The Walt Disney Co.’s streaming plans shifted into hyper speed Thursday, as the studio unveiled a galaxy’s worth of new streaming offerings including plans for 10 “Star Wars” series spinoffs and 10 Marvel series that will debut on Disney+.
In a virtual presentation for investors, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek laid out super-sized ambitions for it direct-to-consumer efforts, leaning heavily on some of the company’s biggest brands. Over the next few years, Disney is planning to premiere directly on Disney+ not just an armada of “Star Wars” and Marvel series but 15 live-action, Pixar and animated series, and 15 live-action, Pixar and animated movies.
Chapek said Disney+ subscribers worldwide have reached 86.8 million, up from 74 million last month. The service has easily exceeded most forecasts, reaching that number 13 months since its launch in November 2019. Disney will increase the monthly price by $1 to $8 a month in March. The company forecasts 230-260 million subscribers by 2024.
To keep subscriber numbers climbing, Disney presented a blizzard of remakes, sequels and spinoffs of various shapes and sizes on Thursday — 100 new titles in all — including a “Beauty and the Beast” prequel series, a “Moana” animated series, a “Three Men and a Baby” reboot with Zac Efron, a “Swiss Family Robinson” series and, yes, even the Kardashians.
But Disney also kept its biggest films — including Marvel’s “Black Widow,” Pixar’s “Luca,” a “Lion King” prequel — on course for theatrical release. Whereas WarnerMedia last week pushed its entire 2021 slate to streaming, Disney executives signaled that theatrical release remains essential to its big-budget spectacles and its business, overall.
“We build the franchises through the theatrical window,” said Chapek.
Still, the four-hour presentation presented a more seamless vision of content across platforms that made scant mention of its closed theme parks, or of the pandemic. That included a dizzying amount of series, many of them connected to big-screen movies past and present. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said a pair of new Marvel series — “Secret Invasion,” with Samuel Jackson, and “Ironheart” — will “tie directly to Marvel future films.” The only difference between the company’s short-form TV content and its theatrical content, said Bob Iger, executive chairman, “is length.”
Not all the news was in streaming. Lucasfilm announced that Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”) will direct the next “Star Wars” theatrical film, “Rogue Squadron,” with a release in theaters planned for Christmas 2023.
Jenkins becomes the first woman to direct a “Star Wars” film. In a video, she said the film, about starship fighters, will satisfy a long-held dream of hers as the daughter of an Air Force captain.
“When he lost his life in service of this country, it ignited a desire in me to turn all of that tragedy and thrill into one day making the greatest fighter pilot movie of all time,” said Jenkins in a video message.
Other films are going ahead with theatrical plans, among them a Buzz Lightyear prequel with Chris Evans replacing “Toy Story” star Tim Allen, due in 2020, and the “Black Panther” sequel. Feige confirmed that the role of the late Chadwick Boseman will not be recast but that its makers are still interested in “exploring the world of Wakanda” in Ryan Coogler’s film, due in theaters July 2022.