Why doesn't Disney want my money?
March 6, 2010 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Why does Disney have such a ridiculous home video release policy for its animated films?

I was conversing with a friend yesterday who mentioned that she was planning to watch the movie Fantasia later that evening. Since it's one of my favourite Disney movies, I quite fancied rewatching it myself.

Naïvely, I'd forgotten how resistant Disney is to accepting money from people who want to hand it to them. Even though I remember Fantasia being widely available on DVD less than a year ago, it's been ‘put back in the Disney vault’ and so is only available through third parties for the princely sum of £80 ($121)!

My question, then, is this; why does Disney do this? A look around the internet comes up with various claims, ranging from them wanting to protect theatrical re-releases, despite me not being able to remember ever seeing or hearing of Disney re-releasing any of their films widely. Another claims it's so that they can prevent DVDs from suffering declining sales by pulling it from shelves, then re-releasing it a while later and seeing sales history repeat itself.

What's the real reason? Is it any of these, or something else? Surely it's counterintuitive to aim for high sales in the short term and then slam the stable doors shut for several years, missing out on any sales inbetween? Are Disney just acting like special snowflakes, and if they're not and there is sound economic sense to what they're doing, why doesn't everyone else copy them?

(Just realised how many question marks there are here. So many questions!)
posted by jaffacakerhubarb to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Creating an artificial scarcity of a product they have an endless supply of guarantees they can always sell it at a premium. When it comes "out of the vault", they'll be selling it for $39.99 a pop. Without that mechanism, all their classic titles would be in the bargain bin being sold for $5.99, just like all other 50+ year old films. It's quite clever, actually, and you gotta admire the chutzpah for pulling it off.
posted by falameufilho at 9:16 PM on March 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm sure there are plenty of detailed economic reasons why this happens, and I look forward to reading them.

But I think it really boils down to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

And "why doesn't everyone else copy them?" Because, in this regards, Disney is a special snowflake and if somebody tried to copy them, and failed, they'd look like a fool, and no one wants to take that risk.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:18 PM on March 6, 2010

Artificial scarcity is the key.

To be rather blunt: Disney counts on your sentiment. They know that creating an artificial scarcity causes you, and others, to pine for this movie. Once they decide to release it to the public again, they are assured of being able to price it well.

Disney is profiting off man's tendency toward sentiment.

Lesson: spurn sentiment.
posted by dfriedman at 9:20 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's that live-action Fantasia coming out this (next?) year. Look for the primo, $50 Collector's Edition of Fantasia then.
posted by GilloD at 9:24 PM on March 6, 2010

God, I hate this practice. Awhile back I wanted to watch The Lion King, but it's "in the vault", and I can't even rent it from NetFlix; they don't have any copies, presumably because people bought up the copies they had. So basically my options are (1) find a used copy somewhere, (2) wait for Disney to offer me the opportunity to give them money, or (3) pirate it.

...yarr harr, fiddle-dee-dee
posted by Target Practice at 9:33 PM on March 6, 2010 [9 favorites]

Artificial scarcity is one reason, but there's also the motivating factor. If you see a movie on a store shelf, you might think "Oh, I might like to buy that! I'll have to remember to do that someday"

Whereas with Disney, you'll have to buy it now, or risk not being able to buy it in the future.

I think there's a name for that, but I can't remember what it is.
posted by delmoi at 9:33 PM on March 6, 2010

For what it's worth they do the theatrical re-release thing. That's how I saw Snow White as a kid, and Song of the South (weirdly enough), and 101 Dalmations, and Bambi. I don't know how widely these were re-released (I bet Snow White was because it was probably its fiftieth anniversary or something) and I'm not sure how often they've done it lately. But it does happen.
posted by Neofelis at 10:10 PM on March 6, 2010

Neofelis, I don't know the last time they did a rerelease, but it's been a while. I'd say I haven't seen this happen in the last ten years, and the one I saw about ten years ago was a very limited theatrical rerelease (Beauty and the Beast, on Imax only).

But yes, they do it because they can. There are a lot of rules that just don't apply to Disney.
posted by little light-giver at 10:34 PM on March 6, 2010

posted by dhartung at 10:58 PM on March 6, 2010 [10 favorites]

The sporadic re-releases are also timed so that there are always a new bunch of kids to sell to, and a new bunch of nostalgic parents to sell too.
posted by spilon at 1:50 AM on March 7, 2010

>> *cough*
>> posted by dhartung at 12:58 AM on March 7 [3 favorites +] [!]

Hey, thanks for that idea. I just checked my local library. It's checked out, but I requested a hold when it becomes available.

Gotta make sure I buy popcorn so I have it on hand when they call me.

Thanks again.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:49 AM on March 7, 2010

The library version may very well be scratched. Video game stores can resurface for about $3.00.
posted by craniac at 7:21 AM on March 7, 2010

I read somewhere while (long while) back that Disney releases them every 7 years because a new generation is born!
posted by jara1953 at 7:23 AM on March 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just to extend what people are saying about artificial scarcity: it is also a trick that Walt Disney learned out of pure necessity during World War 2.

At that time the Disney studios had been pretty much completely taken over by the US Government in order to churn out propaganda cartoons for public consumption (Donald Duck in Nutziland being far and away my favorite), and training videos for the consumption of the soldiers in our military.

Walt was very happy, and pleased to patriotically support the war effort, but by 1944 it was also bankrupting his company. He had nothing else in the pipeline that he could release theatrically, when he realized that there was an entire new generation of kids who had never seen Snow White.

The theatrical re-release, seven years after it's initial release, raised the much-needed cash to keep the company afloat and also set the standard for the 7 year release cycle. It's been working now for 65 years, and I don't suspect it will stop working anytime soon.
posted by Lokheed at 7:36 AM on March 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Nthing the age cohort thing. Once the physical DVD is sold, it is out there. And once the kids get older, they have no use for it, so it is probably way more likely to be resold or given to another family with kids, because parents rarely pop it in once the kids get older. So it would be far more likely to be in used circulation than say, "Wall Street." So Disney does this to limit the recirculation of these items.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2010

Agreeing that it is artificial scarcity. But I disagree that there is anything wrong with it- they have a library of products that are time tested favorites. They have a duty to themselves and their shareholders, and even to some extent to the art itself, to make sure it continues to have value. I would much rather deal with the disappointment of it not being available instantly to me on any whim, than deal with the loss of such a thing to future generations.

The art lives longer if it isn't allowed to burn itself out for short term gain. It ends up being win-win for everyone.
posted by gjc at 11:06 AM on March 7, 2010

That reminds me - my SO has been waiting for the re-release of Beauty and the Beast, which is apparently happening later this year. That would make it 8 years since the last time it was available.
posted by macdara at 4:10 AM on March 8, 2010

Thankyou for all your answers. They're all good, but I've marked a selection to avoid overdoing it!

Well, I think I understand why they do it, although part of me still thinks it's silly. I suppose one of the upsides is that you get high quality releases out of necessity. A lot of classic films tend to get dumped on DVD with a slightly-superior-to-VHS transfer and the special features are 'moving menus' and 'chapter selection'. Damn Disney and their evil genius!
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 4:19 AM on March 9, 2010

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