Disney Launches Movie Streaming Service

'Frozen' kicks off studio's long-awaited Ultraviolet alternative


Walt Disney Studios is finally launching its long-awaited digital movie service, ending nearly three years of speculation as to whether Disney would join the six other major studios in supporting UltraViolet or go it alone.

Disney Movies Anywhere launches today with an app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The cloud-based service also may be accessed through Apple TV (through iCloud or using AirPlay), and functions as a streaming movie service when consumers log in to the website on their personal computers or laptops.

Consumers can buy movies exclusively from iTunes, drawing from a list of about 420 films from Disney, Pixar and Marvel. They also may view previously purchased content, either movies they’ve bought from iTunes or digital copies of films redeemed through a code that comes with Disney Blu-ray Disc/DVD combo packs.

Both Disney Movies Anywhere and UltraViolet are cloud-based digital rights services that let consumers stream and download purchased content to multiple devices — a “buy once, play anywhere” approach designed to familiarize consumers with the concept of filmed content digitally instead of on a physical DVD or Blu-ray Disc.

To give Disney Movies Anywhere a push, Disney announced the exclusive availability of the animated theatrical blockbuster “Frozen,” three weeks before its DVD and Blu-ray Disc release. And, for a limited time, consumers who activate and connect their Disney Movies Anywhere account to their iTunes account will receive a free digital copy of the Disney/Pixar classic “The Incredibles.”

“Disney Movies Anywhere offers an exceptional consumer experience built around some of the most beloved and popular entertainment brands in the world,” Alan Bergman, president of the Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement. “This unique technology underscores Disney’s commitment to meeting our consumers where they are with the content they want, and we’re thrilled to debut with iTunes, the No. 1 digital media retailer in the world.”

UltraViolet is supported by all major studios but Disney. It also is backed by a consortium of about 85 companies, including prominent retailers such as Walmart, Amazon and Best Buy. Disney and Apple have been the most prominent holdouts, and their absence from UltraViolet, observers say, has slowed that service’s adoption.

As of January, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, about 15 million UltraViolet accounts have been created, with about 12,200 UltraViolet-enabled titles from 10 content providers. Also in January, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), which manages UltraViolet’s implementation, launched a completely revamped UltraViolet website.

Disney Movies Anywhere, at least for now, is supported by just one retailer, iTunes, but it’s a retailer that as of April 2013 still accounted for about two-thirds of all digital movie sales, according to The NPD Group.

It also features an easy-to-use interface that lets consumers browse and select movies, along with previews of upcoming releases. Functionality is built upon Disney’s proprietary digital rights locker, KeyChest.

“Disney Movies Anywhere is an adaptable digital ecosystem designed to help consumers consolidate their Disney movie collections and enjoy them for years to come,” Jamie Voris, chief technology officer with the Walt Disney Studios, said in a statement. “The beauty of this technology is that it enables us to work with iTunes and future provider partners to ensure movie lovers have streamlined access to all of their favorite Disney titles no matter which device they are on. The intuitive layout of the website and app creates an easy and enjoyable browsing environment for the whole family.”

The launch of Disney Movies Anywhere comes at a time when consumers are finally grasping the concept of digital ownership, a cause near and dear to Hollywood’s heart because it eliminates the costs and hassles inherent in the manufacture and distribution of physical products like DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

According to DEG, consumers spent nearly $1.2 billion buying movies and TV shows digitally in 2013, up from $808 million in 2012. The key driver behind the jump: the growing tendency of studios to release big titles digitally two or three weeks ahead of their release on disc, a practice pioneered by Sony Pictures in 2011 and now embraced by all the majors.

Disney’s first “early electronic sellthrough” release was “Wreck It Ralph” last year. Subsequent early EST releases from Disney include “Iron Man 3,” “Monsters University” and “Thor: The Dark World.”

Thomas K. Arnold is editorial director of Home Media Magazine, homemediamagazine.com.