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Disney film distribution chief Tony Chambers recommits to movie theater owners at CinemaCon ‘23

Despite Disney laying off thousands of people during the week across its divisions, including film production, the company still held its scheduled presence at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Nevada this week.

The annual gathering of movie theater owners and operators around the globe packed into the Colosseum theater at Caesars Palace to hear from major studios about their upcoming film slate and their commitments to partnering with exhibitors on showing their films–including Disney.

EVP of Disney’s theatrical distribution operation Tony Chambers made that recommitment saying that Disney has always “delivered a fantastic array of stories for your theaters and our upcoming slate is no exception.”

Chambers then quickly took us through what is on Disney’s slate in the coming year and years to come, saying that this was the first time in many years that Disney would be releasing a film from each of their storied studio brands (Disney Live Action, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, etc.).

Theater owners and invited media were shown never-before-seen footage and first-run trailers from that lineup of films including Pixar’s “Elemental,” Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3,” Disney Live Action’s “Haunted Mansion,” Disney Animation’s “Wish,” 20th Century Studios’ “The Creator” (from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards), and Lucasfilm’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” all in an effort to stir excitement about Disney releasing their films in theaters again this coming year.

Chambers statement and presentation come as a signal that Disney is reverting course on its movie distribution strategy. Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in an earnings call in 2022 that “We [Disney] do not subscribe to the belief that theatrical is the only way to build a Disney franchise,” in effect saying that Disney can make blockbuster-earning movies by presenting them for premiums on Disney+ and their other streaming infrastructures.

Prior to CinemaCon this year, the outgoing National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) CEO John Fithian confirmed that hostile sentiment from Chapek a few years prior saying Chapek was “not our friend” and that “he didn’t believe in the theatrical model.”

For about a century, the business model for movies has relied heavily on the mutual partnership between movie studios producing films and movie theaters for showing those films. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many studios believed that the future of the business would be set in the streaming world since movie theaters were shuttered.

Since then and what was a recurrent them of CinemaCon this year was that cinemas and movie houses are still important to the culture and box office numbers within the past year with movie theaters reopening and thriving with new films and renewed commitments from studios to release their movies in theaters first still.

“We hope to continue this relationship with you,” Chambers said. “Our movies are made for your screens.”


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