Photo illustration by Megan Bender

How Disney’s Monopoly Controls Content

Disney hides films from the theater and decides what you get to watch.
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Disney hides films from the theater and decides what you see

After Walt Disney Studios’s merger with 21st Century Fox earlier this year, rumors have begun to circulate that Disney has been quietly prohibiting the showing of older films produced by 20th Century Fox.

Articles referencing stories from theaters across the country have confirmed that several theaters have been denied requests to screen films made by Fox.

In the magical, mystical world of Disney studios, there lies a “vault” in which old films are placed for archival purposes, rarely seen by the public. This is done primarily to keep the focus on currently released titles and to generate excitement among general audiences.

In this case, the exciting new re-release’s are on Disney+.

It’s understandable that Disney hides its own films that were produced in house, like its 2D-animated features, but it’s more significant when films from other studios are locked up in the vault.

This is the case with Fox’s film catalog which includes the “Alien” film series, “The Princess Bride,” “Fight Club” and “The Sound of Music.”

This isn’t an issue of audiences unable to see “Die Hard” or “Home Alone” on the big screen during the holiday season, although that loss is significant.

Independently-owned for-profit theaters often rely on screenings of classic titles to maintain revenue. It’s as much a part of theater business as new releases. Disney’s move could be a serious hit to the financial stability of many theaters.

Last month, the Arcata Theatre Lounge held screenings of “Ghostbusters,” “E.T.” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” These are three of 13 films that ATL showed throughout October. They are owned by Columbia, Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures, respectively.

If Disney had ownership of these companies, it would have the rights to those films as well. If Disney treated the films the way it treats older Fox titles, the ATL wouldn’t be able to show them.

When companies take actions like these, the general public loses the option to see films they love and theaters lose options for what it can screen, causing smaller businesses to lose money. This not only harms theaters, but it harms the entertainment industry as a whole.

Disney hasn’t given an official announcement on new policy. Rather, individual theaters were told privately that they were not allowed to show certain films requested.

As reported by Vulture, a Disney spokesperson informed The Little Theatre in Rochester, NY that it wouldn’t receive “Fight Club.” The Drexel Theatre in Columbus, Ohio was told by a booking contact that it wouldn’t be able to screen “The Omen” or Fox’s version of “The Fly.”

These cases expand to major chains including Cineplex, a Canadian entertainment company. In fact, the only theaters still allowed to screen Fox titles are non-profit theaters. However, this could still be a case-by-case basis, and there’s no guarantee of what the technical rules are because Disney has yet to give any official statement or announcement.

Consequence of Sound explained that this doesn’t just hurt their businesses. It also tests the relationships businesses have with the Disney corporation.

When Disney prevents classic films from showing in theaters nationwide, it is yet another sign of Disney’s growing monopoly. With Fox under its belt, Disney now owns 35% of the movie market.

This ‘gotta catch em all’ mentality is proving unhealthy for theaters that relied on presenting films that Disney now owns, and it raises serious questions about the future of the film industry.

Disney’s ownership of such enormous portions of the market should not be met with enthusiasm or support, no matter how excited corporate loyalists are to finally see the Fantastic Four get shawarma with Spider-Man.

The loss of jobs, loss of variety and creativity in the film industry and loss of films is no cause for celebration. Disney isn’t considered a monopoly, yet. But they are growing up to that level at an astonishingly fast pace. It’s time to wish upon a star that the company’s dreams do not, in fact, come true.

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