Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on The Walt Disney Company

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The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiaries have been variously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; the company has business interests in areas that involve mass gatherings (including its theme parks and film releases) and isolation (including its streaming service and U.S. television brands).

Leadership and business[edit]

In March 2020, Disney's executive chairman Bob Iger announced that he would not take any salary during the pandemic; in 2019 he earned $47.5 million. Chief executive Bob Chapek announced that he will take a 50% pay cut.[1]

The president of Walt Disney World, Josh D'Amaro, was included on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's board for re-opening the state and reinvigorating its economy, while Disney Parks' VP Thomas Mazloum is on the task force for Orange County, Florida's economic recovery.[2]

The stock of the company fell 28% in 2020 to April 20.[3]

Theme parks[edit]

A sign posted at the entrance to Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom shortly before the extended closure of the Walt Disney World Resort.

Two of the company's Asian theme parks, Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland, closed on January 25, 2020. [4][5] On February 28, the Tokyo Disney Resort closed. [6]

On March 12, the company announced that Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, and Disneyland Paris would be closed beginning March 15th through at least the end of the month, marking the first time that all six Disney resorts worldwide were closed.[7] Two days later, Disney announced the temporary suspension of its internship programs, including the Disney College Program and International Programs,[8] which was later extended until the end of 2020.[9] Due to the closure of Walt Disney World, the British variety show Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway canceled a finale taping that had been set to film at the resort in March. [10] On March 27, the closure of both U.S. resorts were extended indefinitely. Cast members were to be paid through the week of April 18, 2020.[11]

Iger suggested that when parks reopen, temperature checks on visitors will become routine.[1]

Walt Disney World employs 75,000 total workers, the biggest single-site employer in the United States.[12] From the week beginning April 20, 2020, over 100,000 staff at Disney theme parks and hotels were put on indefinite unpaid leave, to save the company $500 million. The move was taken due to the extended period of closures for these destinations, which earn over $1 billion per quarter.[1] Disney had arranged with the Florida unemployment program for its 26,000 UNITE HERE union workers in the state to be automatically enrolled, preventing them from needing to apply on the system that is said to regularly fail – though the state's benefits have been criticized for only paying out $275 a week for 12 weeks.[12]

Shanghai Disneyland was the first park to reopen on May 11, 2020, with new safety protocols. Park capacity was limited to 30%, social distancing measures were instituted, and temperature checks and face masks were required for entrance.[13] On May 20, following the easing of some restrictions in Florida for retail and dining establishments, third party retailers at Disney Springs were allowed to reopen. Disney-owned stores in the shopping district reopened on May 27.[14] On May 27, the Orange County Recovery Task Force in Orlando approved Disney's phased approach to opening the Walt Disney World Resort, with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom slated to reopen on July 11, followed by the reopening of Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios on July 15.[15]

On June 10, 2020, the Disneyland Resort in California announced its intentions for reopening. Pending local government approval, the resort intends to open the Downtown Disney shopping district on July 9. The reopening of the Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure will follow shortly after on July 17, 2020, sixty-five years to the day the original park opened. Finally, Disney owned resorts at the complex will reopen on July 23.[16]

On June 1, the Tokyo Disneyland Resort shopping district, Ikspiari, reopened to the public. The Parks are expected to reopen on July 1st.[17]

Disneyland Paris is expected to reopen on July 15th.[18]

Cruises[edit]

On March 12, 2020, Disney Cruise Line made the decision to stop sailing.[19] It suspended all ships on March 14, when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered cruises to stop sailing for 30 days. On April 6, Disney Cruise Line extended its shutdown and announced it would not launch ships until April 28, and would not travel to Canada until July 1, in line with Canadians cruise ship restrictions. As compensation to passengers, Disney is offering full refunds or to re-book a cruise for within 15 months of the original departure.[20] Per CDC direction, the cruise line on June 8, 2020 its restart dates canceled additional trips with Dream class ships sailings through July 27 while the Magic and Wonder sailings through October 2 and September 14, 2020, respectively.[21]

Cinema and television[edit]

Walt Disney Studios and Television[edit]

On March 19, Walt Disney Studios announced that they would no longer report box office figures.[22]

As films began to cancel wide releases at the start of 2020, Disney's Mulan was postponed in China and Italy.[23][24] Particularly for Disney, Mulan not opening in China, where it aimed to make most of its money, was concerning,[25] especially with the possibility that pirate copies will appear and prevent Chinese people from going to see it in cinemas when it is released.[26] Mulan's London premiere on March 12 went ahead without a red carpet,[27] but on March 13 it was announced that the film's wide release will be postponed; on this day, Disney also postponed the releases of Antlers and The New Mutants.[28] Also on March 13, Walt Disney Television announced that production was suspended on many of its series.[29] The Disney Family Singalong, an ABC special on April 16, which featured karaoke performances of songs from Disney works with celebrity guests, was created during the lockdowns in the US.[30]

Delayed productions[edit]

Delayed/cancelled releases[edit]

Pixar[edit]

The 2020 opening March weekend's biggest film was Disney/Pixar's Onward, making around US$39 million. This was dramatically lower than the year before, when Disney/Marvel film Captain Marvel earned over US$153 million.[41][42] For its second weekend, during the worst box office period the US had seen in decades, Onward saw the biggest weekend-to-weekend drop of any Pixar film, making $10.5 million, though was still the weekend's biggest film and the only one to make over $10 million.[43] It did not open in the areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak; while cinemas were closed in China, it also chose not to open in South Korea, Italy or Japan,[44] and was ultimately made available to purchase digitally on March 21. It was then added to Disney+ on April 3.[45]

Pixar's next release, Soul, had its release delayed from June to November.[40]

Disney+[edit]

The Disney+ European launch press event was postponed.[46] With the lockdowns during the pandemic, it was noted that the popularity of streaming services, including Disney+, would increase.[24][47] Disney capitalized on this by having the service go live in India on March 11, eighteen days before it was set to.[48] It also added the popular film Frozen II to the service earlier than planned, on March 15 instead of June 26,[49][50] and sent its movie adaptation Artemis Fowl straight to Disney+ on June 12, instead of giving it a theatrical release.[51][52] A recording of Hamilton also was shifted from theatres to the service, in spite of the fact the company paid $75 million for the rights to release it in theatres in 2021.[53][54] The One and Only Ivan was also sent to Disney+ on August 21, instead of a theatrical release.[55] Mulan, after being delayed several times, had its US theatrical release cancelled and will instead premiere on Disney+ on September 4, 2020.[56]

Disney+ had achieved over 50 million subscribers in its first five months online (to April 2020).[1]

Marvel Cinematic Universe[edit]

Director Destin Daniel Cretton's self-isolation stopped production of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was first hit on March 12; the Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was shooting in Australia, suspended production due to director Destin Daniel Cretton self-isolating due to suspected coronavirus, though he later tested negative.[57][58] The next day, despite several Disney films having their releases postponed in a company announcement, the May 1 superhero blockbuster Black Widow was initially not one of these.[28] This omission was speculated to be because the other films are standalone, while moving Black Widow – the first film of Phase Four – would affect the development and distribution of the future Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Disney+ works, with Disney holding off on an early postponement announcement; Black Widow was finally postponed on March 17, when Disney also postponed its other May releases.[39][59] It had earlier been speculated that Black Widow would be able to take Marvel's November release date planned for The Eternals, as Marvel had 'claimed' many future dates for blockbuster releases, which could save the film's prospects where smaller company releases may not.[23] The replacement was later confirmed, with a domino effect causing each future Marvel film to be sequentially replaced.[35] This also bumped Shang-Chi, with Marvel's first Asian hero, out of its Chinese New Year release date: it was due to be released in February 2021 but was displaced by Doctor Strange. However, given the film's early production shut-down, it may have missed its planned release date, anyway.[60][61][62]

The Marvel Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier suspended production in Prague, Czechia, where the series was set to film for a week. The series resumed production in Atlanta before global production was halted.[63]

Impacted productions[edit]

Films[edit]
Television series[edit]

Lucasfilm[edit]

On May 11, 2020, Lucasfilm released a video featuring Mark Hamill thanking Star Wars fans from all over the world, who worked as medical and healthcare workers, for their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in their countries.[67]

On June 15, 2020, it was announced that the Star Wars convention "Celebration Anaheim 2020" had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the next event scheduled for August 18–21, 2022 at the Anaheim Convention Center.[68][69]

On July 23, 2020, it was reported that the next three Star Wars films have been delayed by a year each to December 2023, December 2025, and December 2027 respectively as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.[70][71]

Stage[edit]

All West End and Broadway Disney Theatrical Productions are closed, as Broadway and West End shut down in March.[72][73] On May 14, 2020, it was announced that the Broadway musical Frozen will not reopen after the lockdown is lifted. The show performed its final performance on March 11, the day before all Broadway theatres closed. The US national tour would open when tenable. The international productions, West End, Australia, Japan, and Germany, have been pushed back to 2021.[74]

The two-year Broadway run cost about $35 million to mount, attracted attendance over 1.3 million and gross over $150 million. While not the box office performer as Hamilton or its stablemates The Lion King and Aladdin, the musical had mostly favorable reviews and a solid box office by grossing in the 80%-90% of box office potential. The 2019 holiday year end week gross about $2.2 million and April 2020 hit 98% of potential. Thus Frozen was chosen to close given the future lower attendance at theatres.[75]


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