Disney launched Disney Movies Anywhere a few years ago. I didn’t think much of it initially until I had some problems trying to watch some Star Wars movies I had bought through iTunes. I signed up, connected it to my iTunes account (an easy authorization), connected it to my Amazon account, and fired up the Fire TV. I didn’t need to download the Disney Movies Anywhere app for my devices, because the movies weren’t siloed inside of an app, they were appearing as if they were natively purchased on whatever platform I was on. The only drawback is that this only worked for Disney movies (even though that turns out to be a lot of stuff).
This changed when Movies Anywhere was announced as a multi-studio program with participation from Sony Pictures (Columbia, TriStar, etc.), 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Paramount, Lionsgate, and smaller studios aren’t participating at this time. This system works on all the platforms Disney Movies Anywhere had worked on: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play (YouTube), and Vudu. However, like all new entertainment-technology thingies, this is in the U.S. first, with no plans announced for a global rollout.
There was some pesky annoyance with setting up a new account (they didn’t just lop “Disney” off the name of the old system, I don’t know if they needed a separate legal entity, or whatever.) Once it was set up everything was working as advertised. I had movies and they were anywhere.
Something I was curious about was support for 4K/UHD, and HDR. The Movies Anywhere app, which is optional to use, doesn’t support playback beyond HD right now, but “eligible” titles are available across all the participating systems. Apple had recently announced that whenever a studio updated a movie for 4K and/or HDR that anyone who bought the movie already would receive that update for free (Except for Disney). Apple also showed off substantially reduced prices over what competing stores had been charging for purchasing 4K HDR movies. Amazon followed by slashing the prices of their 4K HDR movies, but they didn’t upgrade titles. How would these decisions interact with Movies Anywhere? Turns out you basically get the benefits of Apple’s content dealing for those titles on any platform that also has those movies in 4K HDR.
My friend Matt Alexander, an Internet Entrepreneur (Internetrepreneur), has invested heavily in his personal media library, with purchases on a variety of platforms so he was finding out all of these benefits yesterday. He had bought physical titles that had UltraViolet codes, and entered them in to Vudu (basically the only place worth doing that) and since Vudu is a participating platform in Movies Anywhere, those titles were available to him. So this is a service that even has benefits for people suffering from UltraViolet.
You even get benefits that might be particular to a platform, like iTunes Extras, or Amazon’s X-Ray information, depending on where you access the movie from. Don’t expect your playback info to synchronize though. If you pause a movie in iTunes, that won’t sync with Amazon, or vice versa. It only synchronizes what counts as ownership.
Someone might wonder what the catch is. There are three catches:
- You agree that the service can monitor the movies you have purchased, it needs this to know what copies you’ve bought so that other platforms will show them as purchased.
- You will need to buy movies.
- You can’t lend the digital copies to anyone, but you can lend a disc if you bought a disc and redeem the digital code.
Those aren’t really dramatic catches, but think about the second one. How often have you hesitated on buying a movie in the last 10-15 years because the way you “own” these titles is such a mess? There’s a reason so many streaming services with ephemeral libraries exist. Sure you might buy the occasional title that isn’t available for streaming, but that’s probably a big blockbuster you really liked. You’re not doing the kind of shopping that was happening in the home video space in the early 2000’s. As the kids say, the studios “made bank” back then.
When I was in college, we’d go to the Sarasota or Bradenton Walmart and buy DVDs that were on sale. Things we might not have even seen before, because they’d be in the $10 or less range. That was a peak time for home video because so many titles were re-released on DVD, and with so many editions, that there was always something coming out to buy. With the relatively pricey rental options, it was always a good idea to be on the lookout for titles that could be added to your personal library.
Then HD TV sets started to hit their stride and the studios wanted to sell discs that would play HD. They botched this really hard with two, competing, onerous disc formats that were priced higher than DVDs, to protect the existing DVD prices. Consumers were also getting used to consuming media on-the-go thanks to smartphones. Coincidentally, the global economy fell off a cliff during the same period. Oops. It’s no surprise that this devastated the home video sales market. Efforts to fix this have been systems like UltraViolet, where almost nothing played UltraViolet movies. Even Warner Bros. is participating in Movies Anywhere, and Kevin Tsujihara (WB CEO) was perhaps the biggest champion of UltraViolet.
Movies Anywhere is a return to focusing on selling content by reducing friction, but updated for the contemporary time instead of DVD sale bins. It signals to the customer that the movie they bought has value. Not just value on a particular, restrictive platform. It makes it seem like it’s not as ephemeral as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu library content. It’s also not as fiddly as buying and ripping Blu-Rays for Plex. It’s a reason to shop for things to watch because the friction is so low.
I do wonder what the long term effects of this will be beyond movie sales. It’s possible that we’ll see fewer movies appearing on streaming services now that it’s more reasonable to buy a title, and a bigger shift to episodic programming. It’s also possible it could have a huge impact on the streaming hardware people buy to view titles. If you have a huge iTunes library, but don’t want to spend $180-$200 on an Apple TV to stream those titles, you can buy a 4K HDR Roku, or 4K HDR Fire TV for less than half that device cost. Several TV manufacturers have been integrating more robust connected services in their panels than what they previously offered - like Roku, or Fire OS. As Roku’s CEO, Anthony Wood, pointed out to Variety, one in five smart TVs sold in the U.S. this year ran Roku’s software. Roku offers support for Vudu, Amazon, and Google Play. Any of those will have Movies Anywhere content. Roku’s platform is certainly not my preferred way to watch media, but it’s proven to be more than palatable with 37% of all streaming devices owned by U.S. broadband households.
There are, of course, reasons to buy an Apple TV beyond iTunes movies (and there will probably continue to be once Apple releases their self-financed episodic programming next fall or the year after), but in multi-TV households, maybe people will save $180 per room if they don’t need to watch Amazing Stories and play exactly one game that’s a timed exclusive in that particular room. That’s money that could be spent on about 10-18 movies to watch anywhere. Money the studios would love to receive.