NOTE: This article was originally intended for publishing elsewhere but the exclusivity period has ended and so it has been updated / reworked.
Paramount+ launched a few months back, but has already shown that they’re serious about providing their back library in a way Disney has not. Although, with recent news about Pepper Ann and Zorro coming this could be changing. Paramount+ features 80’s and 90’s live-action series and game shows that aired on Nickelodeon. Hundreds of episodes of 80’s and 90’s Nickelodeon nostalgia for Millennials to enjoy. Disney Channel, which began around the same time as Nickelodeon, is barely represented until you hit 2005. I can’t express how many times at launch my friends and I spoke about disappointment with how little of Disney Channel from our childhood years was present. At launch we received So Weird (1999) and Out of the Box (1998). After that it was 16 months until the 3rd and most recent 80s-90s Disney Channel show was added – Adventures in Wonderland (1992). Now, seeing that Paramount+ does not have that problem leaves us shaking our heads.
Praise where due – Disney+ launched with an impressive lineup, adding most of the “major” titles (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Disney Animated Canon, and Disney Channel Original Movies) people would have expected. The problem was and remains that they only added a bit more than 1/3 of the “cult classics” or “nostalgia favorites” people were counting on appearing. Add to that that Disney+ has the SMALLEST LIBRARY OF ANY MAJOR STREAMING SERVICE (caps for emphasis) and it becomes frustrating realizing how many “corners” they cut at launch that remain… trimmed? They didn’t have the foresight to think about what nostalgia binges people would be seeking once they finished their initial watchlist?
Why Are Classic Series Missing?
Whenever this is brought up in fan circles by anyone there are a few people that get angry defending a corporation and start talking about licensing challenges and remastering, as if plenty of people expressing their frustration are not just as educated about the nature of the business – but Disney has a lot of cash and a lot of power and the bottom line is if Paramount+ can do so much better, don’t tell me Disney can’t fix this. It’s that they chose not to prioritize and schedule their library additions each month to cover certain eras or categories.
There are some unbelievable gaps – almost the entire library of One Saturday Morning, Fox Kids, and Jetix / Toon Disney cartoons remain vaulted. Disney, a company known for its animation has left approximately half of its cartoons in the vault. Most of which have never been released. It’s understood Disney has to work to create new contracts for shows that were aired before streaming existed, but Nickelodeon is releasing content at a surprising pace. The September list and August list were packed with gems and gap-fillers. At this pace the 80s and 90s Nick content will be complete before Disney Channel finishes off their smaller library.
Ironically, the top of Disney’s Archives page says “Try to think of a company that looks to its past more than The Walt Disney Company. ” Disney literally created the “vault” concept. Not a day goes by where someone isn’t screaming out for Aladdin the Series (1994), Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (1997), or PB&J Otter (1998). Paramount+ is doing much better in this regard.
Now let’s credit Disney for the work earlier this year of adding highly requested titles such as Dinosaurs (1991) in January, Cinderella (1997) and The Muppet Show (1979) in February, the weirdly-subtitled “Star Wars Vintage” titles that nobody ever imagined would arrive in April, and a smattering of vintage films this spring. The problem is that this was not a change or an evolution. These were scraps thrown to silence people for a while. The July list retreated back to what was the norm – nothing classic. The newly-released August list confirmed that Disney was back to not providing the past for the subscribers who rightfully believe no month should pass without titles for older subscribers.
Paramount+ Is Far From Perfect
Let’s also be fair and criticize Paramount+ – in some cases their shows are missing seasons. The service’s UI is weaker than Disney+ and needs a lot of work. But things like that are more likely to improve and get fixed. A strategy that focuses aggressively on originals and recently-completed seasons or recently aired episodes like Disney+ employs is a lot more concerning.
July did bring TONS of recent Nat Geo for SharkFest. This is good synergy. And both July and August were the latest step in their new push towards releasing in-season episodes of shows, mere weeks after airing. These are positive things when isolated. But not in place of the library or catalog. If Disney is maxing out at 30 titles a month and now they are adding 10 “in-season” shows each month, the amount of library adds is reduced even further.
Shortly after launch the people I spoke to were excited each month, waiting for the next big drop of titles or “gap fillers” as we called them. They never came. Eventually the excitement morphed into dread and disappointment over and over again. After a few months the classic content dried up and Disney was only adding recently completed Disney Junior seasons, specials from the past 3 years of Nat Geo (ignoring their enormous missing back library) and original docuseries. In 2021 / Year 2 of the service, scripted original series arrived and then most recently the new focus on in-season episodes of shows. But short of those aforementioned “bones” we were thrown with The Muppet Show and Cinderella, the library has suffered greatly.
National Geographic has an enormous library but you’d be surprised to know that most content added since launch isn’t older than 3 years. There are over 100 titles on NatGeoTV.com available to cable subscribers but not to stream on Disney+. It’s been documented by many Disney fans how little classic or vintage content Disney has added since that initial launch day. There was an astonishing 11-month streak with only 1 vintage Disney film, Moon-Spinners (1967) in May 2020.
They’ve completely abandoned their remastered Disney Treasures DVD sets which could provide hundreds of animated shorts, numerous vintage serials, and even classic specials. They’ve left Disney Movie Club and VOD services jam-packed with made-for-tv classics and even 75 still missing Disney Pictures films from the 1940s-1999.
What Disney Can Teach Paramount
As alluded to earlier, Disney Channel, a major pillar of Disney+ has barely provided any early library. Meanwhile, Paramount+ has been filling in the 1980s and 1990s Nickelodeon content at a healthy pace. Paramount could learn from Disney too. Paramount+ is doing well with old stuff but barely any of the content from the past 2 years is streaming. That is insanely weird and suggests they have to renegotiate their on-demand contracts. Like Disney, they may be learning as content from 2018-2020 is finally trickling in. Disney moving to in-seaosn batches also sets a standard that ViacomCBS is going to need to imitate for Paramount+. Competition makes everybody better.
Hopefully Disney will wake up soon and remember the promises they made before launch “all your favorites in one place” and “the vault is open.” It may take a lot more than Disney magic to fix this.
Drew Ryan is a film, TV, and Disney geek. He has degrees in English, Student Personnel Administration, and Library & Information Science from Lawrence University, Concordia University-Wisconsin, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Interested in the minutia and licensing of streaming service content, he is always publishing lists, suggestions, and advocating for Disney’s missing library to be added to Disney+. Drew subscribes to Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, HBO Max, and Paramount+. You can find him waxing nostalgic over classic Disney Channel or geeking out over Marvel, CW shows, & Disney on Twitter.