Dropping a fortune on a promotion that did not pay off is just another sign that Disney is still in recovery mode.
During Sunday’s Oscar telecast, there was a clunky interlude where actress Melissa McCarthy came out with performer Halle Bailey. The pair were not appearing to present an award but to instead introduce a new trailer for the film they were appearing in, the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid”. This segment of the show was off tonally, as it was a blatant promotion, but also not unexpected. Still, it served as an awkward introduction to an already dicey enterprise, as there has been much talk of the black actress Bailey taking on the title role.
The studio really needs this film, debuting in May, to be a hit, as the parent company has been foundering, with only the inexplicable “Avatar 2” success being a needed lifeline, but even this attempt at promoting a coming property manages to display the troubles seen from this once powerhouse company in the entertainment sector.
‘THE LITTLE MERMAID’ stars Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy presenting at the #Oscars pic.twitter.com/AQV2Jbg3Yw
— Film Updates (@FilmUpdates) March 13, 2023
It has been learned that the formal presentation of the movie’s trailer during the Academy Awards was a sold promotional spot by the network. The production offered movie studios opportunities for in-show promotional segments to be purchased. Warner Brothers had one to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, and then there was the “Mermaid” segment. The stage time was sold, as were the commercial slots, and Disney ponied up big; the two actresses introduced the extended trailer, which ran close to two and a half minutes.
All told, it is estimated that this promotion cost Disney $10 million. Now there is a bit of in-house bookkeeping to juggle, as the Disney Company owns the ABC Television network, but this is still a studio payout. That the company could not arrange for a deal is one thing, but the return on this investment has to be called into question.
While it is always a guess at exactly what is spent on film promotions there are ballpark figures that can be found. A major studio release like “Mermaid” can be expected to spend anywhere from $50-100 million. (These numbers are harder to pin down post-Covid with all kinds of variables arriving.) This means that at the very least Disney just spent 10% of its advertising budget for the film on Sunday, with the figure likely significantly more. Who felt this was a good idea?
The Oscars have seen its popularity plunge over the past years. The annual showcase used to average between 45-50 million viewers. Though showing a bit of an increase over last year, the ratings for this past Sunday have the 2023 awards delivering an audience of just 18.8 million. Now look at the Super Bowl, played last month. Disney could have spent less on a 30-second spot (around $7 million) or spent slightly more than on Sunday for the full minute, displaying a web address to go see the full trailer. That would have been seen by well over 100 million people.
This kind of curious business move is in keeping with the recent performances seen by the corporation. For the past year, or so, the Walt Disney Company has been in the news steadily and very little of that news has been good in nature. Bad PR, a tough entertainment climate, competition welling in the streaming sector, miserable box office returns, dismal quality in new programming, and numerous shake-ups in the executive levels have led to a diminished company.
We have detailed many of the travails, and things have not improved. It was basically last March when then-CEO Bob Chapek had been compelled to enter into the political dogfight in Florida. It began as a media push to get the company to respond to HR 1557 in Florida, which was then the bill to get parents more rights and involvement in their children’s education. That morphed into internal pressure from gay employees, Chapek then felt the need to come out and oppose the legislation, and that was essentially his tossing a snowball down a steep slope.
By the end of last year, it was tough to find a place where Disney was looking strong. The studio suffered a number of box office failures. The Disney+ platform delivered a number of shows that were regarded as disappointments. Public perceptions were dropping as polls showed support for the Florida legislation. The state stripped the exclusive management provisions it enjoyed for decades in Central Florida. Only the theme parks saw a growth in revenue, mostly the result of recovering from the era of closures.
Disney’s stock dropped by more than -45% over the year, as it saw the worst performance in 50 years. In March of 2021 the stock was inching close to the $200 per share plateau; today at $91.50 it rests at the level seen when it plunged at the onset of the pandemic. As Bob Chapek was dispatched last year and Bob Iger took back command of the company it signaled major problems, and this is some Iger has been alluding to, both candidly and indirectly.
Better decisions are going to be needed, but there has not been evidence of this taking place yet. Dropping a small fortune on a commercial spot for a small Oscars audience is not displaying signs of savvy decision-making.
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