If streaming corps are going to suddenly remove projects from their servers without warning, the rights should return to the creators. You no longer wish to host it or pay? Fine. But you should not have the option to randomly erase it from existence when it has no physical copy.
— Zelda Williams (@zeldawilliams) August 19, 2022
HBO Max’s decision last week to scrub 36 titles from the internet has sent shockwaves throughout a lot of people either involved with, or emotionally invested in the arts. It’s not surprising, per se, when considering the merge with Discovery+, the discussion of how the streaming service had already lost the streaming wars before it started, or of course the shock from earlier this month how the new Batgirl movie would not be released, ever. There are rumors that 70% of the development staff for the media conglomerate will be laid off.
Media companies closing doors is hardly news. Media companies cancelling beloved shows is hardly news – remember Firefly? But what is new is the way that Warner Bros Discovery (the media conglomerate with more assets than I can shake a stick at) has handled the cancellations: silently removing the media without even telling the creators. An article from before the quarterly reports came out stated the issue quite plainly:
Like other streaming services, HBO Max issues monthly updates about titles being added and removed — for example, it announced that all eight original “Harry Potter” films will be exiting HBO Max at the end of August, while it’s also adding a big bucket of content including 28 films from A24 such as “Room” and “Ex Machina.” But none of the Warner Bros. original films purged from HBO Max were included in recent updates.
And, ok. Sure. Don’t announce to the general public that you’re doing shady business. That’s standard operating procedure for every corporation. But not even telling the artists? The creators of the most recent wave of cancelled shows mostly found out via twitter.
imagine finding out your show got removed from the only service it's available on while it has a final season yet to be released– through a fucking twitter post pic.twitter.com/fPS1JojgjU
— 💥🌺 Jared 🌺💥 • #BLM ✊🏾 (@jeezreeze12) August 18, 2022
we put…….. a lot of work into that
— Ryan Pequin (@ryanpequin) August 18, 2022
Except for Regular Show and the current project I’m on, every single animated thing I have ever worked on is apparently getting disappeared for tax purposes. Can this possibly be accurate
— Ryan Pequin (@ryanpequin) August 18, 2022
There are more tweets – from more creatives – as most of animation twitter was in mourning last week, but I feel these give enough of a flavor without dwelling in abject misery. Adding insult to injury, none of these creators even have copies of their work. If they want to watch their own creations, their own artwork, they now have to pirate the media. The art director of cancelled show Tig N’ Seek, Levon Jihanian tweeted as much last week.
Like, yeah. I can go on a pirate streaming web site to watch episodes, but my kids can't. I made this for them.
— Levon Jihanian (@ForkFrenzy) August 19, 2022
This seemingly-bizarre disconnect between artist creation and the artist actually viewing their work, led many to wondering how, why, and what caused this situation. In response to such questions, an anonymous industry animator described the draconian working conditions of animation on tumblr:
And these are only the shows that are completely scrubbed from the web, aside from piracy. Shows which remain on the streaming site might still lose more than 200 episodes, like Sesame Street had happen. Sesame Street — ah yes, what a useless show that no one ever watches. I’m sure that no parent or child noticed those missing episodes.
A media conglomerate pulling titles after a merger feels familiar, however. Where have I seen companies putting newly acquired media into vaults before… Ah yes — good ol’ Papa Walt, the champion of ridiculous copyright law and the vigilante against evil daycare centers. The primary difference that I can see between the Disney/20th Century Fox merger in 2019 and the HBO/Warner Bros Discovery merger of this year is that Disney was vaulting older, repertory titles. Warner cancelled existing shows that had already created their new episodes. Keep in mind, I hate both actions. But at least when The Name of the Rose (1986) or Cocoon (1985) were pulled from US markets in 2020, all creatives involved had already been paid. (Although the Vulture article linked above discusses the negative impact on small, local, repertory theatres.) I wonder if animation is likely to be the next media industry to see massive amounts of people leaving the industry for good. Digital effects artists have already started that process and I could easily see animation being next. Apparently it was industry practice to show examples of your work on streaming sites as part of your portfolio — how can you do that when all references to the media have been pulled?
At this point, many people from within and without the industry have begun speaking louder and louder about the value of owning physical media and pirating digital media. The more copies of any given item, the more likely that it will exist in the long run. There are many examples of lost films being found in attics or buried in archives, and media conservation is a serious issue. In a discussion on the value of media preservation via piracy, conservation policies were brought up:
Please – let’s try and keep modern media and culture available. Buy physical media, pirate digital media; don’t let corporations and streaming services decide what’s important. If art is important to you, it’s worth saving.
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