Disney is ending its vault program, giving Disney+ a huge boost

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Disney+, the company’s upcoming streaming service, will carry Disney’s entire catalog of animated films, ending Disney’s long-standing “vault” program. CEO Bob Iger told shareholders today that Disney+ “at some point fairly soon after launch” will carry films that “traditionally have been kept in a ‘vault’ and brought out basically every few years.”

That’s a major policy change for the company, which, until now, has deliberately created artificial shortages of its films via extremely limited re-releases. For example, a movie like 101 Dalmatians would have been available to purchase during its initial home release run before being placed in “the vault” for a lengthy period. Disney initiated the practice as a way to control its own market and drive up demand whenever it did release a new edition of an old classic. But the policy has led to frustrated customers, who often have to pay a high premium for used Blu-rays or DVDs of the films that aren’t available at any given moment. The tradition carried through to Disney’s digital distribution platforms, too. For instance, even with Disney’s live-action Aladdin coming soon, the animated film is unavailable for streaming or digital purchase.


Disney currently cycles 34 movies in and out of the vault, ranging from the company’s most popular films, like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, to direct-to-video sequels like Bambi II and The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. Although 34 movies may not seem like enough to sway uncertain subscribers who are potentially already shelling out $10 a month on a Netflix subscription and additional dollars on other streaming services, it’s a pretty big deal for Disney fans who don’t already own the complete library.

Disney is betting hard on exclusivity. That’s why the company decided to take a $150 million hit to remove its films from Netflix. Disney’s multigenerational brand recognition is a key proponent in its business strategy. The company’s library of films, both live-action and animated, is almost unmatchable by rival streaming services. While Netflix and Hulu are creating original content, they’re too new to have titles with the weight of Disney history. Meanwhile, AT&T is gearing up to launch its own streaming service through WarnerMedia, relying heavily on HBO’s content backlog, which could also be a major selling point. But that content may not be exclusive to WarnerMedia. It could still be licensed to other services, like Amazon Video.

Disney movies soon won’t be available to stream anywhere but Disney+ — not on YouTube, Netflix, or even Disney’s TV channels. From Disney diehards who want to rewatch their favorite films to parents looking forward to introducing their kids to their childhood favorites, fans will have to reach for existing physical home video media or Disney+. A new CNBC report lays out the value of that exclusivity.

“Our confidence in the resilient success of Disney+ comes from the company’s unmatched brand recognition, extensive premium content, and unparalleled ecosystem to market the service,” analyst Alexia Quadrani told investors, as reported by CNBC.

The reaction on Twitter amplified investors’ beliefs and Disney executives’ hopes. Given Iger’s promise that the service will cost “substantially less” than Netflix when it launches, the vault announcement seems like an easy way to generate an initial subscriber base.

Disney isn’t just relying on its catalog of older films. The company is also planning to produce live-action series from popular franchises like Star Wars, Marvel, High School Musical, and Monsters, Inc. But having the promise of Aladdin, The Lion King, Dumbo, and The Little Mermaid available is a crucial advantage. JPMorgan is betting that Disney will eventually have 160 million subscribers worldwide, according to CNBC, which is more than Netflix’s current 139 million.

Disney still doesn’t have a launch date or exact price point for its service, but more information is expected to come out of the company’s investor day on April 11th.





By Julia Alexander

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