HANDS ON: ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ Launches with Over 400 Titles

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I had the pleasure meeting Walt Disney Studios Chief Technology Officer Jamie Voris via a teleconference yesterday evening during which he guided me step by step through the iOS version of ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ (formerly Disney Studio All Access), the company’s hotly anticipated digital rights system for movie portability. Built upon a foundation of Disney’s proprietary digital rights management system, KeyChest, Voris explained that the key is modularity. Although the system is being launched as ‘Phase One’ with support for desktops (Flash video) and Apple iOS devices via iTunes, it should be straightforward for them to partner with any content provider on most devices. The app even supports Apple TV via iCloud and AirPlay support. The service officially launched today, coinciding with the digital release of Frozen as well as the Blu-ray release of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World.

At the heart of the application (the web version is virtually identical save for a few minor differences) is ‘My Collection’ where consumers will be able to access their Disney library, either via streaming and/or downloading directly to the device (only the app can download, however). How movies find their way into the ‘My Collection’ section is as varied as one might image: purchase directly from the ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ app; type in the magic code in the ‘Disney Movie Rewards’ section (for discs that come with a digital copy); any previously digital copies claimed through iTunes; or even those movies claimed under the now-shuttered ‘Disney Movies Online’ service can be found greeting the consumer (assuming the Disney account matches up). In many cases, adding films to the ‘My Collection’ library also unlocks bonus features which can be streamed at the consumer’s leisure. As an added bonus, purchasing films through ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ even includes Disney Movie Rewards points which should be a welcome move to Disney movie enthusiasts.

In addition, ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ allows the consumer to favorite individual films as well as bonus videos for easy access, even if the films are more of a wish-list item. If a consumer owns a film, its image will be overlayed with a blue D bookmark; if a film is favorited, the bookmark will be red and feature a heart; or if a film is both owned and favorited, the bookmark will be purple (red + blue, naturally).

One of the other highlights of the ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ that Voris seemed quite pleased with, and rightfully so, is the Discover section of the app. Here, ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ will offer free access to ancillary videos related to the films of Walt Disney, much of which has never been seen on the digital platform, if seen at all by the viewing public in many years. On top of that, ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ will have exclusive content not available anywhere else and in fact launches with a behind-the-scenes look at one of Frozen‘s bonus features, aptly titled ‘The Making of “The Making Of Frozen,“‘ the bonus music video written by the films’ songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Other bonus features, classic shorts and even the half hour featurette ‘Mickey and the Beanstalk’ are available at launch and Voris promises much more content to come, all free (with the prerequisite of a free Disney account).

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According to Voris, a single ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ account can support two concurrent streams across eight devices, but he also stressed that DMA doesn’t mean just unlocking Disney’s digital rights, but the content providers’ as well. That is to say that even though a film is purchased on a device that contains the app, the consumer still has rights to the film as if they had purchased it directly through the provider (which of course is iTunes at launch). In other words, while ‘The Making of Frozen‘ is not directly available within DMA, I am able to watch it through the iTunes Extras feature since Frozen is now accessible to both DMA and iTunes with a single purchase.

The app itself is pretty slick, though it did crash on me a few times or leave me in spots where I appeared to have painted myself into a corner, but nothing was easily replicable so it was probably just a matter of my itchy finger jumping around too quickly. One of the neater features, for example, is that scrubbing is as easy as dragging your finger along the timeline, which pops up individual thumbnails so you can easily identify where you are in the film. Additional navigational buttons include enabling/disabling subtitles as well as a pop-up visual chapter list — the same as with physical media. The real charm however came with when switching between iPad and iPhone devices as everything seems to remain in sync right down to picking up in the film on one device right where the other device left off (the web version didn’t appear to support this particular functionality). Downloading films appears to be no simple feat, however, as two hours after purchasing Frozen, the app is reporting it’s not even halfway downloaded — due in part to my internet connection speed (attempting to download two films at once in fact) and having to start over due to an app crash. There also appears to not be a pause feature for downloads.

Bottom line, as long as you aren’t too aggressive with multiple streams/downloads and try to keep it to one task at a time, ‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ seems like a giant step in the right direction in the face of competing technologies which promise the ability to buy a movie and play it across multiple devices anywhere at anytime.

‘Disney Movies Anywhere’ is now available for free on the App Store for iOS devices as well as at DisneyMoviesAnywhere.com. For a limited time, Disney is offering a free DMA copy of Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles when Disney DMA accounts are linked with an iTunes account.

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