[ Digital cinema, democratization, and other trends remaking the movies ]

AD: Fans, Friends & Followers

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?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


  • You are the bright bulb in this case. Disney, on the hand, is the torch being passed around by cavemen.

    By Blogger GBH, at 2:38 PM  

  • Correct me if I'm wrong here, but hasn't Disney over the last 3 decades shown how protectionist they are about their "classics" library? Certain animated films they released in limited fashion on Laser Disc at one point in time. A lot of their big features had a limited release on DVD (many releases receiving 'special edition' dvds back in 2003).

    In this case, I think Disney's strategy is a little more compelling than for just any other Hollywood movie. It seems like they are trying to preserve a uniqueness and sense of class for their 'classics'. If they make them available on any and all mediums, it could be perceived to somehow lessen the product as a whole. David Lynch's commentary echoes this idea.


    By Blogger Steve Herring, at 1:24 AM  

  • Scott, you're not dim! You're asking trenchant questions. I think it might have to do with market penetration of movie downloads. Sure 500 million people are downloading iTunes, but are THAT many really watching movies on it? They're mainly music I'll guess. However you can bet a sizable portion of that BluRay/PS3 audience are buying movies and at a premium.

    By Blogger Dylan Pank, at 12:09 PM  

  • Hey Dylan-

    Apple's latest figures have it renting or selling 50,000 movies (not including TV shows) every day. Not an insignificant number....


    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 3:09 PM  

  • suppose you have a run rate of 50k downloads/day and a 350 day year. that's 17.5mm transactions. There are over 1 billion DVDs sold in the US each year. So Disney would be 1.75 percent of the market, small compared to Amazon's 6 percent, and trivial compared to Wal-Mart's 40+ percent. In the 1+ billion/yr market for DVD units, Disney can capture roughtly 13 percent of consumer spending. Their share of the 1 percent and 6 percent markets is much less. Why bother?

    By Blogger bob in ny, at 2:39 PM  

  • Bob -

    Because the only other option you leave consumers who want to own or rent a digital file is pirating it. That means Disney is leaving money on the table.


    By Blogger Scott Kirsner, at 5:12 PM  

  • but it may not be enough money to motivate a business/financial decision. Warner on the other hand has made a commitment to use their enormous library to make digital happen and they are both feet first! They did this with DVD, and they may feel they can do it again with digital. But consumer response to digital files may not compare to prior response to DVD, so Warner could be losing a lot of money by virtue of their aggressive leadership position.

    By Blogger bob in ny, at 3:21 PM  

  • Scott,

    I enjoy the blog, have bought your book, and am looking forward to watching the video of your Google lecture.

    One factual error, Warner Digital Copy titles *are* viewable on iTunes/iPods/iPhones. There were some early problems with a few titles but there was such an uproar that I doubt you'd see this same issue rear its head again.

    In fact if you read the comments on the page you've linked to you can get a fuller story.



    By Blogger Trukadero, at 1:54 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home