Insights is a weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at david@tubefilter.com, or on Twitter @DavidBloom.


It may be the biggest news in the tech world that no one really talked about: Disney added four major studios to its film download service, with a fifth possibly joining in.

In itself, the announcement feels a bit 2009. I mean, who buys downloads these days? (Well, I could speculate about the nature of that antediluvian and diminishing audience, but even I don’t want to be that snarky). That said, the big post-theater business in movies isn’t with downloads, though it remains a nice little piece of business. But when it comes to modern online-movie sales, it’s streaming all the way, baby. No need to clog up a hard drive or a smartphone/tablet with a bunch of giant movie files you’ve already watched when you can just stream it on demand, however many times you want to watch.

But what’s interesting about this is that Disney has finally stopped going solo. In this specific case, it’s a big shift. Back when, during a very different era, all the other major studios joined Ultraviolet, the industry’s movie-download initiative, but not Disney, which had its own, not hugely successful alternative.

Now, with Movies Anywhere (née Disney Movies Anywhere), Disney has four big partners and possibly Lionsgate joining too. Only Paramount among the big studios (and it’s pretty much the smallest of the bigs) is holding out. Everyone else is serving up a total of 7,300 digital titles, which will be available across through that services and separate offerings from Apple, Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Google with a single sign-on. Cool, enough.

What to me is more important is whether this near-industry-wide initiative becomes a harbinger for a more substantive streaming offering from Disney that also might include content from its semi-rival studios.

Disney made a lot of noise a few weeks ago when it announced it would pull streaming rights for its movies and TV shows from Netflix next year and begin a streaming movie service and a separate streaming channel for all its various TV networks. That set tongues a-waggin’.

What happens if Disney can persuade those studios to hop on to its streaming projects, created with the notable assistance of the formidable BAMTech? Now we’re starting to talk about a real competitor to Netflix itself.

Netflix has, of course, significantly weaned itself off the teat of traditional Hollywood, spending an announced $11 billion over two years on original programming. In doing so, Netflix is putting itself in hock several billions of dollars to finance that big push, and just bumped up its monthly subscription charges to boot. I’m not too worried about the future of the Big N, but these are not portents I find wholly soothing for its long-term stability.

That said, and it’s a big If, but should Disney manage to pull in those other studios for its streaming services, we’ll really have a good competition for the dollars and attention of millions of customers. I look forward to that particular fight, and I’m not wholly persuaded that Netflix wins against the biggest traditional media company, especially if it can enlist most of the rest of Hollywood.

On the other hand, Netflix has been figuring out the desires of its 100-million-plus users for years now, and targeting its array of films and episodic programming from around the world to the people most likely to enjoy it.

Disney will embark, 18 months hence, on a venture that more or less competes with the digital giants that have owned the sector. It comes from an industry that’s been pretty miserable about understanding what its fans actually want. BAMTech might pull Disney forward into this new century, but it won’t be a simple effort, and it won’t happen overnight.

That said, even if Disney and its Hollywood pals manage to stretch Netflix with some serious digital competition, there’s still someone else to worry about. Can you say Amazon, boys and girls? Yes, you can.

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