There have been a lot of changes to Disney Movies Anywhere since it launched in 2014, mostly involving adding or removing digital retail partnerships. But after three successful years, the biggest change is one I couldn't have predicted. With the addition of four major movie studios, "Disney Movies Anywhere" as we knew it has been obliterated, forever replaced by "Movies Anywhere." Before you have a cow, let's take a look at what we as media consumers have lost and gained.
Things We Lost
The Discover section of DMA featured a rotation of short-form content that ranged from classic Disney shorts, behind-the-scenes looks at newer films, and DIY crafts. All of this was at no additional charge and its loss is sad. However, it is highly likely that this type of content will return through next year's all-Disney streaming service, so perhaps it's not gone forever.
Disney Movie Rewards Connectivity
DMA and DMR fed off each other in the early days, with DMR incessantly promoting DMA and DMA constantly reminding you about promotional offers through DMR. Effective immediately and without any warning, purchasing Disney Movies digitally will no longer earn DMR points. This is likely a sign that DMR's days are numbered.
The "Disney Store"
Just weeks after Disney Store drastically rebranded itself, becoming "Shop Disney" online and just "Disney" in select malls, we now lose the best interface to browse and shop for Disney movies digitally. Using any of the connected retailers (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play) you are guaranteed to find a frustrating experience searching for just Disney content. Even the links within each service claiming to house only Disney content are sure to exclude some rare gems that are in fact available or worse, accidentally include an obviously non-Disney title (*cough* Anastasia *cough*). Honest fans wouldn't have been subjected to such trauma using DMA. Worse still is the fact that under "Favorite Franchises" on Movies Anywhere, you can click "Disney" and find content that is not Disney-branded. Movies Anywhere repeats the mistakes of every other retailer, but the insult is that this is owned and operated by Disney and they should know better. Get out of the Disney list, The Marrying Man! You are a Hollywood Pictures release and therefore, inferior in a variety of ways.
Movie Sorting Options
This design flaw is baffling to say the least. "My Collection" is now called "My Movies" (a subtle change, but doesn't it sound less exciting?) and if you're using the online interface or Apple TV app, the only way to view them is from newest to oldest purchase. You can't sort alphabetically or by release year. You also can't filter by genre, studio, or any other metric that might be helpful if you have a large digital movie collection. How can the service be successful if a fundamental design element is severely flawed?
That being said, using the mobile app for iOS (I tested both iPhone and iPad) does give you back some sorting flexibility. You can at least sort alphabetically (A-Z or Z-A) and by release date (Newest to oldest only). But if you're in the mood for a Disney movie (who isn't?), you're now forced to search through every movie you own digitally. This is a problem.
On DMA, movies in your collection featured a bookmark on top of them, a visual indication that you already own that title. Movies Anywhere loses the handy bookmark and doesn't make any effort to replace it. Unsure if you own the film already? You now have to click it to see if it says "Buy" or "Watch."
DMA also made it obvious when a film was going to be released in the near future vs. what's already available and also had indicators for unavailable titles that were "In the Vault." Movies Anywhere excludes content yet to be released from being visible, but still includes all those vaulted titles, now with no hint that it's unavailable. You have to click it to find out that a link to purchase the title is missing, which users might assume is an error as nothing on the page states that the title is unavailable for purchase. Which begs the question, why include it to begin with if you aren't going to sell it?
Things We Gain
With Fox, Universal, Warner Brothers and Sony all joining Movies Anywhere, the biggest gain is obviously the massive archive of films from the five studios that now participate. Paramount is the largest studio currently holding out, but if the competition are seeing value and an increase in digital sales from allowing Keychest to connect purchased acounts across digital platforms, then it's more a matter of when than if.
A few highlights of the merger: All of the Star Wars films are available now (A New Hope is owned by Fox), all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have assembled in one place (Universal's The Incredible Hulk and Sony's Spiderman: Homecoming wouldn't have been included in DMA), and the Narnia franchise is as complete as it gets (Fox released the third film). But all of this is at the cost of Disney content now looking less unique and having to compete against over seven thousand titles (DMA never reached more than 500 films, so that's a stark difference).
When DMA began, there were free movies for joining and as new retailers were added, free movies for connecting accounts. When you port your DMA account over to Movies Anywhere, you get one movie as a gift from each of the five studios: Big Hero 6 from Disney, The Lego Movie from Warner Brothers, Jason Borne from Universal, Ghostbusters (2016) from Sony, and Ice Age from Fox. This is only available for a limited time, so be sure to sign up soon if you want a few free movies.
An unadvertised feature of Disney Movies Anywhere was that any standard definition Disney movies purchased prior to connecting your account automagically became HD versions across all providers. It appears this same bonus occurs when linking content from the other four studios through Movies Anywhere. For example, the digital copy codes that I redeemed for the first seven Harry Potter films were in standard definition in iTunes and did not include access to bonus features. After linking, all seven films are now in HD and include bonus features in the iTunes account they originated in.
Movies Anywhere features apps for TV devices, including Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku. Testing out the Apple TV app, it excludes all shopping options but gives you access to your Movies (in purchase order only) and allows you to stream movies in HD. However, since the majority of these devices are produced by the parent company of the four connected retailers, it's a little unnecessary without exclusive bonus content (or the obsolete "Discover" section) to drive you here versus, say, your Apple movie library that now contains the exact same library plus the ability to purchase or rent additional content.
Convenient Digital Copy Redemption
We Disney fans take for granted how easy it's always been to redeem a digital copy. Anyone whose ever tried to redeem one through Ultra-Violet or Universal's own confusing system will appreciate the fact that you can now enter your code directly into Movies Anywhere and it automatically links to all connected accounts. I tested this feature with The Breakfast Club, a Universal film I've owned for a while and avoided redeeming the code simply because I didn't want to deal with the unnecessary steps Universal used to require. Now I just need to grab all of my unredeemed codes from these other studios and dump them into Movies Anywhere.
While Movies Anywhere is more or less the same type of service as Disney Movies Anywhere, it's lost quite of bit of its magic in the transition. I would love to see a "Discover"-like feature return to the service. It would also be great to see TV content fold in and now that the service's name is so bland (Does anyone find "Movies Anywhere" to be an appealing title?), a rebranding could make this very easy. While they're at it, how about a logo that doesn't look like an N64 controller? And lastly, let's complete the Disney films cannon by adding missing titles like That Darn Cat (1965), Make Mine Music, and Melody Time. But until then, I enjoy having all of the films in my digital collection (minus Paramount) connected across all devices, available at a moment's notice wherever I have wi-fi access.