So Disney has announced that in an unprecedented move for the studio, the digital copy for a first-time release for home viewers will be available as a digital download prior to the release on physical media. While that, in theory, sounds good, here's a look at why this development with the Wreck-It-Ralph digital copy is, quite simply, flawed.
First Though, What They've Got Right
Hollywood studios as a group have had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that consumers like to watch their content at home. They disliked the video recorder until the realised it could make them more money than theatrical releases and they always tended to have a suspicious view of television until, again, they realised it would help them rake it in. (The fact that the various television divisions of studio's parent companies help prop up the film studios is a topic for another time.)
Now it would seem that the internet is next on their agenda. Having seen what happened to the music industry in the wake of Napster, Hollywood studios are keen to avoid the more blatant actions that hastened the record companies' downfall. In that vein, they've been much more open to the idea of allowing viewers to legally download or stream content.
Both Amazon and Netflix (among others) have offered suitable outlets for a number of years (the former favouring purchases while the latter favouring all-you-can-eat streaming.) The studios have also made their own inroads into the industry with features being an integral part of Hulu and by forming a consortium (minus Disney) to design and manage their UltraViolet streaming service.
All the services above offer similar content although Netflix is known to lag on the new releases.
So What Have They Got Wrong?
By the looks of things, the studios have done decently well for themselves, right? Weeeeell, the truth isn't quite as straight forward. Yes, the partnerships with Amazon and Netflix have certainly worked, but only for older content as mentioned above. New content is hamstrung by the various broadcast deals the studios have with networks. While that will soon change (with DreamWorks in 2014 and Disney in 2016), it's still a bit of a ways off from today. Also factoring into the equation is the fact that there have been problems with Amazon blocking access to content for reasons that would not be immediately apparent to the consumer.
In conjunction with Amazon and Netflix, the studio's Ultra Violet service has been plagued with problems of the technical kind that have hindered consumer's ability to easily watch their content.
And Ralph Figures Into All of This Where?
Where the Wreck-It-Ralph digital copy features in all of this is the very fact that it is simply the latest chapter in the ongoing saga that is Hollywood's relationship with the internet. Now that should be a cause for celebration; being a sign that even Disney is willing to admit that consumers want to stream and download content as soon as its first released.
However, as most of you will know, Ralph has been available in plenty of places online since its cinematic days so those who the digital release is likely targeting have probably already been able to see it in their own homes.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the digital copy is for only the film itself. For all the extra features and commentaries, the discs will still be a necessary purchase. So why the heck would you cough up for the digital copy if you have to cough up again to get the extras? I wouldn't and I'd bet you wouldn't either. Sticking out a few more weeks doesn't seem to bad when you'll save maybe $20.
Which leads us to the last issue: the cost. The Reddit discussion for today's news very much centered on how much this digital download will cost. Disney hasn't released any details but an educated guess puts it at around $15.
The discs have been announced as starting at $31.99 for every version under the sun with all the extras included, plus the digital download as well.
So why, in the name of all that is sane and just, would you pay half the price of the physical pack when you're getting waaaaay less than half the value? The quick and dirty answer is that you wouldn't. You simply hold your breathe for a few more weeks and be a much happier consumer. In any case, we all know those recommended retail prices are overblown anyway, so expect Amazon to have a decent discount that further erodes the difference.
How To Get It Right With The Wreck-It-Ralph Digital Copy
How could Disney get it right? Well for one, they could have had the digital copy available now (January 2013). They could do a better job of strong-arming the cinema chains into narrowing the release window between theatrical and home media releases. And they could offer the extras with the download rather than just the film itself.
Are Disney misguided with this announcement? How would you better handle it? Leave a comment below!