Here's How Bob Iger Should Release Disney's 7th 'Star Wars'
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Disney
(DIS) CEO Bob Iger has done a lot of things right since mercifully taking over the world's largest entertainment company from Michael Eisner nine years ago, but picking the release date for the seventh Star Wars movie doesn't appear to be one of them.
Disney plans to release its next iteration of Star Wars in December 2015, and the decision is a curious one. It's likely that Iger would have preferred to release the movie, complete with its original cast of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford during the summer when a younger demographic is more apt to attend theater viewing.
Additional time may have been needed to develop the film. Disney didn't immediately reply for comment on the December release date.
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A May release, for instance, would better serve the company and its shareholders. A spring debut would allow Disney to show the film in movie theaters during the summer and then release the home video in the fall, putting it in position to take advantage of lucrative holiday spending for DVD versions and loads of ancillary products.
Though Disney certainly wants to make the film as good as it can be, and therefore didn't feel comfortable with a spring release date, Iger and his movie-exec minions should consider releasing this next Star Wars in November, preferably around Thanksgiving, just before the holiday buying season. December will miss a lot of that profitable window.
So why has Iger opted for a winter release date? The answer is movie theater owners. As a group, theater owners remain a major stumbling block for media company executives. It's no secret that entertainment companies would like to sell consumers a digital download of films sooner rather than later, better to generate as much cash flow from a cinematic project when the hype is the hottest.Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation (DWA) , has stated that sometime in the future, movies will be available on multiple devices within a few weeks of theatrical release. If the seventh Star Wars episode were to be released on physical media just before Christmas, the selling potential would be enormous. But theater owners would likely lose out as a result. Wall Street absolutely reveres Bob Iger. He's viewed as a renaissance CEO who saved Disney's legacy from the vainglorious, discredited Eisner. Questionable executive ethics aside, Eisner resisted costly acquisition deals; Iger embraced them. Since Iger won't be CEO for too much longer (he's set to step down in May 2016), he should perform a media experiment on the type of grand scale that only his current professional position will allow him to do. Move the release date of the film. If not to the spring of 2015, how about to mid-January 2016? Christmas would be over, but a Star Wars story might be the perfect salve for the post-holiday blues, one that can be easily funded by a whole lot of yet-to-be-used gift cards.
Iger has spoken in the past about collapsing distribution windows, so this is not a new concept to him. Of course, theater owners won't accept such an arrangement because it would limit box-office revenue. But no one knows what kind of effect a quick release to home video would have on theatrical revenue. There are going to be many Star Wars films, so now might be the time to find out, especially considering a winter release date could become the norm. Disney has many other high-profile projects from Marvel and Pixar to juggle each year. Then again, tt's arguable that the video might actually, in some existential manner, continue to promote and support the theatrical release. Every media company has an interest in this. Time Warner (TWX) , 21st Century Fox (FOX) , Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) and Viacom (VIAB) would all love the freedom to choose their own best practices as it concerns their franchises. Imagine if Time Warner had been able to release its Harry Potter features to the home whenever it wanted to? Besides resistance from theaters, there will be resistance from talent and talent representatives. Execs such Iger will simply have to solve this. Read More: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks Disney most likely will experiment with the next Star Wars one way or the other, whether that means re-releasing the film in May 2016 to coincide with a disc release on May 4, or simply doing so to expose the studio division to whatever theatrical revenue might be available from a late association with past tradition.
But looking into 2015, Iger should act like a Jedi and throw his fear away, change the release date on the 7th Star Wars and forever change the way movies are sold and consumed. At the time of publication, the author had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
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