of more than $900 million in the next quarter. This is the only bright spot in Disney's gloomy COVID-19 situation, saving the company from an entirely negative tenor in 2020's headlines