Disney Plus’ Content Purge Shows the Dangers of An All-Digital Medium

The content you love is in danger of disappearing forever.

Disney Plus content removal
Disney Plus content removal

On May 18th, 2023, Deadline broke the news about Disney removing dozens of content from Disney Plus and Hulu, set to happen on May 26 this week. The move was announced during a Disney earnings call in the early part of May, and comes with a content impairment charge of $1.5 to $1.8 billion USD. An impairment charge is used by companies to write off assets that have dropped in value, or have lost that value completely.

Disney isn’t the only media company to purge content from their streaming platforms. Warner Bros. removed a whole slew of content from HBO Max, with these moves reflecting how these media companies are rethinking their strategies and content in order to maximise profits. While Warner Bros. is planning to take the content and possibly license them to third-party FAST channels, Disney doesn’t seem to have the same intention, merely purging these movies and shows with seemingly no follow-up plans in action.

Many creatives took to Twitter and online platforms to lament the removal of these titles, especially since quite a number of them are newly added to the platform. John Bickerstaff, who is a writer on the TV series Willow, couldn’t understand why the show was being removed a mere 6 months from its release on the platform. It took 35 years for there to be a sequel to the original 1988 film, and now, that’s about to be a moot point. The thing is, fans can still purchase a physical copy of the 1988 movie, but this isn’t the case for the series, which was created to be streamed on Disney Plus, and is now about to disappear without any mention of a physical media follow-up.

Amidst the discourse, a few have chimed in to mention that DVD releases weren’t a guarantee for every show prior to streaming. Popularity would determine whether a series got a DVD release, and so many shows have disappeared entirely because of that. My answer to that is that just because this used to be the case, doesn’t mean it should continue to be, especially since we have more options and variety now.

This is particularly heartbreaking for creators, who don’t even possess physical media of their own movies. Sian Heder, director of Oscar-winning film CODA, reflected how “terrifying” this entire glutting process is, since she doesn’t own the physical media of her own movies. CODA is available for viewing on Apple TV+, but would disappear entirely if the streaming platform decided to remove it for any arbitrary reason. And though it might be possible for directors to request a DCP (Digital Cinema Package), the whole point of making movies is for them to be seen and to have impact.

Julia Hart, who directed Stargirl and Hollywood Stargirl, is facing the tragedy of having both her films taken off the Disney Plus streaming platform. Both of Hart’s films have been critically praised, and are important coming of age films that have resonated with viewers. I myself have praised Disney’s direction with these smaller films, and the work they’ve done in spotlighting talented directors and creatives. Creatives get opportunities for other jobs because people stumble onto these gems on streaming platforms. Hart herself mentioned how a department head got offered a project because the producers watched both Stargirl and Hollywood Stargirl on Disney Plus, films that are about to disappear in a few days time. It’s also not a good look that this removal of content is happening in the midst of a writers’ strike.

These shows and films helped give Disney a reputation of bringing more diverse stories to the forefront, and in the process helped them expand their reach. Movies like Better Nate than Ever and shows like Diary of a Future President were lauded for their LGBTQ+ representation, and are feel-good stories that have inspired young audiences. It feels like a step backward for the company, especially since this decision is happening right before Pride month, and so much of the content being removed are LGBTQ+ projects.

But it seems that outcry and backlash has caused Disney to edit some of their decisions. Initially, Howard, a documentary on famous lyricist Howard Ashman, who co-wrote the songs for the animated classic The Little Mermaid, was set to be removed from Disney Plus. But after the resounding criticism that has emerged, with netizens upset that this would be happening so close to the release of the live action The Little Mermaid and Pride month, Disney has backtracked and won’t be removing the documentary as yet.

While this is good news as it means nothing is concrete and some of these other titles might similarly be saved, Howard’s initial slated removal just goes to show how myopic Disney is about the worth of their content. Howard Ashman helped to usher in the Disney Renaissance, and is such an important figure in Disney history, yet a documentary that celebrates him and his achievements was going to be removed, all for an impairment charge.

So, be loud about your dissent: let Disney know your displeasure, and don’t let them slink away without a fight. Who knows, we might save more titles before D day hits at the end of the week.

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