December was the month when the post-Covid distribution landscape really started taking shape — when ad-hoc measures gave way to long-term strategies.
Warnermedia went first, revealing a radical hybrid model for 2021. A few days later, Disney fleshed out a more nuanced — yet still heavily streaming-centric — plan. Of course, Covid alone didn’t inspire these changes, but it accelerated them; both companies have admitted as much. Expect the tectonic plates under distribution and exhibition models to keep slipping around in the coming years.
The industry may be transforming, but it certainly isn’t slowing down. The last 30 days saw a volley of films, series, and overall deals unveiled. So many key executive hires were announced that, for the first time, we’ve grouped them in a section below. On a bluer note, December added a few names to this year’s long list of deaths in the animation world. May 2021 usher in a brighter, steadier, and no less busy period for the industry. Happy new year!
Disney unveiled its streaming-centric future. At its Investor Day, the company presented around 100 titles, some 80% of which will be exclusive to Disney+. In contrast to Warnermedia (see below), Disney is making a point of reserving some films for theatrical release first. An expected reshuffle promoted Alan Bergman to sole chairman of Disney’s studios, with former co-chairman Alan Horn remaining as chief creative officer. Meanwhile, Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, slammed the company’s corporate policies.
Warnermedia shattered the theatrical window for 2021, citing the pandemic. The AT&T-owned company announced that all 17 Warner Bros. features slated for theatrical release next year would simultaneously come out on streaming platform HBO Max. The news — which affects hybrid titles Tom & Jerry and Space Jam: A New Legacy — surprised everyone, infuriated filmmakers and production companies, and prompted much debate about the viability of theatrical exhibition. A Deloitte survey found that most Americans don’t want to visit a cinema anytime soon.
The Demon Slayer movie broke the ultimate record in Japan, becoming the country’s highest-grossing film of all time. Its domestic tally stands at 32.47 billion yen (USD$313 million) — a whisker above Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Ahead of the film’s U.S. release next year, its distributor Aniplex of America signed with the agency Lucky Helmet to develop licensing and merchandising ventures.
Sony agreed to buy Crunchyroll from AT&T for $1.175 billion. The sale, if approved, will represent a major consolidation of global anime streaming and distribution — Sony already has a number of anime subsidiaries, including major distributor Funimation.
It was reported that Apple is in talks to buy two features from Skydance Animation. The negotiations are part of discussions around a “larger agreement” between the two parties. A deal would be a milestone for both: Apple has only released one animated feature to date, Skydance zero. The young studio is creatively led by John Lasseter, former creative head of Pixar and Disney animation studios.
Executive hires: Sidney Clifton joined The Jim Henson Company as svp of animation and mixed media; David Levine joined Moonbug as head of studio; Jason Tammemägi and Ailbhe McCabe joined Cartoon Saloon as producer and development producer; Luke Carroll joined Relish Interactive as svp of animation; Jasmine Johnson joined Stoopid Buddy Stoodios as head of studio; Christine Noël was promoted at the National Film Board of Canada to executive producer of the French Program Animation Studio.
Images at top, left to right: “Demon Slayer,” “Tom & Jerry,” Disney-Pixar’s upcoming “Lightyear”