“The Mandalorian” premiered nearly a year ago, serving as the biggest incentive to subscribe to Disney’s startup streaming service. The launch exceeded all reasonable expectations, but with Disney facing a much-changed media galaxy, there’s even more pressure on the “Star Wars” live-action series to deliver a big bounty to the studio.
That’s because the coronavirus pandemic has hit Disney harder than most giant corporations. Its theme parks and blockbuster movies have been particularly vulnerable to a public health issue that is keeping people at home.
Disney+ has become the company’s biggest success story – leveraging the company’s top brands and capitalizing on the appetite for content. That puts additional pressure on “The Mandalorian,” which, with most big movies postponed to 2021, represents the closest thing Disney is likely to release to a blockbuster this year. Season two premieres October 30.
“‘The Mandalorian’ is hugely important because it’s probably the biggest entertainment property right now,” Zak Shaikh, vice president of programming and entertainment at research-based media company Magid, told CNNBusiness. “It’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ is vital for HBO.”
Shaikh noted that “The Mandalorian” is No. 1 in Magid’s bi-weekly study which examines how engaged viewers are with a particular show. It outclasses other series, including “This Is Us” and “Stranger Things.”
“It shows how old intellectual property can be continually updated,” he said.
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The show’s popularity offers an opportunity to make money on other fronts, including merchandising, after the studio appeared to leave a lot of cash on the table last holiday season due to a lack of of products related to the “Star Wars” series.
Some of that had to do with a stated desire not to spoil the show’s “Baby Yoda” surprise, but Disney seems clearly determined to rectify that this fall: A quick visit to its ShopDisney website finds 160 items available, with everything from toys and clothes to cufflinks and bedspreads.
“I don’t think there’s a single character that creates more revenue in a toy aisle than ‘Baby Yoda,'” Gerrick Johnson, toy industry analyst at BMO Capital Markets, told CNN Business. . “You need the right buzz, you need the right excitement and I think things fall pretty perfectly for ‘Baby Yoda’ here.”
Like any individual streaming offering, it’s hard to gauge the precise value of something like “The Mandalorian.” But the benefits for Disney+ go beyond just motivating people to subscribe.
The show also brought heaps of publicity to Disney+ – which, according to the most recent figures, has more than 60 million subscribers – as well as high-profile accolades, including seven Emmy wins in September and a nomination for an outstanding drama series.
Other than that, “The Mandalorian” also animated Star Wars, a $4 billion brand that was getting pretty stale for Disney not long ago.
In 2018, spin-off ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ was a box office disappointment – at least by Star Wars standards – and December’s ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ drew a backlash. mixed response from the public despite the contribution of more than a billion dollars in the world.
“I don’t know if he revamped it, but rather showed that there may be stories in the Star Wars galaxy that are better suited to forms of television storytelling,” Suzanne Scott, associate professor at Moody College of Communication from the University of Texas, told CNN Business.
Scott added that live-action Star Wars television series “have always been in perpetual development, but hard to get started.”
“Hopefully its success will make Disney a little more willing to take a risk with a franchise that for many fans has become rather stagnant and predictable,” she said. A limited series starring Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi – reprising his role from the prequels – is in the works.
As “The Mandalorian” enters its second season, it’s now the mission of a galactic bounty hunter and a very cute baby with big ears to entertain millions during a difficult year. But the series must also support Disney+, which is now the shining center of Disney’s hobbled media empire.
But according to Shaikh, the Disney+ galaxy is bigger than that far, far away.
“As successful as it is, I don’t think any streaming service survives all at once, no matter how great it is,” he said. “The success of Disney+ is due to many factors, including brand recognition and an exceptional library.”