Disney (NYSE:DIS) could drive three more nails into the coffin of movie theaters if it follows through on taking a handful of potential blockbusters straight to its Disney+ streaming service.
Industry site Deadline reported Thursday that Disney is considering launching Cruella, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan and Wendy on its popular streaming video service rather than debuting them through a theatrical release.
Because Disney has largely been one of the more theater-friendly studios, this change in tactics could have dramatic implications for AMC Entertainment Holdings (NYSE:AMC), Cinemark Holdings (NYSE:CNK), and other theater operators.
Deadline says a final decision hasn't been made, and it's unclear whether Disney will make the films free for all Disney+ subscribers or will make them a Premier Access feature as it did with Mulan, which required even subscribers to pay to view the movie.
Disney might even do a simultaneous theater and streaming launch, as AT&T's (NYSE:T) Warner Bros. studio announced it would do when it releases Wonder Woman 1984 to both cinema and HBO Max on Christmas Day.
Studios are obviously in a bind since they need to recoup the expenses to make the film, and bringing tentpole films to their in-house channels can give the streaming services a higher profile to attract subscribers. But doing so starves theaters of content.
Disney+ has taken off like a rocket since its debut a year ago, racking up almost 74 million subscribers, one of the fastest launches ever for a streaming service. Putting more blockbusters on it could bring in even greater numbers of viewers, but it could be the death knell for theaters.