Not throwing away their shot, Hamilton lands on Disney+

Did you watch Hamilton this weekend?

Did you watch Hamilton?

For six months, Disney+ hasn’t given people without children or ready to marathon the Marvel and Star Wars movies a good reason to open the app. 

That changed on Friday with the premiere of Hamilton on Disney+. It marked the first time that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony winning play about founding father Alexander Hamilton was available to view outside of the theater. Finally anyone who wanted to see the play that President Obama championed, but didn’t want to or couldn’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on tickets, could. All it cost was $6.99. 

For us, consumers who just want a place to watch Hamilton, it’s a pretty great deal. For Disney, having a piece of “event television” hopefully accomplishes two important things for the House of Mouse: it drives new subscribers, and gets current subscribers to engage with the app. 

Disney+ is in an interesting position. It’s continuing to grow nicely as it launches in more countries. Hell, Disney is on track to hit its baseline 2024 goal of 60 million subscribers four years early. But Disney is reliant on its catalogue and franchises, not new originals that get people excited to open the app. 

Aside from The Mandalorian, nothing has broken through to the mainstream (save Encore for some theater-loving audiences and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series for others). That’s a problem. Especially right now, as people continue to stay home more often than not in an effort to self isolate during the pandemic, questions have turned from “what are you doing this weekend?” to “what are you watching?” Anecdotally, it’s usually something on Netflix. 

But Disney is reliant on its catalogue and franchises, not new originals that get people excited to open the app

The Mandalorian arrived on November 12th alongside Disney+’s big launch and, for eight weeks, it held our attention. Premiering just a few months after Game of Thrones came to an end, The Mandalorian gave us something to watch every Friday. Then The Mandalorian ended. We waited. And waited. And waited. We continued to wait for something that wasn’t an older Disney Channel series or a National Geographic special to give us a reason to return to Disney+. There’s only so many times we can watch Captain America: Civil War

Enter Hamilton, a movie that Disney originally planned to release theatrically in October 2021, but moved up to this Independence Day weekend. The timing couldn’t have been better. Friends I know threw Hamilton parties, people who might have gone out any other Friday pre-pandemic settled in for a night with Miranda and the cast. Hamilton on Disney+ was a way to bring in subscribers not interested in Star Wars, Pixar, or Marvel, and who may have stayed away until now. Netflix had its Tiger King moment. It had its 365 Days time. Now, Disney has found its first must-watch title post-The Mandalorian. It’s back in the conversation.

Disney doesn’t need Hamilton to be bigger than The Mandalorian. Hamilton serves a different purpose. It reaches an audience that Disney isn’t currently courting. Here’s another anecdotal takeaway. On Twitter, two different people chimed into a conversation about Disney+ I was having on Friday night. One person didn’t have kids; another person did. The former hadn’t touched Disney+ since The Mandalorian ended. The latter has the app running all day long for his child. 

Disney has found its first must-watch title post-The Mandalorian. It’s back in the conversation.

Disney doesn’t have to worry about losing subscribers who use Disney+ to entertain their kids. They’re also not worried about losing diehard Marvel or Star Wars fans who use the app once a week or so to re-watch something for the millionth time (read: me). It’s that large pool of other subscribers that Disney has to try and sway over, convince them to continuously pay $6.99 a month. Musicals like Hamilton, and bringing in slightly more adult, still rated PG-13 movies Disney now owns thanks to its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, help find that general audience. 

It’s impossible to know if Hamilton performed the way Disney wanted it to. Streaming services are reluctant to release numbers for their films and TV series unless the figures are astounding. Netflix will sometimes tweet numbers for shows like Stranger Things or movies like Bird Box, and disclose others in quarterly earnings reports, but otherwise, mum’s the word. 

As aggravating as it is, not disclosing numbers makes sense; the minute those numbers roll out, that’s what the story becomes. Universal Pictures head Donna Langley said in a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable, “the obsession with the rankings is ridiculous.” Bloggers, like myself, do the price conversion in our heads to see what that loosely equates to at the box office. If Disney paid $75 million to acquire the film, what counts as a break even number for the company? 

So, we can’t definitively say that Hamilton was a success, but we can make some pretty safe assumptions. It’s safe to assume that for people who use Disney+ every day, having Hamilton is an added benefit for families on top of being able to stream Frozen 2 on demand whenever necessary. It’s safe to assume that for a number of people with active Disney+ accounts, but who haven’t touched them since The Mandalorian ended, Hamilton might be the thing that brings them back for a night or two. It’s safe to assume, based on conversations I’ve had with family and friends over the last 24 hours, that people who did not get Disney+ in November are signing up for Disney+ now because of Hamilton

Now, combine these assumptions with Netflix’s internal calculation used to see if a show should be renewed: if a season keeps people engaged, helps slow down cancelations, and leads to increased subscriptions, it’s a success and likely renewed. If Hamilton did that for Disney+, it almost doesn’t matter — key word, almost, because of course it does — how many people actually watched Hamilton on day one. Like everything in the streaming sphere, it’s the long game that matters. 

Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings heading back into production in July 

  • Deadline reports that Shang-Chi and the Legend of 10 Rings is heading back into production this month. The movie, which is filming in Australia, saw its first unit production hit pause in February after director Destin Daniel Cretton got tested for COVID-19 and self-isolated.

  • Now, everyone is getting back together to resume filming, but Deadline’s Marvel sources say top precautions are being taken to keep the cast and crew safe. Shang-Chi will continue filming on the Fox Studios lot. Shang-Chi is the second Disney movie to resume production after James Cameron’s Avatar II, which resumed filming in New Zealand last month.

  • Shang-Chi is scheduled to be released on May 7th, 2021 — but considering how quickly release dates are changing, that could move.

Mulan gets new release date

  • So…about those release date changes. Mulan is on its third release date.

  • Niki Caro’s live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated classic was originally supposed to be released on March 9th. Disney delayed the film to July 24th because of the coronavirus pandemic. Remember back in March when we all thought life would return to normal by July? Yeah, Disney did too.

  • By mid-June, it became obvious to Disney — and every other studio — that this pandemic wasn’t going to wrap up anytime soon. After Warner Bros.’ delayed Christopher Nolan’s Tenet to July 31st (a date that would change again to August 12th), Disney moved Mulan to August 21st. That’s one week before New Mutants — a movie Disney is still trying to convince us exists.

  • My take: if Tenet moves again, Mulan will follow suit. Disney CEO Bob Chapek told Wall St. analysts he’s keeping an eye on the competition (read: Warner Bros) to see what the next step is. Neither studio want to be the first to release their potential $1 billion movies first. They want to see whether audiences will actually turn out.

  • I wrote about this at The Verge, but we’re in a game of release date chicken. And quite frankly, it fucking sucks.

Disney deep fakes closer to big screen debut

  • A new paper and video from Disney’s Research team looks at how “high resolution neural face swapping,” otherwise known as deepfakes, could be used in their own movies.

  • The newest aspect of the technology Disney’s Research team has developed is the megapixel resolution. Basically, when we think of deepfakes, we think of YouTube videos friends send us or pop up on Twitter. The resolution isn’t super high, which makes the deepfake easier to believe. That changes when it’s on a big screen. Disney’s team, however, figures “their model can produce video with a 1024 x 1024 resolution — a sizable increase,” according to The Verge.

  • While very cool, don’t expect this technology to be used in Marvel movies anytime soon, The Verge’s James Vincent notes. Vincent has more on the technology Disney is touting:

    Apart from this, the functionality of Disney’s deepfake model is fairly conventional: it’s able to swap the appearances of two individuals while maintaining the target’s facial expressions. If you watch the video, though, note how technically constrained the output seems to be. It only produces deepfakes of well-lit individuals looking more or less straight at the camera. Challenging angles and lighting are still not on the agenda for this tech.

Iconic Disney animator Kelly Asbury dies at 60

  • Kelly Asbury, an animator best known for his work on The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, The Black Cauldron, Toy Story, Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach, has died at 60, The Disinsider reports.

  • Asbury also helped write Disney’s Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast.

  • In 1998, Asbury moved to Dreamworks where he worked on a number of projects, and is listed as one of three directors on Shrek 2 — the best Shrek. Do not @ me on this. It’s just fact.

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Streaming

Anthony Mackie details The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is easily my most anticipated show of 2020 (if it happens in 2020), so let’s dive into his description of the show.

  • Mackie, in a conversation with Daveed Diggs hosted by Variety, says The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels like a six-hour movie. Now while that phrase might send my TV critic friends into a Hulk-like rage at the very thought of having another debate over “TV shows are now just long movies” debate, here’s Mackie’s explanation.

    Everybody who had worked on TV before was like, 'I've never worked on a TV show like this.' The way in which we were shooting, it feels exactly like we were shooting the movie cut up into the show. So instead of a two-hour movie, a six or eight-hour movie.

  • Mackie then notes that working on Marvel movies can feel like “summer camp,” and production on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was no different.

    It was the same group of people, coming together to make it work. And so the stunt stuff — everything is just on another level. Every show, every movie, they just push it — they push the envelope so much. So hopefully, knock on wood, we'll be going back soon.

  • Oh, yeah. So about production. Coming Soon reports that both The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, another one of my most anticipated TV shows, are expected to resume production this month. Let’s hope so. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was supposed to debut this summer, but well.

ESPN+ will raise subscription prices to $5.99 in August

  • I broke some news this week over at The Verge that ESPN+ is getting a slight price hike. It’ll cost $5.99 come August instead of $4.99

  • While it’s not much of a price hike, that puts ESPN+ on part with Hulu Basic. And that’s without any real sports for ESPN+ to carry right now. Yes, it’s only $1, but the timing of it makes it a small yikes! from me.

Disney Channel is a Disney+ exclusive in the UK 

  • Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and DisneyXD are no longer cable channels in the UK, Disney has confirmed. The move comes are speculation that Disney and Comcast-owned Sky couldn’t come to a distribution deal. These are known in the industry as “carriage disputes.” The term is the most boring phrase for a negotiation tactic that affects how, or if you can, watch a channel.

  • Carriage disputes happen all the time, but what’s interesting in this case is that all Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior programming in the UK will now live exclusively on Disney+. I wrote about why this is a pretty big deal over at The Verge.

    At the center of this debate is Disney Plus. Disney can refocus its efforts on building a streaming empire, where they retain a higher percent of the revenue through direct signups than with linear television in markets like the UK. Instead of playing ball with Comcast to carry the channels, Disney can just point everyone to its crown jewel streaming service. If people want access to a catalog of classic Disney Channel titles and ongoing series, they’ll have to sign up for Disney Plus.

Hulu joins Verizon’s Disney streaming deal 

  • Just a small little deal note from Verizon. As Chaim Gartenberg explains on The Verge:

    New customers to Verizon’s $59.99-per-month 400Mbps plan will now get six months of free Hulu in addition to the free year of Disney Plus. New Gigabit Fios customers (for $79.99 per month) will get a full year of both Disney Plus and Hulu, along with a free router rental and a free Verizon Stream TV set-top box (which runs Android TV and usually is sold separately for $69.99).

Hulu removes Golden Girls “mud mask” episode, Community episode, Bill Lawrence says pulled Scrubs episode could return to Hulu

  • Streamers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are working with creators and networks to remove episodes from numerous TV series that contain blackface. Some titles include The Office, 30 Rock, Scrubs, Community, The Sarah Silverman Show, and an episode of Golden Girls.

  • “Mixed Feelings” is an episode from the show’s third season that centers on Dorothy’s son Michael getting ready to marry an older Black woman, Lorraine. The scene in question that led to Hulu pulling the episode features “Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) trying a new mud facial treatment, and as they greet their family, Rose says  ‘This is mud on our faces, we’re not really Black,’” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

  • The move was met with criticism from some, as prominent critics argued that removing the episode does nothing to actually promote anti-racist sentiments and protests. Writer Roxanne Gay tweeted, “Removing this episode is weird, counterproductive and stupid. It diminishes the effort to actually end racism. It’s just so dumb.”

  • Scrubs, another show on Hulu that saw an episode disappear for uses of blackface, could return to the streaming service with those scenes edited out, creator Bill Lawrence said. Lawrence appeared on Scrubs stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison’s podcast, Fake Doctors, Real Friends, to talk about the show, as Deadline reported:

    Twitter is like, ‘Why did you pull the whole episodes?’ Why didn’t you just edit those moments out and put them back on?’ And I said to one person, ‘It’s a pandemic. I don’t really have an editing facility up right now.

Disney Parks

[COVID-19’s impact on Disney Parks is indisputable. Here are a few quick updates on what’s happening]

Tokyo Disney Parks reopen after four months

  • Tokyo Disney Resort has opened both its main parks after four months of being closed because of the virus

  • This marks all of Disney’s Asia Parks re-opening after Shanghai Disneyland reopened on May 11th, with Hong Kong Disneyland re-opening one month later, according to CNN.

Actors union opposes Disney parks reopening in States days before doors set to open

  • Walt Disney World is expected to start its phased re-opening in Orlando, Florida come July 11th. The Actors Equity Association has asked people not to take jobs with Walt Disney World until the company can provide better safety precautions for its cast members. Deadline has the story.

  • One Disney World cast member (a term Disney uses for employees) I spoke to said Disney isn’t taking employee temperatures when they come into work, despite taking customer’s temperatures. The cast member said employees are concerned about the lack of communication between Disney Corporation and people going to work in the Florida parks.

  • Florida has emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot in the United States. According to ABC News on July 5th, “the Florida Department of Health released its morning summary which reports 200,111 total cases,” which is “an increase of 10,059.” ABC News adds that the “department reported this is a positivity rate of 15%, up 1% yesterday.” Of those cases, “Orange County (Orlando) reported 760 cases and a positivity rate of 14.2%,” marking it as a “daily high,” according to ABC News.

  • The growing tension between cast members, Disney, and the Actors Equity Association led to an official response from Disney. Laurel Slater, Manager of Communications, Walt Disney World Public Affairs, used the Disney Parks Blog to talk about cast members safety. The blog post included a video that many Disney critics on Twitter labeled gross behavior from the House of Mouse. Over at the blog, Slater wrote:

    As we count down to the phased reopening of our theme parks, we’re looking forward to welcoming our fellow cast members home to begin training in preparation for reopening. 

    And this week, that special moment finally arrived for a group of our theme park cast members as they put on their nametags, reunited with their work locations and fellow cast, and began their first days of training to learn new health and safety protocols. With the return of every cast member, and at the conclusion of every training session, you can feel how passionate and ready the team is as we get one step closer to the first theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort welcoming guests home.

  • My take? Your employees are freaking out, and they want more than a blog post to make them feel safe. Especially in a state with a massive spike in COVID-19 cases. You owe your employees more than what they’re currently being given.

What’s going on with the NBA at Disney World?

  • The NBA is gearing up to continue on with their season. All games will take place at DisneyWorld in an area that’s being referred to as a “bubble.”

  • Well, that bubble might just burst. A new report from the Orlando Sentinel explains that some of the employees who “will be cleaning hotel rooms, preparing meals and providing other services for NBA players confined to a ‘bubble’ on the resort’s property will be commuting from some of the hottest coronavirus infection zones in greater Orlando.”

  • “Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, confirmed the league is working with Disney on testing ‘a subset of their employees,’” the Sentinel adds.

  • While Disney and the NBA are taking all precautions, what’s clear is that with Disney employees coming and going from the resort to homes in Orlando, the risk of the virus spreading is still very much there. Testing for players will occur regularly, and it looks like employees who work within the bubble might also have access to regular testing, too.

TV Networks

Disney’s networks join FuboTV, FuboTV sees price hike

  • Disney’s new multi-year deal with FuboTV goes into effect next month. For FuboTV subscribers, that means access to a plethora of channels including ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, ABC, ABC News Live, FX, FXX, Disney Channel, Freeform, and National Geographic.

  • It also means a loss of certain WarnerMedia networks, including TNT, TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, truTV, HLN, TCM, CNN Español and CNN International.

  • The other thing it means? FuboTV is seeing a price hike. Here’s how the new breakdown works, which was clarified to me by FuboTV in a story on The Verge:

    FuboTV’s family bundle is increasing from $60 to $65 a month. Existing customers who subscribe to Fubo’s standard plans are being automatically moved to Fubo’s family bundle (which includes three simultaneous streams, Cloud DVR Plus, and 500 hours of DVR space), and will see their bills go from $55 to the new $65 per month price.

    Existing customers of the standard plan can opt out of the move, but they have to call customer support. If they choose to do so, both existing and new FuboTV customers can sign up for the company’s standard plan for a new price of $60 a month — a $5 increase from the current plan.

ABC will shoot five pilots this year, move three to next cycle

  • The TV industry is in a bit of a pickle because of COVID-19 and its effect on production schedules. The big question is what the upcoming fall season looks like. Will there even be a fall season?

  • The simple answer is yes, but it’s a little more complicated.

  • ABC is going to film five pilots. “This includes dramas Rebel, starring Katey Sagal and Andy Garcia and Delroy Lindo’s Harlem’s Kitchen, as well as comedies Bossy, which was formerly known as Kids Matter Now, Topher Grace’s Home Economics and Work Wife,” according to Deadline.

  • Three other pilots — Adopted, National Parks Service, and Triage are moving into second cycle. ABC has also decided not to move forward with Thirtysomething, Valley Trash and Brides, Deadline reports.

  • The fall TV will have new shows for people to watch, but don’t expect the barrage of new pilots that we’ve come to expect from a new fall season of television.

This Week’s Trailers

Soul

Black is King

The Handmaid’s Tale — Season 4

Quote of the Week

“𝕐𝕖𝕤, 𝕕𝕪𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕚𝕤 𝕖𝕒𝕤𝕪, 𝕪𝕠𝕦𝕟𝕘 𝕞𝕒𝕟; 𝕝𝕚𝕧𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕚𝕤 𝕙𝕒𝕣𝕕𝕖𝕣.” — Christopher Jackson as George Washington, Hamilton