If Microsoft doesn't embrace 'Movies Anywhere' its Movies & TV service is dead

Microsoft is cutting back in areas where it doesn't stand a chance, but doubling down in areas where it thinks its ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, consumers who used its Groove Music service are caught in the former group being forced to join the ranks of Spotify. That move is understandable, but as I wrote later, customers may also be skeptical of buying movies through Microsoft.

I recently opined that Microsoft's push into 4K for the Xbox One X doesn't seem to match its 4K digital content. Some of that has been addressed, thankfully. There is now a "Movies in 4K UHD" subsection that makes finding content much easier. But now there's a new boat that Microsoft is missing, and it's called Movies Anywhere.

Disney's new digital locker

A few weeks back, we reported that Disney was pulling support for Microsoft's Movies & TV. The service was a way to purchase content on various platforms, e.g., Amazon, Apple iTunes, and Microsoft Movies & TV, but have them all under one "locker" called Disney Movies Anywhere. The service is top-rated amongst families who collect digital titles.

In hindsight, the move makes sense. Disney is ending Disney Movies Anywhere and replacing it with…Movies Anywhere. The move sounds confusing, but it is better. The company has teamed up with others including The Walt Disney Studios (including all Disney, Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm properties), Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

Movies Anywhere is missing one big digital movie distribution service...

Movies Anywhere is missing one big digital movie distribution service...

Additionally, Google, Amazon, Apple, and VUDU as distribution and point-of-purchase entities are also a part of the consortium.

The service is 100 percent free, and by linking your existing Google Play, VUDU or Amazon accounts to it Movies Anywhere "matches" your digital content into it. In fact, Movies Anywhere gives you up to five free movies just for linking to it as an incentive.

Microsoft is not making it easy to get on the UHD movie bandwagon

The locker service lets families have all its digital content under one system – Movies Anywhere – yet lets consumers buy it from multiple content providers and studios. Sure, there is still digital-rights management (DRM) concerns and limits, but the move is considered a giant step in the right direction for consumers who want the convenience of digital without the lock-in from a provider.

Missing from that above list is Microsoft. The company is not part of this initial wave of onboard distributors, nor is there an app for Xbox (users can use the Xbox VUDU or Amazon app, however, which does mirror your Movies Anywhere library).

This omission is a bad move. In fact, it's so egregious to consumers that it makes recommending Microsoft Movies & TV – at least for purchases (not rentals) – near impossible.

People want free flow of content

The selling point for Movies Anywhere is obvious. Consumers want to buy content where it's cheapest, e.g., a sale on VUDU – but wish it "exists" everywhere even if VUDU goes under as a service.

That big question of what happens to your content if Microsoft were to suddenly end Movies & TV is a serious one facing consumers. The recent ending of Groove does not set a good precedent.

I was told by people at Microsoft that the costs of maintaining its digital movie rental service are very different from a à la carte digital music streaming service – so there are no plans to shutter Movies & TV. That may be true, but the erosion of consumer confidence is real. Many users on Twitter have flat out told me they wouldn't buy movies from Microsoft for two reasons:

  1. They don't trust Microsoft and think Movies & TV could be canceled.
  2. There is no support for Movies Anywhere.

Indeed, the question of why you would purchase through Microsoft Movies & TV is marginal. There are some distinctions, e.g., its 4K UHD movies with HDR are in HDR10 – needed for the Xbox One S and One X – whereas VUDU and other services either do not have HDR content, or it is in the competing Dolby Vision, e.g., VUDU and Apple iTunes.

There's now a 4K UHD film section in the Windows Store, which is the right move.

There's now a 4K UHD film section in the Windows Store, which is the right move.

Moreover, as I've noted before VUDU and Apple often offer the same 4K content but at significantly lower prices. I was excited to see Wonder Woman (2017) 4K UHD on sale from Microsoft for $19.99 from its regular $29.99 price tag. Too bad people quickly informed me VUDU and Apple had it for just $9.99.

That's not even close. Add in VUDU and Apple's support for Movies Anywhere, and only HDR remains as a reason to go through Microsoft – a dubious reason for an extra ten dollars.

I'm sure there are some significant licensing costs and legal loopholes for Microsoft to join Movies Anywhere – nothing is free, after all. Nonetheless, Microsoft needs to either be serious about Movies & TV (and make it the first and only choice for those with an Xbox One S and One X) – or they should close it up, and move everyone's digital purchases to a competing platform. The road they're going down now is a dead end for consumers even if they have the best hardware value on the market.

This move is a classic Microsoft fumble. They have all the pieces but seem unwilling to go the extra mile. I believe they can still turn this around, but time is waning much like consumer patience.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central. He is also the head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007, when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and watches. He has been reviewing laptops since 2015 and is particularly fond of 2-in-1 convertibles, ARM processors, new form factors, and thin-and-light PCs. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.