The film is billed as an ‘intimate cinematic concert experience.’
The 10-time Grammy winner wrote and recorded folklore , with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, The National’s Aaron Dessner, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, while socially distanced due to the coronavirus pandemic. Together for the first time, and with the use of robotic camera technology, the musical collaborators performed each song for the critically acclaimed album while revealing the stories behind each of the 17 tracks.
This is a coup for Disney +, and a potential shift in content strategy that is likely to drive subscribers. Swift is a high profile artist with a substantial and engaged following. Folklore spent eight weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 charts, making it the longest running number one album in the United States since Ed Sheeran’s Divide in 2017. It was also Swift’s seventh number one album, moving a staggering – by today’s standards – 846,000 equivalent album units in the US which is the most since her own album loverin 2019. This feat is made all the more impressive by the fact that there was no traditional promotion and barely any prior notice. Disney + took a page out of Swift’s stealth drop playbook in releasing the film overnight after making the surprise announcement on November 24th.
The Swift collaboration is the latest in a handful of prominent musical partnerships geared towards retaining subscribers and attracting new users during a period where original content has been hard to come by.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which suspended production throughout the entertainment industry put a spoke in the wheel of Disney’s content strategy for Disney +. Hotly anticipated original programming like the Marvel-produced shows The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and WandaVision were delayed until 2021. To compensate, the streaming service added Frozen II to their catalog much sooner than planned, from June 26 to March 15. The movie adaptation of sci-fi adventure novel Artemis Fowl also skipped a theatrical release and was sent straight to Disney + on June 12. And with the premiere of the already filmed second season of The Mandalorian planned for later in the year, Disney + decided to turn to musical content to bolster their offerings and keep subscribers committed to the service.
The award-winning Broadway smash, Hamilton made its streaming debut on July 3rd. The recorded film version of the popular musical was originally scheduled for a theatrical release set for October 15th, 2021 but in a surprise move was bumped up by more than a year as a Disney + exclusive. Because Disney chooses not to disclose viewership data for its Disney + programming, it’s difficult to gauge the actual audience size. But according to metrics from research firm 7 Park Data, 37% of the firm’s panel of viewers in the US watched the musical in July. This was almost three times the viewership for Netflix’s NFLX true-crime docuseries Unsolved Mysteries,which was the second most watched streaming title for the month at 14%. For many, this was the first opportunity to see the record-breaking hit musical which was consistently sold out throughout its run and was only performed in select cities. In a call to employees, Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed that Hamilton brought in a lot of new subscribers and was a significant part of the streaming service’s growth.
On July 31, superstar singer Beyoncé released a visual album titled Black is King , which was a companion piece to The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack. The top secret project was available for streaming exclusively on Disney +. Beyoncé took on the role of Nala in the live-action adaptation of The Lion King , released in 2019. But Black is King did not fare as well as Hamilton. The musical film directed, written, and executive produced by Beyoncé finished in 10th place among top titles on Disney + from August 1 to August 3, drawing less than 4% of the subscribers.
Still, the move has proven to be a prudent one. Direct-to-consumer continues to be successful for The Walt Disney Company. During the period between when the service was first launched in November 2019 to February, Disney + had amassed 26.5 million subscribers. Disney later announced that as of May 4th, 2020 that number had doubled to 54.5 million worldwide. Currently, Disney + has over 73 million subscribers. This is well ahead of the original target of 60 million to 90 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024. The musical direction might be one well worth exploring.