12 December 2020 00:35
People dressed as Storm Troopers attend the premiere of "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" in London, Britain, December 18, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - Walt Disney has worked some real magic. In just a year, the entertainment giant has managed to build a streaming empire with its trove of content from the likes of the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. For Netflix, staying ahead may mean stumping up to buy a studio. Covid-19 may have crushed Disney's theme parks but there was a bright spot: millions of people stuck at home signed up for its streaming services.
On Thursday, Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek completed a victory lap in a four-hour presentation to investors. Since its launch in November 2019, Disney+ has amassed some 87 million paying customers, well ahead of the top end of the company's target of 90 million by the fall of 2024. It is doing so well that Disney increased its forecast to up to 260 million subscribers for Disney+ for the same time frame – with another potentially 90 million from its other streaming services by then. Disney shares climbed more than 10% on Friday, hitting a new high and taking the company's market capitalization north of $300 billion. In a sense, the Magic Kingdom has been preparing for this moment for years.
A steady string of smart acquisitions from Marvel to Pixar and Lucasfilm to parts of Rupert Murdoch's Fox has left Disney with an enviable library. It plans to release more than 100 titles a year on Disney+, ranging in a dizzying array of entertainment including two spinoffs of "The Mandalorian." It is jacking up its content expenses for that service alone from around $4 billion to up to $9 billion in four years. Netflix was the most successful streaming pioneer and now has nearly 200 million customers, a base built over more than a decade. It's not burdened with legacy assets – Disney still has to wrestle with the decline of traditional TV and cable customers, for instance. But the fight for digital subscribers requires a steady stream of content, and Disney's empire is now striking back on that front. To match its rival, bosses Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos might fancy a studio like Sony Pictures Entertainment or Paramount Pictures. That, though, could mean the $220 billion Netflix breaking its modest dealmaking habit. Disney recently announced that a new Star Wars spin-off series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, would be hitting our screens at some point in the near future. However, while this was music to most people's ears, many fans took exception to the news that Hayden Christensen would be reprising his role as Anakin Skywalker, who of course later becomes Darth Vader. The actor took a lot of stick from fans of the series for his performance in the prequel trilogy that entered our lives in the early noughties, not helped by lines such as the memorable 'I don't like sand'. Well, it seems that fans - certainly Star Wars fans - never forget. Since Christensen's return was confirmed, people have shared their disappointment online. Writing on Twitter, one despairing fan said: "Really hope Hayden Christensen learned how to act since he was in Star Wars before. Otherwise this is going to be awful." Another asked: "Hayden Christensen.... Couldn't you choose some actor who acts?" A third wrote: "Hayden Christensen one of the worst actors of all time no cap." While another cynic added: "The plot is already wafer thin and now you're going to build a series around a bad actor. Hayden Christensen." A bit harsh, but if that's their opinion... Disney announced the news in a series of tweets last night (10 December) confirming a number of other exciting projects were coming our way very soon. The entertainment giant wrote: "Hayden Christensen returns as Darth Vader, joining Ewan McGregor in OBI-WAN KENOBI. The Original Series begins 10 years after the dramatic events of Revenge of the Sith, and is coming to #DisneyPlus." The series will also see Christensen joined once again by his turn-of-the-millennium co-star Ewan McGregor, who will be reprising his role as the titular character. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, McGregor revealed the new show will start shooting fairly soon. Fans haven't taken kindly to Christensen's return. Credit: Disney/Lucasfilm He said: "Spring next year we start. I'm really excited about it. It's going to be great, I think." Advert 10 The Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney Plus series is going to be set 10 years after Revenge of the Sith, featuring a showdown between Obi-Wan and Christensen's Vader which was also teased during the Investor stream. "We couldn't tell the story of Obi-Wan without Darth Vader," writer Deborah Chow said. "We will definitely see Obi-Wan and Darth Vader get into it again." "It was such an incredible journey playing Anakin Skywalker," said Christensen via StarWars.com. "Of course, Anakin and Obi-Wan weren't on the greatest of terms when we last saw them... It will be interesting to see what an amazing director like Deborah Chow has in store for us all.