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Disney is rewriting how it develops movies and shows, to focus most on streaming

Disney will keep making shows and movies destined for TV networks, cinema screens and streaming services like Disney Plus -- but now the "primary focus" of original content is on streaming.

The Mandalorian, and its viral puppet star known as Baby Yoda, were Disney Plus' breakout hit.  

Disney is shaking up how it makes shows and movies, with Disney Plus and the company's streaming efforts taking center stage. Disney said Monday it's restructuring its three groups that create programming for all the ways Disney releases original content: theatrical films; shows, movies and sports programming destined for TV networks; and originals for its streaming services. And it's further divorcing the distribution of that programming from the groups that create it into a separate division. 

Now, the "primary focus" of original content will be on streaming, the company said. 

The restructuring of how Disney develops shows and movies is likely to make it easier for the company to be flexible about the fated distribution of any project. Be it originally destined for a theater, TV or a streaming service, the new structure will likely make it easier for the company to switch gears and point a project toward a different endgame. 

It's a kind of flexibility that the pandemic already forced Disney to experiment with to an unprecedented degree. Its Hamilton film switched from a 2021 theatrical release to a surprise streaming exclusive in July, for example. Instead of releasing mega-budget Mulan in theaters, the movie skipped theaters to hit Disney Plus instead, but with an extra $30 fee to unlock it. 

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping cinemas shuttered and forcing families to entertain themselves at home, Disney has been tweaking Disney Plus' role to make it a bigger and earlier outlet for how it releases its films. At first in the pandemic, Disney Plus simply started streaming already released movies months earlier than planned. But then Disney started ratcheting up its streaming releases with brand-new movies too, and now it is putting out some of its most high-profile titles on Disney Plus first instead. (Not all of its biggest titles, though: So far its mega-blockbuster Marvel franchise is holding new feature films in reserve, biding time for whenever theaters reopen widely and audiences show they're wiling to return to cinema seats.)

Disney Plus has been the star of Disney's effort to emphasize streaming more. Disney Plus has ramped up to 60.5 million subscribers as of July, lightning-fast growth that even Disney never predicted. Initially, the company projected the service would reach between 60 million and 90 million subscribers about five years after launch. Instead, within eight months, it has already crossed the low end of that range. Disney also operates streaming services Hulu and ESPN Plus in the US. 

On Monday, Disney said its original content creation will be managed in three groups, called studios, general entertainment and sports. And those divisions will be helmed by their current leaders -- Alan F. Horn and Alan Bergman for studios, Peter Rice for general entertainment and Jimmy Pitaro for sports. But a new media and entertainment distribution group will be led by Kareem Daniel, who was previously president of consumer products, games and publishing at Disney. All five men will report directly to Disney CEO Bob Chapek.

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