Studio Ghibli scoops HBO Max by offering its films for digital purchase

Studio Ghibli scoops HBO Max by offering its films for digital purchase
Credit: 2001 Studio Ghibli - NDDTM

Studio Ghibli, the legendary film studio that has been notoriously leery of digitally distributing its exceptional movies, will do just that later this month. The Tokyo studio’s entire catalog will be available on major stores, including Amazon and Apple TV. It’d previously inked an exclusive streaming deal with the upcoming HBO Max. So what does this mean for both the service and those who might be considering buying it?

In October, Warner Media revealed it’d acquired the exclusive US rights to stream Ghibli’s films to its upcoming service, HBO Max. Needless to say, this was quite the feather in HBO‘s cap. Due to a distribution partnership with Disney, many assumed its Disney+ platform would be the most likely candidate to stream the movies if they ever became available. Instead HBO Max came out the surprise winner.

Before this was revealed, Studio Ghibli films simply weren’t available on any kind of digital distribution service. You could watch them on their theatrical tours, or by watching a DVD, but you couldn’t stream them or buy them on the likes of Amazon Prime or Apple Movies. According to North American distributor GKids, this is because the theatrical presentation is preferable. As a spokesperson told Polygon: “[Studio Ghibli] continue to believe that presentation is vital and particularly appreciate opportunities for audiences to experience the films together in a theatrical setting.” Now it seems it’s going all-in on this 21st century conceit.

So what impact is this likely to have on HBO Max, which is set to debut next spring? Not much, but it may impact what appeal it’ll have for kids. Given the comparatively weighty library of Disney+, any blow to its kid-friendly lineup will put it at a disadvantage. As it is, HBO has a few other big names to buoy its appeal to younger kids: Sesame Street and Looney Tunes come to mind. But Studio Ghibli’s films would have been a major attraction for both older kids and adults. It’s a kick to HBO Max’s tentpole — not a huge one, maybe, but a kick nonetheless.

I’m thrilled to finally be adding Spirited Away to my digital collection — and maybe secretly a little glad I wouldn’t have to pay for HBO Max (yet another subscription) just for the privilege of not having to borrow from my little brother’s extensive DVD collection. I wonder how many others might feel the same way?

Studio Ghibli’s films will be available starting December 17 on all major platforms, including Apple TV and Amazon. A six-film bundle with Howl’s Moving CastleKiki’s Delivery ServiceMy Neighbor TotoroPonyoPrincess Mononoke, and Spirited Away will also be available.

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