How Disney+ Killed the Disney Vault
The Disney Vault has existed since before VHS (Video Home System), and yes, even though Disney+ killed the Disney Vault marketing strategy, the vault itself is still very much a real place. Disney ending the vault marketing strategy gave Disney+ a massive boost in the “streaming wars” as a reporter from The Verge describes it.
By killing the vault program and pulling all of their content from other streaming services, Disney has given Disney+ access to their long backlist titles, even those not included in the rerelease cycles. As Chris Anderson explains in the Wired article, Long Tail “misses” make money too, and since we have moved on from marketing strategies of scarcity into those of abundance, that backlist can sustain this new system (Anderson 2004).
What is the Disney Vault?
The Disney Vault is a place just as much as it was an idea to control Disney’s market. According to one reporter for Vulture, Drew Taylor, who got to visit in 2017 for the upcoming rerelease of Pinnochio, the place is a “nondescript beige building free of signage or distinction” (Taylor 2017) in Glendale, California that is almost off the grid. The building is full of archives used for Disney rerelease and repackaging and for everything and anything that Disney needs.
The Disney Vault is also a concept, created first in 1944 with the theatre rerelease of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Although that was more of a marketing decision brought on by WW2, it “set a precedent for the studio” (Taylor 2017) to withhold and then rerelease Disney animated classics.
For years, Disney would release their animated classics every 7-10 years before putting them back in the ‘Disney Vault.’ A little under a decade was enough time for a new generation to see the film for the first time and for older generations to have enough nostalgia that they will see it as well. For the longest time, they only released movies in theatres, even after the creation of VHS. Jack Doyle from Pop History Dig explains that a change only happened in the ’80s when Disney did the math and realized that while Sleeping Beauty on VHS would make $25 less than releasing it once every 7 years over the next 28 years, they decided VHS was the better option (Doyle 2008).
They didn’t realize then that they could still rerelease every 7-10 years, just on different systems, that at the time hadn’t been invented yet. In 2019 there were 34 animated Disney classics in the Disney Vault being rereleased in succession (Debczak 2019).
However, this old system doesn’t mean all old Disney movies are released from the vault. Sure, they are sitting there, but they will never be rereleased. For example, while Disney has opened the vault for good, “Song of the South,” a racist movie set on a plantation in the 1990s, will never see the light of day again.
But the ones that did get rereleased were hyped up with commercials persuading you to pick up the Disney film NOW before it goes back into the vault. With the announcement of VHS and then DVD and then Blu-ray, Disney relied on the limited-time rereleases to sell in each decade. My family JUMPED at any chance to grow our collection of shiny Blu-ray discs, especially since the last release had been on DVD or god-forbid VHS, and all this created a false scarcity to purchase these animated classics.
False Scarcity of the Vault
The decade-long wait between rereleases created artificial scarcity of Disney movies. Artificial scarcity is the shortage of a specific item in the marketplace despite the sufficient capacity for sharing. It is a controversial marketing system that creates an artificially high demand for the Disney classics and by default “artificially inflates the price of the previously released editions” (Crosby 2020).
This system worked for a time, but streaming created a world in which we no longer WANTED to wait for the vault to open our favourite movies. Especially when we could no longer go to the Blockbuster and watch one of our vault favourites that hadn’t been stolen, which was a problem in some rental stores, according to some sources. So unless you owned the copy, you had to wait until the next rerelease, which only increased demand. But with the internet and people quickly putting their copies online, available for illegal stream or download the Disney Vault and the whole system was jeopardized.
Then, Disney+ was announced in 2018, and a release date was set in 2019.
In 2019, the former CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, announced that the vault would be on Disney+, effectively killing their former marketing strategy. Instead, Disney+ is giving Disney the opportunity to resell their entire vault to the public and “this time, by way of subscription” (Perez 2019).
This announcement excited the public who loved Disney movies. Although the vault classics were not the only draw (The Mandalorian alone gained Disney+ millions of followers), they were a huge selling point. “Within 24 hours of launch, according to an article from Business of Apps, Disney+ “had reached 10 million subscribers” (Iqbal 2020).
Disney+ and the Long Tail
Chris Anderson from Wired explained the Long Tail business strategy back in 2004, which gave us 3 new rules for entertainment. Make everything available, cut the price in half (and then lower it) and “help me find it” (Anderson 2004).
Disney+ gives Disney classics new life. They have allowed the back catalogue to be readily available on an easy-to-use and easy-to-find platform for a fraction of the price. As Bob Iger explained, Disney+ includes “the entire Disney motion picture library” (Perez 2019).
Customers love the service; Disney+ traversed the original 90 million subscriber goal only at the start of 2021, which was initially supposed to take 4 years. Then, in March 2021, it reached over 100 million subscribers. With the early release movies costing viewers an extra $30 per movie (if they so choose), Disney+ is boasting billions in revenue as they closed out their second year, as you can see from Business of Apps statistics (Iqbal 2020).
So while the Disney Vault was a fantastic marketing scheme that worked for a long while, digital scarcity is hard to keep up. People prefer abundance, which is what Disney+ gives them… and more. It is the best strategy for today, and I guess we will see exactly what will replace it in a few decades.
Alexander, Julia. 2019. “Disney Is Ending Its Vault Program, Giving Disney+ a Huge Boost in the Streaming Wars.” The Verge. March 7, 2019. https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/7/18254942/disney-vault-streaming-service-plus-animated-live-action.
Anderson, Chris. 2004. “The Long Tail.” Wired. October 1, 2004. https://www.wired.com/2004/10/tail/#annotations:zMLSdJi7EeyktNslnWnNPw.
Crosby, Marc. 2020. “Make Money from the Disney Vault.” MoneyMagpie. March 20, 2020. https://www.moneymagpie.com/make-money/make-money-from-the-disney-vault-4.
Debczak, Michele. 2019. “Disney Is Opening the Vault for Its New Streaming Service.” Www.mentalfloss.com. March 8, 2019. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/576447/disney-opening-vault-for-its-new-streaming-service.
Doyle, Jack. 2008. “‘Disney’s Movie Vault’ 1984-1998 | the Pop History Dig.” The Pop History Dig. March 29, 2008. https://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/disneys-movie-vault-1984-1998/.
Gartenberg, Chaim. 2021. “Disney plus Hits 94.9 Million Subscribers, Beating Its Four-Year Goal in 14 Months.” The Verge. February 11, 2021. https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/11/22278874/disney-plus-94-9-million-subscribers-q1-2021-earnings.
Iqbal, Mansoor. 2020. “Disney plus Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020).” Business of Apps. May 5, 2020. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/disney-plus-statistics/.
Perez, Sarah. 2019. “Disney’s Forthcoming Streaming Service Will Kill the Disney Vault.” TechCrunch. March 8, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/2019/03/08/disneys-forthcoming-streaming-service-will-kill-the-disney-vault/.
Taylor, Drew. 2017. “The Disney Vault Is Real. Here’s What It’s like Inside.” Vulture. February 3, 2017. https://www.vulture.com/2017/02/the-disney-vault-is-real-heres-what-its-like-inside.html.
Wikipedia. 2020. “Song of the South.” Wikipedia. December 12, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_of_the_South.
Nice tidy story, thanks. A couple of anecdotes come to mind:
When I was doing my PhD research, I spent three days in Glendale for some interviews (there was a tiny Disney Imagineers connection with my research), and I experienced the land of “nondescript beige buildings free of signage or distinction” first hand. Glendale is the backlot to LA, kinda like New Jersey is the backlot to NYC — except most of it is literally a backlot.
Re: artificial scarcity, my original entree into filesharing was when I wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz and was stunned to find that you could only buy it at the time in a $90 deluxe box set edition. To heck with that, I said, and began torrenting.