Film Legacy & Streaming Services

Ever since its launch, Netflix has become a streaming hub for movies both old and new. However with the launches of the streaming services Disney+, HBO Max, Paramount+ and Peacock the question has become how will streaming services factor into film preservation? Well, let’s take a look at why studio owned streamers need to make the restoration and preservation of their back catalogues a priority.

Almost All The Major Studios Are In Play:

Let’s, first of all, consider something very important, out of the major film studios that currently exist Disney, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures, four of them have launched streaming services, the only exception being Sony. with so many streamers in play companies like Disney, Warner Bros and Paramount are more likely to dive into their backlogs and see what they can remaster for streaming as they race to catch Netflix’s two-hundred million subscriber milestone. I didn’t include 20th Century Fox as they were absorbed by Disney in 2019.

There Are Too Many Films Lost To Time:

Over the last century, all major studios, as well as MGM, have lost several prints of films in their catalogues some of the films lost include Warner Bros‘ “Ashamed Of Parents”, Sony’s “Only A Shop Girl”  and Paramount’s “The Sea Wolf” among many more from Disney, Warner Bros, Universal Pictures, MGM Studios, Paramount Pictures and even Sony Pictures have all lost dozens of films due to poor preservation methods as well as a change of owners. The fact that these films may never be seen by modern audiences alone should be a major factor in why film historians should be pushing services like Disney+ and Paramount+ to restore more of the classic films from their parent company’s vaults to make available to stream.

Providing More Options To Consumers Too:

For many classic film fans, the options of where to stream classic films are more limited than say modern blockbuster films, whilst services like Disney+, Peacock and Paramount+ offer a handful of their classic movies available as part of their subscriptions they all still miss hundreds of titles. HBO Max is more of an outlier when compared to its competitors as they have a hub for Turner Classic Movies which is the channel used for pre-May 1986 MGM films, the RKO Pictures library and pre-1950s Warner Bros films (all of the libraries are all owned by Warner Bros Discovery). 

If these studios made more of their classic films available in a convenient way I’m sure some of them may become pretty popular as they were back when they were released.

But Wouldn’t This Be Expensive?:

Yes, this is unfortunately the major downside to the restoration and preservation of many classic movies, in order for a service like Disney+ to stream some of their older films they need to make sure they have the film converted to a digital file as well sort out music rights and deal with any issues with the actor/writer/director’s estate. But if services like Disney+, Paramount+ etc respect not only their parent company’s history but also the history of film they would find a way to make this possible.

Final Thoughts:

Obviously, as time goes on it seems as if more streaming services are popping up and for studio owned streamers (Disney+, Paramount+, Peacock etc) their promise of using their classic films was a false promise as they all meant “select titles from our library of classics”. The biggest offender when it comes to ignoring its humongous pre-1980 film catalogue is Disney+ as they sprinkle one or two of these films into their vast catalogue roughly once a year. It’s unfortunate that Disney isn’t leading by example and pushing to make as much of their catalogue available to stream as Disney owns what is possibly the largest film catalogue of any currently existing media company.

The studio owned streaming services should act as windows into that company’s history, imagine a world where Disney+ streams all of its short films from the 1920s as well as many films from the 20th Century Studios library (including Fox FIlm Corporation and 20th Century Pictures which merged to form 20th Century Fox in 1935). What about a world where Paramount+ and Peacock embrace the silent films which first helped them grab a hold of the market.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be changing anytime for several streamers, Disney+ seems unwilling to add basically anything pre-1980, Peacock is a flop and it doesn’t look like Comcast would spend the billions required to restore all of the films in their possession and Paramount+ most probably doesn’t have enough capital to attempt such a move as of now. HBO Max is the outlier thanks to Turner Classic Movies but if any other studio owned streamer follows their lead is something we will have to wait and see with time.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Should more streamers utilize their expansive film libraries?

Ethan Holloway

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