You stocked up on iTunes digital movies a decade ago because it was the only game in town. You’ve got a handful of favorites on Google Play, because at some point you switched to Android. And you stash some classics on Amazon Video, thanks to that one holiday blowout sale you couldn’t resist.
A far as hardships go, having your movie collection sprinkled among a few different digital retailers ranks somewhere below “poured skim instead of half-and-half.” Still, it’s frustrating to have to dig through two or three or four digital shelves to find what you’re in the mood for right now. You also, for the most part, won’t have to anymore, thanks to Movies Anywhere.
The promise of Movies Anywhere is deliciously simple. Once you create an account, any movie you buy from one of five major studios will show up in the app, available on Android, iOS, Roku, and pretty much any other streaming device you can think of.
The promise of Movies Anywhere, which launches right now, is deliciously simple. Once you create an account, any movie you buy from one of the five major studios—Paramount and Lionsgate are holding out, apologies to Transformers fans—will show up in the Movies Anywhere app, available on Android, iOS, Roku, and pretty much any other streaming device you can think of. And before you seize up from a bad flashback to Ultraviolet, the floundering DRM scheme that studios have pushed for years, know that those movies will also all show up automatically in your iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and Vudu accounts, if you choose to link them.
Not only that, but the service applies retroactively. Meaning that if the movies in your various digital libraries are among the 7,300 available today on Movies Anywhere, they can be in all of your libraries at once. Switching between Amazon and iTunes for whatever reason? It’ll know where you left off.
Technically, Movies Anywhere already existed; Disney launched it three years ago, but only for Disney (or Disney-owned, like Marvel) movies. It also, like so few things in this life, works exactly as advertised; films bought on one platform pop up on all the rest instantly. That reliability comes from Disney’s KeyChest technology, which creates a sort of digital locker for all of your purchases outside of the traditional retail outlets. Think of it like your own personal, movie-only Dropbox bin, which you can tie to your iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and Vudu accounts.
Or you can just use the Movies Anywhere app, which Movies Anywhere general manager Karin Gilford hopes will become a destination unto itself, not just air traffic control. “It’s feature film-focused,” says Gilford. “Everything from the search, the browsing, it’s all based on that user experience.”
In other words, it strips away all the clutter that you find in other places: the original series, the streaming options you may or may not care about. If you’re in the mood for just a movie you love enough to already own, the argument goes, Movies Anywhere can get you there better than anything.
There’s no real downside for consumers here; the only question is how many people buy enough digital movies to care that Movies Anywhere exists in the first place.
“I think what they’re doing is just giving consumers more options in the market. Hey, great. There’s consumers who want more options,” says Dan Rayburn, a streaming media analyst with Frost & Sullivan. “Are they providing a service consumers are clamoring for? No, not that I’ve seen.”
The numbers bear that out somewhat. Subscription streaming revenue outpaced digital movie purchases by a factor of three in the first half of 2017, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, an industry organization. Still, those sales are increasing year over year. And Gilford argues that streamlining the buying—and storing—experience can only help.
“Purchase and streaming have always been side by side,” says Gilford. “It’s a formidable revenue stream. Whenever you can improve the consumer experience, you see things.”
That’s especially true if Movies Anywhere manages to win over the two studio holdouts, and adds more retail partners to its stable. It also doesn’t hurt that Movies Anywhere is offering as many as five free movies—Ice Age, last year’s Ghostbusters, Big Hero 6, Jason Bourne, and The Lego Movie—for people who join and link at least two retail accounts.
And even without the freebies, Movies Anywhere gives a certain kind of movie fan—the kind that likes to shop for deals, the kind that hasn’t gone all-in on one ecosystem, or might want to explore another—freedom that was previously unimaginable outside of Disney flicks. It may not save digital movie sales from streaming, but it might just save you some hassle.