Entertainment Television

Sunday 15 December 2019

Is Disney Plus set to ruin Christmas TV viewing?

The new service could, in the long term, impact on terrestrial TV, writes Pat Stacey

Macauley Culkin
Macauley Culkin
Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin as Kevin in Home Alone Again (Google)

Pat Stacey

Much is being made of how Disney Plus, which had a glitch-plagued launch in the US on Tuesday and becomes available in Ireland in March, is going to affect Netflix. How deeply the House of Mouse’s competitively-priced new streaming service eats into Netflix’s dominance of the market remains to be seen, but there’s no question it’s going to take a big bite out of its content.

The effects were felt immediately on the American version of Netflix, which has a far more expansive library of films and TV series than the version we get.

Disney had been gradually pulling its movies and TV shows from Netflix in the months leading up to the launch of Disney Plus. The moment the streaming service drew its first breath, any remaining Disney content vanished. You can expect the same to happen here come March.

Even more significant for Netflix than the loss of Disney-made material is the loss of material made by other companies owned by Disney. Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel and 20th Century-Fox are now all part of the Disney ‘family’ – a word the people running the House of Mouse love.

If you fancy streaming the Toy Story movies, any instalment of the Star Wars saga or its big- and small-screen spin-offs (which now includes Disney Plus original series The Mandalorian), or one of the numerous Marvel superhero blockbusters or tie-in TV series, you’re going to need Disney Plus. The alternative, of course, is to purchase what you want digitally or on DVD.

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Disney's The Mandelorian

Personally, I’m fine with that. I’m not a Star Wars nut and I don’t care for Marvel movies. What’s really concerning, though, is the thought that all those wonderful 20th Century-Fox films from down the decades could be permanently locked away in the Disney vault.

Among the hundreds and hundreds of films the company now owns are classics like The Grapes of Wrath, All About Eve, The Hustler, The Innocents, every Planet of the Apes film, including the rebooted series, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The French Connection, Young Frankenstein, The Princess Bride and Die Hard, as well as more recent successes like The Greatest Showman and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Disney has always been fiercely protective of its product. Even during the 1970s and 80s, when the studio was stuck in a creative and financial rut and producing largely mediocre live-action films, it refused to license its animated classics to television.

Instead, it re-released them in cinemas at seven-year intervals to take advantage of a new generation of youngsters. When home video exploded in the 80s, Disney was initially reluctant to release its most beloved films on VHS.

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Snow White

All the discussion so far has been about whether DisneyPlus will damage Netflix and whether consumers will be prepared to stump up a monthly fee for yet another streaming service. Nobody has mentioned the potential impact it could have, down the line, on the terrestrial channels.

Films are no longer a main plank in the terrestrials’ schedules, for the simple reason that they’re not as easily available as they used to be.

All the films, whether black-and-white classics or relatively recent releases, that once would have turned up on RTÉ, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have largely been snaffled by Sky, which currently has 11 subscription movie channels catering for all tastes.

Some of the freeview movie channels, particularly Film4 and Talking Pictures TV, are excellent, but their selection is still limited.

The one time of the year when films become really important to the terrestrial channels is Christmas. Viewers expect to be able to see their old seasonal favourites. Remember the uproar a few years ago when it was revealed Sky Movies had snapped up the rights to show Elf?

A number of beloved Christmas films, including Home Alone, The Santa Clause and both versions of Miracle on 34th Street, are now tucked away on Disney Plus.

We may well see them on regular TV this year, but don’t bank on seeing them at Christmas 2020.

Read more: Pat Stacey: 'Soon, television will be a land fit only for superheroes and nothing else'

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