As we reach the mid-point between my winter’s highlights—Christmas and Macworld Expo—I have a tiny request of Steve Jobs:
Make my little girl happy.
And by this I mean, please exert your influence at Disney and, before leaving the Macworld Expo stage on January 9th, announce that the iTunes Store will, from that day forward, offer Disney’s entire back catalog of classic movies—yes, even those that aren’t currently available on DVD.
Scan Disney’s family offerings at the Store and you find four movies that one might consider classics— Bambi, Cinderella, Dumbo, and The Little Mermaid . (Okay, a lot of the Pixar stuff is there too and, while classic in my book, some of these movies are a little too dark in tone for my five-year-old.) And Mary Poppins, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, 101 Dalmatians, Snow White, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King —even Son of Flubber , for god’s sake?
Nowhere to be seen.
Those who don’t have kids may be unaware that Disney has a unique system for selling its movies time and again. It works this way:
Release a classic movie such as Bambi in the new format of the day—VHS, DVD, Special Edition DVD, whatever—for a limited time. Pull it from circulation until a new format comes along—Blu-Ray, HD-DVD, Flash RAM, Brain Implant. Release it yet again and then pull it. Rinse and repeat. The formula results in demand created, in part, through scarcity.
I understand that releasing the entire Disney oeuvre in downloadable form goes against this formula. But, if I may be so bold as to suggest it, I think the formula has just about run its course.
Yes, you can probably sell it all again one or two more times to accommodate some form of high-definition disc but, as at least one member of the Disney Board understands, media transmitted over the Internet is the future. Why not embrace that future now, particularly when it offers a few distinct advantages?
The first is that placing the entire Disney catalog on iTunes could bring in a mess o’ money. Under the current formula Disney rereleases one or two major classics a year. Given that those movies won’t be released again for another several years, you lose sales because the prime audience for these movies—4 – 8 year olds—have aged to the point where they’re interested in more mature fare. Sure, you got mom and dad to pungle up for Mary Poppins and Peter Pan again, but why hook ‘em for just two movies when you have a chance to offload a baker’s dozen?
Secondly, one of the major complaints about downloadable movies is that they don’t offer the same content as the DVD versions—no extras, commentary, rich booklets, or action figures. But suppose the content itself is the come-on. Offer movies in the Disney classics catalog only as downloads and suddenly the iTunes Store offers unique value.
And finally, iTunes movies are about as protected as you can make a viable movie download. You can’t burn them to disc nor can you pass them along to others whose computers aren’t authorized to play items purchased from your iTunes account. You thus encourage sales by eliminating the “pass-along” factor that comes with physical media.
Convinced? No? Okay, I’m willing to compromise. I’d still like the entire classic catalog available to me on the iTunes Store but if Disney wants to occasionally release a SuperEnhancedMegaHi-DefBonusDiscEdition of some classic movie, fine. Those who demand the most from movies (and like the flexibility of playing the things on any movie player they own) will line up to buy it. Others, like me, who’d prefer to settle into the couch with their child tucked under one arm and share the beloved movies of their childhood, can easily (and, as far as Disney and Apple are concerned, profitably ) do so.