It's not just the National Basketball Association trying to lock down viewers on Christmas this year. Three of the leading streaming services are debuting new big-budget content on their platforms, two of which were supposed to hit movie theaters exclusively earlier this year before the pandemic had studios scrambling to reinvent their models for the new normal.
- Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Disney+ is releasing Pixar's Soul.
- Wonder Woman 1984 will be available on AT&T's (NYSE:T) HBO Max.
- Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is introducing Bridgerton, the first series from Shonda Rhimes' production company.
You don't have to look in your stocking for any Christmas Day gifts. Just turn on your TV. The leading streaming services aren't messing around these days.
Streaming of a Wi-Fi Christmas
Disney, AT&T, and Netflix aren't ripping pages from rival playbooks on Friday. They're drawing fresh plays in the sand.
Disney hasn't had a domestic theatrical release since Pixar's Onward had the misfortune of hitting the silver screen two weekends before the multiplex industry went dark in mid-March for the pandemic. It has either pushed out the release date of upcoming films to 2021 or taken lower-profile films directly to Disney+ this year.
The lone exception was the live-action reboot of Mulan that it chose to make a premium digital offering, with Disney+ subscribers paying $30 for the right to access the film three months before it hit the platform earlier this month. Soul will be offered to Disney+ subscribers at no additional cost.
AT&T's WarnerMedia is going to put out Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max the same day that it hits theaters. It's not charging HBO Max subscribers a premium beyond their existing subscriptions. It's a big gamble, and with AT&T's Warner Bros. committing to doing this with its entire 2021 release slate, it will need to pay off in a major way.
Lastly, we have Netflix. It's been three years since it inked a deal with Rhimes' Shondaland, the production house behind several ABC hits including Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder. Bridgerton is a period piece with a modern take on race and gender roles. It's an entire series, but since Netflix makes entire seasons available at the same time (unlike Disney+ and HBO Max, which prefer weekly installments of their more popular shows), a lot of Rhimes' fans will go through all of the episodes over the weekend.
It makes sense, of course. Christmas is typically a big time for movies, appealing to family gatherings and with studios trying to score some end-of-the-year Academy Awards buzz. This year will be different. There are still some movies opening only at the multiplex this holiday weekend, but the streaming releases will generate the larger audiences.
The game has changed for media stocks and the viewers they need to entertain. This is a very unusual year, but streaming platforms and prolific Christmas Day releases are here to stay.