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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Disney, 'Sleeping Beauty,' and 'Kitt Kittredge': Help Me Understand This

I freely admit that sometimes I am not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so perhaps you can help me understand this...

While I was on my book tour in October, I kept seeing ads on billboards and bus shelters for Disney's release of 'Sleeping Beauty.' (I also read this review in the New York Times.) Disney refers to this as the first of its "animated classics" to be released on Blu-ray.

There are two options for those who want to buy 'Sleeping Beauty.' For about $24 on Amazon, you can get a package that includes a Blu-ray DVD and standard-definition DVD. (The Blu-ray disc has some interactive BD Live features, too.) Or for $15, you can get a two-disc standard-definition DVD set.

What you cannot do is download 'Sleeping Beauty' on Movielink, CinemaNow, iTunes, Amazon, or any other legal marketplace for digital movies.

I happened to have a chance to talk with two execs, one at Disney and one at Pixar, about the situation.

My point: why spend all that marketing money to remind people about the existence of a 50-year old movie if you're not going to offer it in all the formats people might want to watch it in?

Also, Apple said last year that there were 500 million active iTunes users, and about a million new downloads of the software every day. The most optimistic projections about Blu-ray players envision that there will be about ten million of them in use by the end of this year. (And yes, that includes those built in to Sony's PS3 game console.)

So you're going to spend millions of marketing dollars to sell to a potential audience of 10 million instead of 500+ million? I own some Disney stock, and that don't make sense to me as a shareholder.

I heard a number of rationales for why Disney would re-release a classic on disc, but not make it available to families that wanted a digital download to watch on their laptop, iPhone, or iPod. Among them:

    - We'll eventually do a digital release of 'Sleeping Beauty' and we'll do another marketing campaign then.
    - 'Sleeping Beauty' is more targeted at Disney-philes and collectors, not actual children
    - We want to promote the Blu-ray platform
    - We feel people will be confused by our promotion of Blu-ray and BD Live as a high-quality, interactive, high-pixel-count experience...if they are also presented with the option to buy a lower-quality digital version.
    - You have to master a movie all over again especially for the download version.
    - Movies sold on iTunes just don't look very good. (This ignores the fact that iTunes, Movielink, and CinemaNow all support HD or near-HD content.)

Contrast Disney's approach to the one Warner Bros. took with its release of 'Kitt Kittredge' last week. The movie is available on iTunes, Movielink, or Amazon as a $3.99 rental or $14.99 download. (For some reason, the download on Movielink is a bit more expensive.) The $16 standard-def DVD comes with a digital copy for your PC or Windows portable media player, as does the $27 Blu-ray disc.

(Unfortunately, the Warner Bros. "digital copy" won't play on the iPod or a Mac. That's a problem, and it makes Apple owners feel like they're paying for something extra that they can't enjoy. But at least interested viewers can purchase an iPod/Mac-compatible copy from Apple.)

So would someone explain to me how the Disney strategy makes sense?

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