As such, I’ve now checked with multiple reliable sources on the matter. And I have indeed been able to essentially confirm the rumor.
In truth, it’s not that surprising. While Disney has been aggressive with their animated, Star Wars, and Marvel 4K catalog releases, they’ve made almost no effort to promote any of them, even going so far as to not send out review product to critics. In most cases, they never even issued proper press releases for these titles.
What is a bit odd is that, with Home Alone and Hocus Pocus set to arrive on physical 4K next month, the studio’s 4K catalog disc plan seems to have ended right there.
Some of this may be due to the pandemic, but most of it seems to be the studio’s determination from top to bottom to focus on building Disney+, along with an almost complete lack of appreciation for the live action film legacies of both Disney and Fox among the company’s executives.
From what I can determine, there’s almost no one left on staff from 20th Century Fox after Disney’s purchase of that studio. And the pandemic has resulted in furloughs and cost-cutting at Disney itself, which may soon begin to include significant layoffs.
There are few people now at Disney who have any investment in their classic live action films of the past, in the Touchstone library, and certainly the Fox library beyond Star Wars and the Fox-driven Marvel properties like X-Men. (Sadly, a similar situation is true of many of the Hollywood studios these days.)
The exception seems to be James Cameron’s Avatar, which Disney is banking on heavily. To keep Cameron happy, there might be a chance that the studio will release the likes of Aliens, the original Avatar, True Lies, and The Abyss on physical 4K at some point in the future. But they seem to be in no rush to do so, nor—as fans have become painfully aware in recent years—does Cameron himself seem to be promoting it.
Taking all of this into account, it seems that the three biggest factors Disney considers in their valuation of catalog films seem to be: 1) Will it work on Disney+, 2) will it drive sales of consumer products, and 3) will it drive sales of theme park tickets.
Now, in strong economic times, that makes sense: Disney does blockbuster business with those three revenue streams, along with new theatrical releases. But as we’ve seen in this pandemic, when the economy collapses and audiences can no longer visit theme parks or movie theaters, it exposes a major weakness in Disney’s position. And unfortunately, between Touchstone and Fox, there are many films that simply don’t fit on Disney+ (nor are they being exploited on Hulu—of which Disney currently owns nearly 70%).
Traditionally, home video—by which I mean the physical disc business—has been a boon to the Hollywood studios, even (and maybe especially) in tough economic times. This was true after 9/11 certainly and it’s been true through multiple recessions. Even now, all you have to do to confirm this idea is read the recent reporting in the Hollywood trades (like Media Play News) about studio financials:
Paramount Home Entertainment’s revenue for Q2 of this year was up 30%. (Nice job guys. Now get busy on the Star Trek films in 4K, please.)
(Note that I haven’t seen Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s financials reported yet in the media.)
But Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s revenue dropped in Q3 (though they’re still apparently up for the year as a whole on the strength of Frozen II and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). Why? It’s pretty simple: They don’t really have a home entertainment plan in terms of physical media.
This is odd, because current Disney CEO Bob Chapek was for years (back to the early days of Blu-ray) the president of the studio’s home entertainment division. And while he’s certainly had his hands full lately, stepping up to the role of company CEO just as the pandemic hit, I’m hopeful he’ll realize that rejuvenating home entertainment can help put the company in a stronger position. He’s even made a bit of noise in the direction in recent interviews (see here), though only in regard to VOD and Digital. Regardless, Disney currently seems to have almost no physical media strategy other than to simply ignore it.
Now, there have been some additional rumors that suggested Disney was open to licensing out their catalog films to indie studios like Criterion, Shout! Factory, and Arrow. This might be possible, but I think it’s a bit of wishful thinking at the moment, because I’ve heard nothing that might confirm the notion. It certainly wouldn’t be the worst move. But whether Disney does this, or gets more serious in-house about their own physical media catalog legacy (perhaps even expanding the Walt Disney Movie Club slate or at least promoting the titles more widely), the fact remains that there are hundreds of great live action catalog films in their own vaults and those of Fox that remain unexploited or underexploited—movies that continue to have value in the hearts and minds of movie fans, if not Disney executives.
Could all of this change? Yes, and I’m hopeful it will—which is one of the key reasons why I’m writing this column today, even though I know it might cause a bit of a stir.
Because I also know for a fact that there are many avid movie consumers and collectors who would love the chance to buy good new Blu-ray and 4K releases of those titles. I hear from them every day. I can think of a dozen titles right off the top of my head that I’d personally love to have on physical 4K, some of which have never even had proper Blu-ray releases.
All right, enough said on that front.
One last note this afternoon...
It looks like Zavvi’s exclusive Steelbook release of Zack Snyder’s 300 in 4K Ultra HD did indeed sell out fast last night. I’m told they have one more exclusive 4K Steelbook to reveal this week. sp check back early tomorrow morning for that.
And that’s all for today. Depressing 4K news aside, have a great weekend, folks.
As always, stay tuned...