I hope 2023 is finally the year when Disney+ breaks free and digs into its archive; Based on what I have seen announced already, it seems they’re falling at the first hurdle. Quite why a company celebrating “100 years of wonder” would choose to ignore at least 80 years of that timeframe is frustrating. It seems hypocritical to praise the work of the founders while dismissing large portions of their work. I understand that Disney+ is a business venture and money will always play a factor. I understand there are sometimes residuals to pay, music rights to consider and server space to maintain. However, I have some ideas on how they could maximise their streaming in 2023 without breaking the bank.
Keep Making The Originals
I think the assumption is often that I want Disney to stop making originals, but this isn’t the case. Originals are important for encouraging subscribers to join the platform, and for offering something the competition doesn’t have. The likes of Only Murders In The Building, Pistol and most of the Star Wars and Marvel originals have been enough to grab enough momentum to spark conversations. The international originals, stemming from Europe, Latin America, and Asia, provide variety and help fulfil several necessary quotas. An issue arises, though, when it seems this is all Disney is working on. They have to strike a balance between library content and originals.
Work on Building the Disney Portion of Disney+
A large number of Star titles were removed from Disney+ throughout 2022. It didn’t escape my notice that very few of the titles originated from the actual Disney brand, meaning they either consider it vital to have on the app OR it is cheaper to maintain. This would make sense since the company had more control over the original contracts as they were there to oversee them. They’d have little control over historical clauses in contracts from 20th Century, Marvel or Lucasfilm. It makes sense to license some of the lesser-known material to other streaming services, so they earn some revenue while Disney’s service isn’t making a profit.
In the meantime, it makes sense to focus on the historic Disney content to bolster the platform. I’ve seen excuses as to why they don’t bother to utilise their past content. Let me answer each one as best I can: Please note that in this case, I shall be referring to the Disney side of the business, and not any product which originates from acquired studios.
- It would cost too much for residuals.
I have noted on many occasions that at several points in the past, residuals didn’t exist in the same way they do now. While it’s true that a movie from 2005 may have a long list of people they need to pay money to, a production from 1955 would be less likely to incur such issues. Disney legend Hayley Mills, who signed with the studio for a six-movie deal in 1960, mentioned this subject in her autobiography, Forever Young: A Memoir, which was published in 2021 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Hayley said: “With regards to fees, I was to be paid roughly £10,000 for the first film and £10,000 more every subsequent year. This very lucrative deal was watertight and non-negotiable, meaning, I would have no share of further profits.” This means Hayley has received little or no money after completing each movie. This indicates Disney+’s missing Mills movies from the 1960s, In Search of the Castaways and Summer Magic, would cost the studio very little in residuals.
For those who believe this may have changed because of streaming, Disney had that covered too. On the same page of her book, Hayley would go on to say “the small print at the bottom of the contract stated clearly and unequivocally that I shouldn’t expect any royalties arising from ‘whatever developments and new technologies there might be in the future”.” It seems unlikely Hayley’s contract was an isolated incident, meaning that potentially every actor or actress who worked during this period would be bound by the same clause. It could also explain why even the obscurest of Disney titles (looking at you Bullwhip Griffin) stay on the service, while modern favourites like Beaches get removed.
- It costs money to remaster because the quality may not be up to standard.
Walt Disney didn’t skimp on providing high-quality material to his crew for live-action, you only have to look at movies like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Babes In Toyland to see what I mean. Titles made for television, such as Davy Crockett, were made in colour at a time when it wasn’t the standard format.
Disney, despite its reluctance, is one of the few big companies to keep its archive in order. They’ve released many of their obscure artefacts on multi-disc DVDs, introduced by Leonard Maltin, over the last twenty years. They’ve broadcast these movies on TV via TCM and similar movie-based channels in recent times. Lastly, they’ve even released them onto digital stores such as YouTube and Itunes. This means that the company has access to digital copies of each title. Titles that remain absent on Disney+, including The Gnome-mobile and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, are readily available for rent on these platforms. Are you telling me the revenue generated from these methods outweighs the benefits of offering them to subscribers? The quality can’t be that bad if they’re expecting people to invest extra on top of their subscription.
- Classic Titles are niche, and not popular – While the more obscure titles in Disney’s catalogue may not be as widely regarded as the classics, I truly believe they still have value. I’ve seen many viewers try to make their way through the library of Disney films, and were surprised at the number of titles they weren’t aware of previously. Other people, like myself, grew up with parents taping movies off the TV because they were labelled as Disney in the guide. I had a VHS tape with Barefoot Executive on it for many years and was hoping to relive that movie on Disney+, to no avail. This is where the term ‘popular’ falls flat. The advent of VHS taping meant that one-off showings of TV shows and movies would turn into family favourites, mostly unbeknown to Disney. I say “mostly” as they did include several TV plays during their first batch of titles on Disney+, so they must have an inkling of the amount of demand out there.
- Music Rights… While I agree music rights are an issue, some of the missing titles have the same composers as the “popular” movies. Works by The Sherman Brothers and George Bruns are found across the range of titles that Disney+ is missing. I find it hard to believe that these movies would be missing based on music rights when their work can be found freely elsewhere on the service. The usage of popular recorded music would be an issue for some movies, but the practice wasn’t too commonplace (save for Rock ‘n’ Roll movies) until a little later.
- The Movies Contain Outdated Depictions.
I agree that some of these movies may contain “outdated cultural depictions and mistreatment of cultures”, but I see that Disney has already addressed this with their “stories matter” initiative. Many of the historic films already available (rightly) have warnings on them, which I think is a good thing. There are a few movies I’ve seen on the service where I’m amazed it doesn’t have a warning (looking at you The Biscuit Eater). While I agree that some works simply can’t be part of the lineup, there are already things in place to safeguard some of the less notorious offerings.
By focusing on Disney-focused titles from their back catalogue with a nice mixture of originals, the consumer can gain access to titles that will be exclusive to the platform forever. The likes of Netflix and Prime won’t ever want this content, and that is a good thing. I see comments from people crying out for archive content for the legacy studios’ services, I think Disney+ should be the place where it happens. Utilise the flaws in acquired content by leasing it out temporarily until the bottom line is stable, then use your cheaper classic content to bulk up to create value.
Update the User Interface
While staying at a family member’s house one night, I showed them that Blackbeard’s Ghost was available to stream on Disney+. “How do you find this stuff,” they ask me. The simple answer is, I go looking for it. Those who prefer to let the company decide what they view, are missing out on a large portion of the content. It is then used as a way to say historical content is unpopular. The answer is to make it easily accessible, through new categories, collections and hubs.
In conclusion, it is entirely possible for Disney to get more legacy content onto their platform, they just need to make the first move. While Netflix changed the game by introducing big-budget originals to the streaming world, Disney can take charge by utilising their history during their centenary year. What do you think Disney+ should do in 2023?
Forever Young: A Memoir, Hayley Mills, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2021,
Thanks to StreamClues for providing stats for missing titles.