Editor’s Corner: The Problem With Home Entertainment Moratoriums

I can honestly say that I’ve never been a big fan of Disney’s Vault system, or any moratorium that studios have used.  Where they only release their films for a limited purchasing window and then lock it up and away for an indeterminable amount of time.

Harry Potter

The idea is to drive up demand for certain titles by creating a scarcity of them.  Then when the studio deigns to release them, people jump on the opportunity and are willing to pay a higher price to get them.  It works every time, and from a business stand point it makes a certain amount of sense.  Since you control the flow of product, people will be willing to pay more to get it later; or you’ll snag the people who may not have bought it before, but do simply because they don’t want to ‘miss out’ on the chance.  

Universal has used it in the past with Back to the Future, Star Wars has done it as well, but now with Warner Bros. announcing the moratorium on Harry Potter films coming in January, it’s brought the subject up once again for a lot of film buffs and fans.  While things may work out okay for the studios, there are a few problems with the system as well, for both consumers and businesses.

Lion King moratorium

On the consumer end of it, we’re forced to pay higher prices and wait for several years before the opportunity to buy them (especially for the new formats).  The wait is what really gets to me.  Let’s take Lion King for example.  The last time it was released was 2003 on DVD.  I was still in high school and even as awesome as the movie was, I can’t say I had a powerful need to own it at the time.  Fast forward a few years and now I’m married with a son who is old enough to start watching films.  Because of the moratorium, I had no real way to share my favorite Disney film with my son until they decided it was time to.

This is frustrating for me, a filmmaker and movie lover, to not be able to share things like these with my child on my timetable.  As far as the pricing goes, it’s not a huge issue (though they are more expensive and don’t stay on the shelves long enough to come down in price) until they’re locked back up.  When sales are suspended, suddenly, those things become collector’s items and the only way to purchase them are by paying exorbitant prices on seller sites (Amazon, eBay, etc).

The Disney Vault

But like I said, consumers aren’t the only ones to suffer, the studios’ own moratorium can work against them.  Because of the scarcity of the movies they lock up, those films become the instant focus for every movie pirate out there.  In this digital age where discs can be ripped with ease and uploaded to nearly any website they want (not legal obviously), the moratorium business plan really only helps promote the pirates and thieves.  That old adage “you want it because you can’t have it”, is more like issuing a challenge to illegal upload/downloaders.  

None of these things are good for the home entertainment industry on the whole.  With the economy preventing many people from making purchases like these anyway, raising the prices on moratorium releases isn’t smart.  Couple this with the rise of services like Netflix and Redbox, and you’re only encouraging people to rent the films instead of spend more money to get them.  Piracy is not likely to change (regardless of how long a film is kept on shelves) but limiting your release window is only going to encourage it.

Disney Vault robbed

With these issues, I really question Warner Bros’ decisions to create a vault for Harry Potter. It’s not a smart move, and for one of the most successful film franchises ever…it seems limiting.  As consumers the only thing we can do is hope this business practice falls by the wayside…you know, and bitch about it.