Disney Will Empty Its 'Vault'—Eventually—for Its Forthcoming Streaming Video Service
Disney's forthcoming Disney+ service has found a new weapon in the streaming wars: Bambi.
The 1942 classic is one of several films that, for decades, has been part of what's known as the "Disney Vault": A collection of popular features that the studio keeps out of home video circulation for long periods of time. But on a Thursday conference call with shareholders, Disney CEO Bob Iger disclosed that the company's Disney+ streaming platform will eventually carry the "the entire Disney motion picture library," including the "Vault" titles.
It's a major strategy shift for Disney. For years, the company's best-known films would arrive on video only during brief, heavily promoted release windows: "This Easter is your last chance to add Bambi to your collection before it disappears—for years to come!," noted one 1990s commercial. The move was intended, in part, to ensure the company could still attract moviegoers when it re-released its older films in theaters. As a result, certain Disney VHS cassettes and DVDs became highly sought-out items, and for years, copies of films like Beauty and the Beast or Sleeping Beauty could fetch hundreds of dollars on the collectors' market.
But the self-imposed moratorium no longer makes sense. For starters, Disney doesn't release older films with the same frequency as it did years ago; instead, the simply remakes them, with live-action versions of such animated classics as Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King arriving this year. More importantly, the market for physical media like DVD and Blu-Rays has been decimated in recent years, as consumers have opted for subscriptions to streaming video services instead.
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Disney's new plan will likely make its Disney+ streaming service, set to debut this fall, even more appealing to parents and die-hards. It will also give the mouse house a major advantage over competitors like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and especially Netflix, which has been streaming Disney films for years (and whose deal with the studio is nearing an end).
Disney+ will also feature original series, such as The Mandalorian, which is spun off from the Disney-owned Star Wars, as well as numerous hit Pixar and Marvel films.
Iger didn't specify how or when its classic films will be rolled out on the service, though it's likely not every movie with the Disney logo will be on the service. For instance, the studio's Oscar-winning 1946 film Song of the South, which has been assailed for years as being racially insensitive, has never been released on home video. While Iger said in a 2007 shareholders meeting that the studio was looking into a possible release for Song, at this point, the chance of that movie ever seeing the light of day are pretty much zip.