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March 29, 2010

The Vault: Why Does it Exist?

You've seen the commercials: "Buy (insert movie) on DVD before it goes back into the vault!" But what exactly is the Vault? Why does it exist?

The Vault has its origins from the days before home video. Originally, Disney would re-release its animated films into theaters every seven years. Even Song of the South was available in theaters every seven years until 1986. As VHS players became popular, the company started releasing these films on the seven year schedule for home video. With the switch to DVD and later Blu-Ray, the time between releases has varied, but Disney continues to use the Vault.

Once the day the movie is set to go back into the Vault passes, home video production of that movie stops and the movie soon disappears off store shelves. Disney claims the Vault keeps its movies new for each generation, but the Vault is really all about market control. The company enjoyed getting a fresh infusion of money from each of its animated films for each re-release, so they found a way to recreate this cash flow for the modern home video market. Home video format changes have assisted this process; people wanting to upgrade to DVD from VHS or now Blu-Ray from DVD will buy the new version. Disney also adds new bonus features to each release, encouraging a new purchase. As consumers age and new parents purchase movies for their children, they buy the new version of the film. The buzz surrounding a release and the limited opportunity to buy a film also encourages consumers to purchase.

The price of home video releases tends to decrease over time. By releasing a movie for a limited time, Disney takes advantage of being able to sell the film for the full price, then pulls the movie off the market. Unfortunately, consumers suffer because the only way to purchase a movie in the Vault outside of the release windows is through the secondary market. This increases the price of the film on the secondary markets such as eBay as compared to DVDs that can be purchased in stores.

The Disney Vault is certainly good for Disney, but not as good for consumers. Considering the response whenever a Vault movie is released, I don't see Disney moving away from this practice anytime in the near future.

What's your opinion of the Disney Vault? Let me know in the comments or @scottinwdw on Twitter.

Source for historical information: Disney Vault on Wikipedia


  1. It seems that the Disney home video vault is a very good way for Disney to increase demand for their home video releases, be it VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray. It creates a market in which demand for these products mimics the collectibles market. This is, as you mentioned, a efficient example of market control.

    On the flip-side, any attempt at controlling a market increases the demand for the product on the black market. Disney's Song of the South is a good example of this phenomenon.

  2. You're absolutely right Robert, on all counts.

    I'll be doing an article just on Song of the South sometime; it'll probably be long but hopefully worth it.

  3. I have always thought the vault concept was so interesting. The Disney Company are definitely amazing marketers. When I was in high school my mom and I would rush out to pre-order from the Disney Store so we would get the free lithographs. They lined the walls of my room when I was a teenager. Now there are a few in my daughters room.

    It definitely helps that media keeps changing as well. The Princess and the Frog just came out with both DVD and Blue Ray in the same box. I wonder if that will be a continuing trend.