Well, this week saw the last physical disc release from the Walt Disney Company here in Australia. Guardians of the Galaxy 3. No live action Little Mermaid, no 4th Indiana Jones film and no completing any form of the cinematic universes of Marvel or Star Wars going forward on DVD, Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD in the native Australian market.
Whilst the house of mouse made no official statement to the public, nor was it reported by any of the mainstream media, the death of physical media in Australia now seems imminent. Disney, along with Universal and Sony Pictures (Whose public facing website, Kicks, closed in February this year) have been looking for an out for a number of years and now that Disney has set the precedent, I doubt the wait will be long for others to follow.
With Sanity closing all of its bricks and mortar stores this year, the big box stores like Target, K-Mart and Big W having left the space years ago and JB HiFi suffering from shrinkage in its media department in favour of pop vinyl and pop culture clutter. That someone would rather collect a useless piece of pop vinyl representing a movie than a shiny disc featuring that movie says something about the state of the world of collecting as it stands now.
I suppose for Disney it is not surprising. Since the inception of home video Disney has been a staunch gatekeeper of its products. Many timed releases on VHS, as well as all of the key titles returning to the 'Disney Vault" for years on end during the days of DVD. And whilst I do acknowledge that it is apparent the physical media market is getting ever smaller globally, make no mistake, this move is actually about content control.
Just today the New York Times posted the following: "Disney’s streaming operation lost $512 million in the most-recent quarter, the company said, bringing total streaming losses since 2019, when Disney+ was introduced, to more than $11 billion. Disney+ lost roughly 11.7 million subscribers worldwide in the three months that ended July 1, for a new total of 146.1 million. "
Streaming is certainly not something they are in for the money. The outlay for disc manufacture was made years ago, realistically Disney could just be doing what Universal have been doing since the advent of Blu-ray and simply press a single disc for multiple markets. Far less overheads that way. So if they aren't making money from streaming, why cut off an arm that is still feeding them? Control. What you can watch, when and how they want you to. Disney have been censoring, editing or altering titles on its platform with little or no warning. Most recently was the censoring of a racist remark in the film The French Connection from 1971. (RIP William Friedkin).
It has also recently removed its own TV series Willow, based on the film of the same name, the show was commissioned and produced exclusively for Disney+ and yet it remained on the platform for 6 months before being removed indefinitely as a (checks notes) "cost cutting strategy". There is currently no other legal way in which to watch the series. Too bad if you were only half way through it. This brings me to the current state of Hollywood and the real reason for the removal of Willow and a pro point for physical media.
John Bickerstaff, a writer for the “Willow” series on Disney+, voiced his perspective on the removal through social media.
“They gave us six months. Not even. This business has become absolutely cruel.
Before you say tax-write off: these shows have already been released and so can’t be a write-off. And in the case of Willow, they own the property outright. The only conclusion is that this is to get out of paying residuals. During a strike.
And look, eternal streaming libraries are not sustainable. We’re all going to have to adjust to that at some point. But to spend [REDACTED] on a show and then disappear it six months later is just bad business.”
Home media gave the viewer control of what they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch it, we have lost that choice and control. Residuals for home media were set at a fixed cost, streaming residuals are a core component of the current writers and actors strike in Hollywood and as John says above will not be sustainable in their current form.
Where do we go from here?. Well some have suggested that Disney might license titles to a third party for Australian physical distribution. This is unlikely, Random Space Media are an independent distributor here in Australia who already have Disney at the top of their partnership list, but have confirmed they will no longer have access to any form of local distribution. They, along with Sanity and Amazon will simply be offering Disney fare from countries that are currently not restricted from physical releases. Mainly the USA and the UK. This of course will be much more expensive for the collector and will only place a band aid on a wound that is only getting larger as more time passes.
I don’t really have a fix, but I can tell you that the ability to watch cinema quality films at home is heading towards a bleak future. One in which you not only can’t watch the film you want when you want, but when you are able to, it might not even resemble the film you remember so fondly.
A very sad week indeed.