It is a result just begging for water metaphors: “The studio’s fortunes continue to sink,” “Disney swims against a tide of public apathy,” or “The company is drowning in red ink.” Fortunately, I am above using these trite metaphors, but there was a curious discovery found sunk deep in the movie theater statistics this weekend concerning the summer release “The Little Mermaid.” It is a sign of the company to see its revenues and popularity continuing to ebb…as it were.
Over the span of a little more than the past year, Disney has experienced significant losses across a number of sectors as company profits and its market value continue to diminish. In theaters specifically, over a 12-month span, the studio’s releases netted a loss of roughly $900 million. It is not clear how much of that included the $100 million the fifth “Indiana Jones” film is expected to lose, and that figure precluded the latest failure, “Haunted Mansion.”
On that list of negative returns was the latest woke effort from Disney, the rebooted “The Little Mermaid,” and that title had an odd weekend. In looking over the stats from theaters, I spied a bit of an anomaly in the numbers. The film, after three months in release, all of a sudden saw a jump of 1,560 new theaters. This was effectively a re-release and came just ahead of its debut on the Disney+ streaming platform (scheduled for September 6th).
The mystery behind this decision is revealed in the cumulative total. By last Thursday, “Mermaid” had taken in just over $297 million domestically. What is apparent is that Disney was making a quiet last-ditch bid to push the film over the $300 million plateau. The significance of this is mostly cosmetic, but in terms of future marketing, there is a certain benefit to what is essentially a moral victory in hitting the landmark figure.
The problem is it did not work—at all. Despite the surge into so many theaters, all it managed to earn was half a million dollars and change. This balanced out to an average of just over $300 per screen for the weekend.
Look at how @Disney is even failing at the small victories.
The company hopes to score a moral victory and push “Mermaid” over the $300m mark, so they re-released into 1,500 new screens this weekend…and saw hardly any interest. pic.twitter.com/DJpze8sny6
— Brad Slager: CNN+ Lifetime Subscriber (@MartiniShark) August 28, 2023
While ultimately not a deeply significant result for the corporate side of things, this failure to even compel a couple more viewers of the film to add in what would be less than a percentage point of the final tally reflects on the broad failures Disney has been facing. On the streaming side, Disney+ continues to be a money drain and is now shedding subscribers. Last year, the platform lost $1.5 billion for the company as it hit its peak subscriber counts in the fall.
The parks division—normally the consistent moneymaker – has seen a sharp decline in foot traffic, something further exacerbated by the embarrassing closure of its highly touted Star Wars hotel venture. After about an 18-month run, the venture is expected to have generated a loss approaching $250 million.
Television is not anything to be excited over, as cord-cutting and customer flight to other media are delivering diminishing returns. ESPN, once the steadfast money generator, has been in stark decline. This summer, a number of named talent were laid off as the network eliminated big contracts. The sports leader is facing the dual pressures of fewer cable subscribers and increased broadcast rights for the professional sports leagues. The network is basically in a rebuilding phase.
This all has led to the company going through a sustained bout of devaluation. Recently, the stock closed at a 9-year low, trading at about one-half of its price when the company elected to enter into a feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This is not looked at as a buying opportunity by many investment analysts. There are not exactly rosy prospects on the horizon. As television constricts, the streaming platform has been delivering offerings like “She-Hulk” and “Secret Invasion,” which repel more viewers than they draw in.
Cinematically, there are struggles ahead. The Marvel Universe is not chocked with a slate of releases that has energized the fans like past phases. The Star Wars franchise has also stalled in theaters. A Patty Jenkins film, “Rogue Squadron,” has gone from being highly anticipated to no longer being developed. Kevin Feige was to be involved in a film in the universe, but he has now been brought back into trying to rejuvenate the Marvel stable of titles, and as for the series on Disney+, those have been delivering diminishing returns.
Amid all of these dark numbers, it is not surprising that Disney would strain to come up with a small token of an accomplishment this weekend, albeit one that was manufactured to a degree. That the company failed to even manage this small moral victory is a sign of just how far underwater the favorability of the company has descended with customers.