By any measure, Disney’s enjoyable Mars epic John Carter was a fiscal fiasco, netting only $72 million in the US and $282.4 million total worldwide, barely clearing its $250 million price tag. Ouch.
In an attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, Disney withheld John Carter from rental outlets Redbox and Netflix for 28 days, hoping to make some profit from DVD/Blu-ray sales before the box-office bomb was available for rental. Nice try. This is the first time Disney has delayed the sale to rental services of a major release (it had implemented the 28-day policy previously on a small animated film), although other studios including Fox, Warner Bros., and Universal have similar waiting periods.
Apparently anxious to get their hands on John Carter, Redbox and Netflix have decided to take matters into their own hands. Instead of waiting for the 28-day period to play out, they’re buying their own copies from stores in order to rent them out. This clearly undermines Disney’s attempt to gain a higher profit margin from disc sales compared to the cheap rental fees generated by Netflix and Redbox. I doubt Redbox is going to their local Walmart to buy them, but imagine getting stuck in line behind someone buying 1,000 copies of that disc.
It seems clear that Disney is well within its rights to make renters wait some period before they get access to Disney discs. That helps Disney sell more discs. But the question is, is it legal for someone to go to Walmart, buy a bunch of discs and start renting them out? Clearly, there must be some legal agreement between Disney and the renters to make sure that Disney gets a piece of the rental pie. Does that same agreement state where the rental companies get their discs?
In any case, this is a bold move by Redbox and Netflix, but one that could cause some friction down the line. Is a movie like John Carter worth all the potential litigation? Would Disney dare retaliate in the future, and deny rental rights to them? The more immediate question might be, will anyone even bother to rent this flick?
Leslie Shapiro has been an audio engineer for 25 years, with experience in television, film, and the music industry. She is also a member of NARAS, which gives her the coveted privilege of voting for the Grammy Awards.
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