This morning it was announced that Disney has released Frozen for digital downloading through iTunes. What makes this all the more astonishing is that the film remains in general release in cinemas and indeed, remains well inside the top 10; grossing over $4.5 million this past weekend. So why is Disney doing this now? Are they striking while the iron is still hot, or are other motives in play?
Why The Release Is Significant On Its own
A year ago, Disney released Wreck-It-Ralph on home media but made the pithy (in my opinion) decision to offer a digital download for sale a few weeks before the physical disc packages. I lamented at the time that although laudable for at least highlighting the fact that consumers do not want to wait to view content in their own homes, it still did not do a lot to address other issues such as the availability of films on illegitimate services long before, or how soon they are available on streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix. Yet here we are again. Another hit film being released early, but this time with an interesting development.
The Frozen release marks the debut of Disney’s platform for viewing on multiple devices. Other Hollywood studios have banded together under the UltraViolet banner but Disney is going it alone with their imaginatively titled ‘Disney Movies Everywhere’ service. (Quite how it winded up with a name like that when even the DRM technology behind it is called Keychest is beyond me.) Basically, it permits consumers to view their [purchased] Disney content on a variety of devices (Apple only for now though.)
How Will It Play Out?
Long in the works, it will be interesting to see how it plays out compared to the rocky start and low uptake
of its competitor. The question remains though, does it actually provide a benefit to consumers? To take myself, it does not. I already own a number of Disney films on DVD, but alas, they are from many years ago before the concept of ‘Disney Movies Everywhere’ was even a concept. They’re excluded from the service and I would have to buy them again; which probably isn’t going to happen.
The service is also only supported by iTunes at this time which, while quite ubiquitous, is not a standard and plenty of people do not have an account there. Needless to say, the lack of Android support (especially at launch) will put a large dent in the potential size of the service’s market; Android devices outnumber Apple’s.
Lastly, this is not the company’s first online streaming service. Disney Movies Online was a similar (but not as flexible) concept that was shut down in 2012; partly to pave the way for Movies Everywhere. Nonetheless, anyone who used it were SOL when it closed and they lost access to what they paid for. Should Disney’s effort fail and it is forced to join the UltraViolet consortium, what will happen to the content that people thought they bought?
While it seems obvious as to why this is all being rolled out now, there is, in fact other factors in play. For starters, this is not, in fact an early release. Frozen has been in cinemas for about 14 weeks; a short, but not record-breaking amount of time for a home media release. In some instances, that figure has been down to twelve weeks after the general release.
Secondly, the film remains quite popular and is an Oscar contender. It makes good business sense to strike while the iron is still hot. Lastly, Frozen is a seasonal film set in winter. It’s winter right now (at least in the northern hemisphere) but it won’t last long. Good luck selling a winter film come April.
Although Dreamworks’ Rise of the Guardians was a muted box office draw, the studio erred greatly when it took a leisurely time getting the film into consumers homes. By the time it finally did (in March) a film with Jack Frost and Santa Claus as major characters was well past it’s sell-by date for the year. Disney is not making the same mistake with Frozen, and it looks sure to rack up decent business before the daffodils are poking the heads up.