The trailer for “The Mandalorian” – the first live-action “Star Wars” TV series – strikingly looks and feels like a movie ad. And that’s just the way Disney and its new streaming service, Disney+, want it.
Television has already blurred the lines with movies – providing more fleshed-out versions of character-driven dramas and foreign-language series, and making it harder to woo audiences to theaters for such films.
Now, in the battle to win the streaming wars, add series that approximate theatrical blockbusters to the mix, which was one of the messages that came out of D23 Expo, the just-wrapped convention devoted to all things Disney.
“Game of Thrones” certainly served notice that there’s an appetite for epic storytelling on the home screen. Yet the push to establish streaming players has hastened an investment in programs and concepts that easily could have become feature films, including the D23 confirmation of an Obi-Wan Kenobi series – starring Ewan McGregor, who played him in three movies – for Disney+; and Marvel’s limited series featuring characters associated with the Avengers franchise, among them “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki” and “Hawkeye.”
Obviously, there’s a need for premium series to be worth paying for, and that’s perhaps especially true in establishing new players.
Even so, most superhero and sci-fi fare targeted to television has taken into account the differences between movies and TV, with Netflix’s Marvel shows, such as “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” having put more emphasis on drama than action and special effects.
Several new series, by contrast, appear to up the ante in that regard, including “The Mandalorian,” Netflix’s upcoming “The Witcher” – starring Superman actor Henry Cavill – and a long-gestating Amazon series based on “The Lord of the Rings.”
Some of the movies targeted to streaming also possess casting and premises that could potentially be solid draws at the box office, including Netflix’s “Breaking Bad” sequel (which will premiere in October) and Disney’s live-action “Lady and the Tramp.”
How well the math works out on all of this remains to be determined. Studios might leave some money on the table in the short term by funneling certain marquee projects to streaming. Although “Solo” – the “Star Wars” spinoff about a young Han Solo – proved disappointing commercially, having McGregor in the lead would seem to afford the prospect of a stand-alone Kenobi movie happier returns.
Still, the beauty of streaming is that the model provides, well, a steady stream of revenue. And at $6.99 a month for Disney+, the tally from such a venture can add up fast if the studio can amass 90 million subscribers or more within five years.
During the movie portion of the D23 Expo, Walt Disney Studios co-chairman Alan Horn reminded the audience that watching a great story unfold on screen, in a darkened theater surrounded by other fans, is a “truly an immersive and communal experience.”
With its mix of properties, Disney – more than any other studio – clearly remains committed to that proposition.
At the same time, those entering the streaming wars appear equally determined to bring their big guns to bear to help launch these services, or in Netflix and Amazon’s cases, build, sustain them and protect their turf.
That could mean more movie-like spectacle in the comfort of your home – for those willing and able to pay for it – even if that means forgoing the communal experience, and making your own popcorn.