The Disney maneuver: important step towards meeting user needs or just more siloing?

Disney announced yesterday that its “Disney Movies Anywhere” account would now work with Android after announcing a similar partnership with iTunes in February. Today they are offering a free movie (Wreck-It Ralph!) for users who link their Google Play account with their Disney Movies one. CNET mentioned that it would make it easier for Roku owners to stream movies their Disney movies as Roku recently added a Google Play app.

Our Disney magnet to add some color to this post.

Our Disney magnet to add some color to this post.

I have talked a lot about the music industry on this blog, especially, the digital downloads vs streaming argument, but I haven’t talked a lot about movies. Yet Disney’s announcement caught my attention because it feels like they think they are letting users do something big. To me, all this feels like silos inside silos, with almost no user flexibility.

Disney enjoyed years of selling and reselling their movie library to fans, especially parents. With their “vault” strategy they made movies available for purchase for a limited time and then put the movies back “in the vault” for a few years, creating a false sense of scarcity. They employed this strategy first for VHS tapes, then for DVDs and then for Blu-ray, getting fans to repurchase movies in every format. As the Wall Street Journal says as recently as 2011: “the best evidence that the vault strategy works is that Disney keeps playing the game.”

So it doesn’t surprise me to hear that this game is still going on at Disney albeit differently for the digital download age. And consumers seem to hate it. The WSJ article pointed out that due to users’ complaints, the vault strategy intended for use for Disney’s Marvel Comics App, restricting streaming of certain movies for long periods of time, was canceled.

There are many restrictions in place to accessing content that users purchase in the terms of use for Disney Movies Anywhere. First, be in the US. Go abroad on a trip and your movies will not work. Second, log in every once in a while or lose access. Third, there’s a limit to the number of devices. Fourth, and perhaps hinting at the vault strategy: “it is possible that those movies may not be available for subsequent re-download or stream at any given time.” Possible that movies I have paid for won’t be accessible? Hmmm. Sure, you always have it on the device you downloaded it to, but if only that has permanence, why not just buy a DVD?

Which takes me back to the benefits inherent in buying a DVD over a digital copy: you always have access, you can always play it, and you can view it on any player you’d like (sure, there are zones in DVD but many devices have a built-in override for that restriction.) These benefits are ingrained in consumer’s usage behaviors to the point where the restrictions built in to digital consumption simply anger them. A few reviews I found on Google Play and Amazon attest to that frustration:

“My only problem is the fact that i can’t get it on my computer! I bought the movie, why can’t I do whatever i want with it, like transfer it from my Google Play account to my computer?!?” and “my advice, get this movie some other way because this is just stupid and annoying and not worth anyone’s time!!!” or “although I love the movie the so called “digital” copy is bogus. You can only watch it by creating a Disney account and watching it through their app. I don’t want the app I just want to upload the movie to iTunes. Furthermore it won’t work if you are living overseas” and “I am not looking to violate international copyright laws I just want to have something I paid for.”

That last quote is a great summary of users’ expectations: when purchasing a movie for a price equivalent to a physical copy, they expect the same level of access, not contingent on creating another account or only being able to view it on a specific platform. I understand Disney’s insistence on creating an account, and limiting access and devices, but consumers chafe at those limitations especially when they are used to greater freedoms.

Disney, good job for allowing Google Play and iTunes account holders to access movies they bought on different devices, this is a good first step. But if you expect consumers to line up and buy more digital copies, you need to listen to their needs. Telling them the digital product is identical to a physical product is not going to work.

 

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