TV

As Willow and dozens of other shows leave Disney+, is our faith in streaming services misplaced?

Films and whole series are vanishing as streaming giants like Disney+ and Netflix attempt to strike the balance between profit and customer satisfaction

Encore, Willow and Y The Last Man will all disappear from Disney+

Encore, Willow and Y The Last Man will all disappear from Disney+. Images: Disney+

We thought this was the future. Every show and film we love, instantly, at the touch of a button. You pay a subscription, or maybe two, or three, and it’s all there. You don’t need a Blu-ray player. You don’t even need a telly if you’ve got a laptop or a phone. It’s a content utopia – everything, everywhere, all at once. Until it isn’t. This week Disney confirmed something that has been suspected for a while – it will be pulling whole swathes of content from its Disney+ and Hulu platforms (most of the latter’s content was on Disney+ in the UK anyway).

Did you love the recent, lavishly-made sequel series to the ’80s fantasy movie Willow? Admittedly, you’re probably in the minority; it wasn’t that well received (though I really loved it). Even so, don’t expect to able to watch it again. Disney didn’t just decline to make the planned second and third seasons, they’re dropping it from the platform altogether. Want to show someone Disney’s beautiful documentary Howard, about the life of House of Mouse legend Howard Ashman, the man who wrote the songs for The Little Mermaid right before the new live action version comes out? Tough. It’s going.

We can’t rely on this stuff anymore. Behind the scenes, streaming giants like Disney+ and Netflix (whose original content seems to be staying put, but whose decision to cancel a second season of Lockwood & Co has left fans livid) are strategising and manoeuvring, always aiming to strike the precarious balance between maximum profit and customer satisfaction.

Disney CFO Christine McCarthy delivered the news in language as creative and inspiring as a GCSE maths exam: “We are in the process of reviewing the content on our DTC [Direct-to-Consumer] services to align with the strategic changes in our approach to content curation.” To break it down, it seems Disney+ is donning the pruning shears, ready to snip away any content that doesn’t align with their current business strategies or profit margins.

The content sweep isn’t selective, it’s indiscriminate. Disney originals which were launched with a huge noise, Willow, Mighty Ducks, or Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl movie are going, as is a behind-the-scenes doc on the music of Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever which features actual Rihanna. There’s Encore! the likeable lockdown treat that saw Kristen Bell reuniting the casts of high school musicals to restage their teen triumphs with Broadway talent, and the gritty and acclaimed dystopian drama Y: The Last Man, which was cancelled even before its first season had finished. It’s a stark reminder that the media landscape we’re navigating is as mutable as the currents of the digital sea.

This is what it’s easy to forget: the art we love is essentially just 1’s and 0’s on a server somewhere – a server we have limited access to and no control over. We are utterly passive consumers, and we’ve swapped security for convenience. Netflix and Disney+ aren’t a replacement for your movie collection; they’re a replacement for Blockbuster Video – a service that is transient. We pay them to let us access their collections, but there’s no guarantee in our terms of service that the videotape we’re after will be in stock next time we pop in. It’s not just films and TV, either. Our music is on streaming platforms, and Amazon are very keen for our books to go the same way, with services like Kindle Unlimited. Even our photographs are often only preserved on Instagram and Facebook. It’s all super handy, but it’s all super transient. The whims of the market dictate what will happen.

So what’s the solution? Honestly? There isn’t one. Not really. We can buy our content outright, sure – permanent downloads, BluRays, vinyl records and books made of actual trees will mean your stuff is safe, but that’s an expensive hobby, especially as, if you want to access the latest season of Stranger Things, The Mandalorian or Good Omens, you’re going to need you streaming subscriptions anyway.

The most we can do is support the shows and films we like, advocate for them, share our excitement and hope others do the same and that if enough people do that we can show there’s an audience and make that content (I hate that word by the way) financially viable. In the meantime? We’re at the mercy of the Mouse.

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