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CORDER’S COLUMN: Disney screws its cinema friends. Watch retailers know the feeling

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Disney would not exist without cinemas, so its decision to release this summer’s blockbuster remake of Mulan exclusively on the Disney+ streaming service is a massive gut punch for these businesses that have been investing in making movie watching such an attractive experience.

Disney has effectively made the decision to start selling direct to consumer by releasing Mulan online for $29.99 from 4 September.

Trade body UK Cinema Association voices frustration that will be shared on our side of the Atlantic. Its chief executive Phil Clapp says: “With cinemas across the UK now continuing to re-open and welcome back their customers, the decision by Walt Disney Studios yesterday to put Mulan on their Disney+ service and not into cinemas will be seen by many as hugely disappointing and mistimed.”

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There is an obvious parallel here with the watch industry. Few, if any, of the major brands would have global reach without the investment and commitment from thousands of authorised dealers.

Covid has caused a major shift towards selling online while shops have been closed, and much of this additional business has been directly with the brands through their own ecommerce sites.

Authorized dealers have also been working tirelessly to maximize their own ecommerce sales for brands that allow online selling.

Now shops have reopened in most major markets, the brands seem intent on locking in the gains they have made through ecommerce, and they are creating an increasingly unlevel playing field by making some of their most desirable watches available only through their own sites.

Multibrand retailers want to maintain a decent cross-section of brands, but it is hard for them to justify tying up cash in watches that are hard to sell. If the brands keep the most desirable watches to themselves and leave authorized dealers with the rest, they will be forced to drop them.

Were this to happen, the majority of brands would find themselves without physical representation anywhere outside the major shopping capitals of the world.

The brands might choose that route, but they will be giving up market share to brands that continue to work constructively with the very best retailers in the vast majority of US cities.

Cinema owners may have no choice than to dance to Disney’s tune, just as Rolex ADs merely ask “how high?” when asked to jump by the watchmaker.

But marginal brands from all the major groups need to carefully think about what would happen if their entire network of multibrand retail partners decided enough is enough.

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder