Video Streaming and Traditional Media: What lies ahead?

Iconic image collage of items found at a movie theater
November 9, 2021

Lori Borgman’s 2020 column in the Scranton Times regarding television commercials and web streaming was an eye-opening and charming observation of what may be permeating, growing, and evolving media consumption norms and habits. In the article, Borgman notes that simple television advertising mystified children in her presence, and that maybe they did not know what they were missing due to the impact of video streaming.

Borgman whimsically shares a story about watching traditional (non-streamed) television with her grandchildren and other family members. In her example, Borgman and company are watching Jeopardy! while it is being aired on what Borgman calls “plain old television.” The concept is novel to the children. Borgman explains to the children that the television show cannot be paused or rewound, so if they turn their attention to their evening meal, a different television show will be on afterward. This concept mystifies the children, and tech-minded adults present attempt to explain the phenomenon. During the attempt to explain the limits of “plain old television,” a commercial airs for the product “Snackeez,” an item that can transport snacks efficiently. The children are dumbfounded, both by the commercial itself and by the product that is being featured, as it most certainly appeals to the children’s desires to snack on the go. 

Borgman wisely points out that the advertisement may be the first television commercial the children have ever seen, as such artifacts of “plain old television” do not appear on video streaming services. The Snackeez commercial excitedly touts the product’s benefits as a way for children to satisfy their interest in mobile snacking… without the threat of spills… and ends with a buy-one, get-one-free call to action. By this time, the children cannot contain their excitement and enthusiasm for Snackeez, and who can blame them? Borgman concludes by noting that children are no longer exposed to television commercials because of the preponderance of video streaming, and that these commercials may be top forms of television entertainment (especially for children).

Borgman’s commentary is telling. Does video streaming have a stranglehold on media consumers? If so, are traditional forms of television and film soon to be overtaken by video streaming services? 

Impact of Video Streaming

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated an already growing and competitive video streaming industry. Nielson (2020) reported that more Americans logged on to streaming services during the lock down, with very large growth in video streaming occurring between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. (a 50 percent increase). These, of course, are hours during which adults are typically not home. Nielsen also reported a slight increase in video streaming among traditional college-age students. However, men and women ages 2-17 and 25-54 increased their video streaming by more than 60 percent during this period. During the pandemic, people had ample opportunities to choose between “plain old television” and video streaming. They chose the latter, and the consumption of commercials and shows on plain old television dwindled. Such traditional television thus may mystify more than children.

The impact of the pandemic on media consumption must be explored. The film industry was aggressive in exploring how to best meet the needs of its customers during the pandemic. David Sims recently noted in The Atlantic that while simultaneously releasing films in theaters and on streaming services seems like a great way to meet the needs of viewers (and make money) in the short term, in the long run it is a flawed strategy. Disney’s simultaneous release of Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+, a pandemic-driven strategy, brought in $80 million in domestic dollars during its opening weekend, plus an additional $60 million in video streaming ($30 per stream). However, in its second weekend at the box office, the film earned just $26.3 million (a 67 percent decrease from opening weekend), along with the dubious honor of having the steepest decline in Marvel cinematic release history for a film’s second week. While seeking additional revenue and pandemic-fueled media consumers/subscribers for Disney+, the very short-term impact was noteworthy, but it came at the expense of garnering large pay days at the box office followed by video streaming revenue later. According to Sims, “After all, if everyone can access a new blockbuster at once, it’s unlikely to hold people’s attention for longer than a week. But as cinema owners have pointed out, moviegoers are still willing to see new titles in theaters and pay to watch them at home later; the only reason they aren’t doing that is because studios are choosing instant gratification over sustainability.” 

In a 2021 piece in Deadline, Anthony D'Alessandro reported that the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) had opposed the dual release, whereas they indicated  that the Disney+ Premier release of Black Widow cannibalized premiere video on demand access and hurt domestic box office sales, and that the simultaneous release of films in theaters and on video on demand “is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.” Essentially, NATO’s position was that the tactic would be harmful, causing fewer dollars at the box office and a shorter duration on Disney+. 


As long as the pandemic is in play, film production and distribution firms may be tempted to dual release feature films. But at what risk, at what cost, or should I say, at what loss? 

In a 2021 article in The Hollywood Reporter, Pamela McClintock noted that industry insiders suggest that dual-release film strategies will cease once the pandemic concludes. Even as COVID-19 infection rates continue their roller coaster ride, Disney may already have walked away from dual-release experiments. A closer look at the domestic box office numbers tells a very interesting story about Disney’s dual release of Black Widow (Box Office Mojo did not post statistics for the Disney+ Premier release).

Table 1

Box Office Mojo Data for Black Widow

Table 1
Black Widow. Box Office Mojo. (n.d.). Copyright 2021 by Box Office Mojo.

In 2021, Austen Goslin reported in Polygon that the next film in the Marvel release schedule, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” would be released first in theaters and 45 days later on Disney+. Theater owners would approve of Disney’s change of heart. Is this a sign that Disney has abandoned the dual-release format?

At least at present, the strategy behind the dual-release format for films just doesn’t make sense from a sales and revenue standpoint, and dual release of film creates opportunities for rampant piracy. Piracy is a major factor in negatively impacting ticket sales at the box office and video streaming revenue. In a 2021 report on Movieweb, Joseph Furnish noted that piracy is a serious problem in video streaming. He indicated that research by Torrent Freak found that Black Widow is the most pirated pandemic-era film. In a 2021 article in The Hollywood Reporter, Pamela McClintock reported that dual-released, pandemic-era films were quickly pirated in good quality. This process typically does not occur until a film has moved from theaters to streaming services. The concept of piracy was barely touched on by D’Alessandro, but it is certainly worth mentioning and exploring.

How did the Disney+ platform fare during the pandemic? According to John Lutz in his 2021 article in Collider, Disney+ subscribership doubled in one year, growing to 116 million. Pandemic era dual distribution strategies are cited for the increase. In addition to Black Widow (a strong performer on Disney+ Premier), Cruella, Mulan, and Jungle Cruise were released in theaters and on Disney+ Premier. Subscribers to Disney+ can access such dual-released titles on Disney+ Premier for $30. It is possible that Disney executives were strategically utilizing the dual-release format as a mechanism for growing Disney+ subscribership, perhaps with much, some, little, or no regard for theatrical release figures, but further research should be done to investigate this concept.

Video streaming services are growing. The pandemic saw to that. Video streaming may be thought of as a runaway freight train, barreling through traditional media, at times displacing television and film consumption and at other times destroying all that is in its path. The pandemic created an ideal situation for Disney to hypercharge the train’s engine. It took Black Widow and Borgman’s Snackeez-seeking grandchildren for us to be reminded that traditional media is still king. At least for now.

Reference Section for additional online sources

Broadcasting & Cable:
Business of Apps:
The Rise and Fall of the TV Commercial by William M. O’Barr:


Black Widow. Box Office Mojo. (n.d.).

Borgman, L. (2020, September 6). It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a commercial! The Sunday Times, p. D9. 

D'Alessandro, A. (2021, July 19). Black Widow 10-day U.S. household viewership rises to 2m on Disney+ Premier, Samba TV Reports. Deadline.

Furnish, J. C. (2021, July 20). Black Widow surpasses The Tomorrow War as the most pirated movie of the pandemic era. Movieweb.

Goslin, A. (2021, August 12). Marvel's Shang-Chi will come to Disney Plus 45 days after theatrical release. Polygon.

Lutz, J. (2021, August 12). Disney+ doubles number of subscribers in one year, hitting 116 million. Collider.

McClintock, P. (2021, August 11). Theater owners sound piracy alarm over Disney+ Black Widow streaming reveal. The Hollywood Reporter.

Streaming consumption rises in U.S. markets with early stay-at-home orders during COVID-19. Nielsen. (2020, April 4).

Sims, D. (2021, July 22). Disney's Black Widow gamble didn't pay off. The Atlantic.




SCOTT J. WEILAND is Associate Professor of Mass Communications and Chair in the Department of Mass Communications at King's College.