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When is a season pass not a season pass? When it’s for Star Wars, apparently

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Star Wars rebels season pass

Viewers of Star Wars Rebels who are using legitimate third-party apps to stay up-to-date on the animated series say Disney is trying to get away with jacking up the price for something they’ve already bought.

Users of some digital TV streaming services can subscribe to a series using a paid “season pass,” which gives them access to all current and future episodes of the series’ season in progress. These services are useful for those who have cut the cord, or whose cable service plan doesn’t include Disney XD, which carries Star Wars Rebels.

But lately, subscribers with iTunes, Google Play and Amazon have come forward saying that they’re being asked to pay for new episodes that should fall under their current season passes. The present season of Rebels – Season 2 – seems to have been divided in half, and the season pass these customers have paid for isn’t being applied to the second half. Basically, the services are releasing a new “volume” that includes the rest of the current season, resulting in a need to purchase this new volume to continue watching – effectively doubling the price viewers were expecting.

The consensus among customers is to blame Disney, not the individual digital storefronts, although some customers have reported requesting and receiving refunds from their chosen outlet. Wherever the policy originates, this smacks of price-gouging. If something is going to be advertised as a season pass, it should include the entire season of the program, as defined on the TV network airing it.

In this case, Rebels viewers noticed the most recent Season 2 episode “The Protector of Concord Dawn” being grouped with a “Volume 3” or “Season 3,” instead of the ongoing second season, which is still in progress if you pay attention to things like Disney marketing and midseason trailers.

It’s common, especially with big-name, popular series, to split seasons in half on television, for marketing and scheduling purposes. (You’ve encountered this with “midseason finales” or “winter finales”, or the like. Disney’s own Once Upon a Time, among others, also uses this release structure.)

It’s also common to rush out the first half of a season on DVD and Blu-ray and sell that as “Season 2.1” or “Series 2, Volume 1” – as Doctor Who does. (And it’s also common, as in my case, to resist the collector’s urge to pick that up and wait for the “complete season” release a few months later.)

But it hasn’t been as common to charge what used to be the price of an entire season for just half of one – especially with digital media, the pricing trend usually has been in the opposite direction.

Complaints on Twitter caught the attention of the team running the official Star Wars account on Twitter, and elicited an encouraging response:

So is this a new, sneaky pricing strategy, or just an honest error? Digital TV sales and streaming services have surged to prominence in a brief span of time, and they’re far from perfect – look at the state of classic Doctor Who on Netflix. Frankly, it’s a mess, and the series and episode descriptions on these various services are often lackluster, if not riddled with errors. So, it’s not hard to imagine these series being populated on those platforms by people or algorithms that don’t know or care where one season ends and another beings. But it’s also not unreasonable to expect them to do better.

This highlights a truth that is still sinking in for many: With digital media, you don’t own the TV episodes, books and movies you’re collecting anymore – just a lease to consume them according to conditions you don’t necessarily control. Let the “buyer” beware.

By the way: Mark your calendars for April 5 — that’s when it looks like Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens will come home on Blu-ray. (And digital.)


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