My Two Cents
Friday, 01 March 2024 16:13

The Disney/Sony Physical Media Deal: New Information & My Two Cents on a Better Way Forward

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All right, it’s been a week and a half now since we first broke the news here at The Digital Bits that Disney had signed a new deal with Sony for the latter to take over Disney’s physical media production and distribution.

In that time, there’s been a lot of speculation as to what this might mean for Disney’s physical media releases going forward. And there are certainly many questions that it’s natural for disc consumers to ask about the deal.

Does this mean that Disney will continue releasing Blu-ray and 4K discs? Will they perhaps even increase their title output? Will more Disney, Fox, Touchstone, and Hollywood Pictures deep catalog content finally come to 4K UHD? Does Sony taking over distribution from Disney mean that their product will return to markets the studio has pulled out of recently?

One thing we can safely say for sure is that Sony is a lot more efficient at producing and distributing titles on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD.

So streamlining this process and reducing unnecessary bureaucracy can only be a good thing in the sense of making Disney’s physical media titles more profitable for the studio.

But to answer those larger questions, I’ve continued to check in with our many industry sources over the last week or two. And I have learned a couple of things that should help to clarify the picture a bit for consumers. [Read on here...]

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The bad news is that the Disney/Sony deal does not mean a return of Disney product to Australia or other regions where the studio has recently pulled out. Our sources are telling us that this distribution deal applies to the US and Canada only. The studio operation in each individual market is making their own decisions about whether to release physical product there or not, and this deal doesn’t change that.

The good news, on the other hand, is that I’m told Disney remains committed to physical media distribution. And while Disney will continue to make the decisions about which titles get released on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD, those decisions will now be made in partnership with Sony, with the goal of maximizing availability based on consumer and retail interest.

That certainly suggests that Sony’s recent experience in choosing catalog titles for release on 4K Ultra HD especially should come into play. And Sony decision-makers must certainly be aware that the Disney, Fox, Touchstone, and Hollywood Pictures libraries contain many great titles that are greatly in demand by cinephiles, physical media collectors, and AV and home theater enthusiasts. But more on that in a moment.

An early example of the retail side of this maximization is this reporting by our friends over at Media Play News that the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain is going to be offering a new Disney-branded disc section in most of its stores, featuring a better selection of the studio’s Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD titles. The displays will apparently be available for a limited time, but select stores will feature expended sections more permanently, and more locations are being evaluated.

One would certainly imagine that the new Disney/Sony team will also be talking with Walmart and Amazon as well about new ways to bring their physical media product to consumers, perhaps with more retail exclusives of the kind that Best Buy used to be fairly aggressive with before abandoning the disc business. (Which, as you’ll recall, is another major industry story we first broke here on The Digital Bits late last year.)

In any case, the fact remains that the Disney-affiliated libraries have been the least-exploited catalogs in this business in terms of disc releases and particularly 4K UHD over the last several years, an oversight that is frankly shocking when you consider that it was Disney that essentially invented the “out of the vault for a limited time” marketing strategy for physical media.

One of the most overlooked—but I believe one of the most important—consequences of Hollywood’s recent and foolhardy obsession with streaming, is that the studio decision-makers have essentially forgotten the importance of reminding consumers that the films they make are special… not merely content.

Warner’s David Zaslav has been particularly egregious in this regard, by making newly-produced films and series simply disappear for tax write-offs.

But Disney’s Bob Chapek and Bob Iger have both contributed to this problem too.

When Disney’s The Lion King was released on DVD (in 1995) and later Blu-ray (in 2011), it became one of the biggest selling home entertainment titles of all time, in large measure because of a massive marketing campaign that made the release feel important.

Yet between 2017 and 2020, Disney released several dozen of their best catalog titles from the Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Disney animated catalogs on 4K Ultra HD—including The Lion King—almost completely without fanfare. They were essentially dumped into retail without so much as a press release. And then Disney scaled their catalog physical media releases—particularly their catalog 4K releases—back almost to nothing, even as other studios were going big on 4K catalog.

This was clearly the result of a corporate decision made at the highest levels of Disney—by Chapek and/or Iger—to focus on launching and building Disney+ and their streaming content pipeline. Then when the pandemic hit, and Disney cut personnel across the board (like all of the studios did at the time), the axe fell particularly hard on those who had experience in physical media. So not only did the studio’s disc business become an afterthought, most of the people who were still thinking about it were let go.

It’s no wonder then that discs have since become a very low priority at the studio.

But it’s also no wonder then that most of the content Disney is now producing—whether theatrically or for Disney+—just doesn’t feel particularly special anymore.

It’s physical media—and the hype surrounding it, both from the studio and from consumers and enthusiasts—that helps to make these films and TV series feel like treasures!

When you can hold a copy of your favorite film or series in your hands—in stunning quality, with lovingly-created extras, in bespoke packaging—and keep it on your shelf forever to watch with your family and friends whenever you wish, that’s what makes them feel special.

Disney, of all studios, should never have forgotten this.

I know for a fact that there are scores of titles now languishing in the Disney vaults that fans of physical media would love to buy and own on 4K Ultra HD and remastered Blu-ray. I know this because we hear from those fans every single day here at The Bits.

That list includes A-list titles like…

  • Tombstone: The Director’s Cut (Hollywood Pictures)
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (20th)
  • Kingdom of Heaven: Extended Director’s Cut (20th)
  • Open Range (Touchstone)
  • Armageddon (Touchstone)
  • The Rock (Hollywood Pictures)
  • Patton (20th)
  • Pearl Harbor (Touchstone)
  • The French Connection (20th – but not censored!)
  • Alien 3 (20th – including the Assembly Cut)
  • Alien Resurrection (20th)
  • The Rocketeer (Touchstone)
  • Big Trouble in Little China (20th)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (20th)
  • The Wolverine (20th)
  • Fight Club (20th)
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Disney)
  • Edward Scissorhands (20th)
  • Die Hard 2 (20th)
  • Die Hard with a Vengeance (20th)
  • Live Free or Die Hard (20th)
  • A Good Day to Die Hard (20th)
  • The Muppet Movie (Disney)
  • The Great Muppet Caper (Disney)
  • The Muppets (Disney)
  • Crimson Tide (Hollywood Pictures)

And it includes deeper cuts, fan favorites, cult titles, and other classics too…

  • The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures)
  • Brother, Where Art Thou? (Touchstone)
  • Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (Disney/Touchstone)
  • Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (Disney/Touchstone)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968-1973) (20th)
  • 28 Days Later (20th)
  • 28 Weeks Later (20th)
  • National Treasure (Disney)
  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Disney)
  • Wall Street (20th)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (20th)
  • Dead Poets Society (Touchstone)
  • Miracle (Disney)
  • Tron (Disney)
  • Tron Legacy (Disney)
  • Ed Wood (Touchstone)
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (20th)
  • The Sound of Music (20th)
  • M*A*S*H (20th)
  • The Last of the Mohicans (20th)
  • The X-Files: Fight the Future (20th)
  • The X-Files: I Want to Believe (20th)
  • The Day After Tomorrow (20th)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (original & remake) (20th)
  • Con Air (Touchstone)
  • Pretty Woman (Touchstone)
  • Signs (Touchstone)
  • The Black Hole (Disney)
  • Moulin Rouge (20th)
  • The Finest Hours (Disney)
  • The Lone Ranger (Disney)
  • Mary Poppins (Disney)

If Disney really wants to show its commitment to physical media going forward—and to bring that sense of ‘special’ back to its catalog—remastering and releasing the films on this list in 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray would be a great place to start.

The added benefit of doing so is that Disney could also add those films in 4K to Disney+, Hulu, etc. And the effort would help to preserve and protect these valuable gems for future generations.

But hey—I’ve only been working in, and reporting on, the home entertainment industry for close to thirty years now. So that’s just my two cents.

Stay tuned...!

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)



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