Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries before Home Video

Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries before Home Video

Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries before Home Video

Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries before Home Video


Hollywood Vault is the story of how the business of film libraries emerged and evolved, spanning the silent era to the sale of feature libraries to television. Eric Hoyt argues that film libraries became valuable not because of the introduction of new technologies but because of the emergence and growth of new markets, and suggests that studying the history of film libraries leads to insights about their role in the contemporary digital marketplace.

The history begins in the mid-1910s, when the star system and other developments enabled a market for old films that featured current stars. After the transition to films with sound, the reissue market declined but the studios used their libraries for the production of remakes and other derivatives. The turning point in the history of studio libraries occurred during the mid to late 1940s, when changes in American culture and an industry-wide recession convinced the studios to employ their libraries as profit centers through the use of theatrical reissues. In the 1950s, intermediary distributors used the growing market of television to harness libraries aggressively as foundations for cross-media expansion, a trend that continues today. By the late 1960s, the television marketplace and the exploitation of film libraries became so lucrative that they prompted conglomerates to acquire the studios.

The first book to discuss film libraries as an important and often underestimated part of Hollywood history, Hollywood Vault presents a fascinating trajectory that incorporates cultural, legal, and industrial history.


In 2004, a consortium of Sony, Comcast, and three private equity firms made what looked like a safe investment: they bought a film library, acquiring mgm for five billion dollars in a leveraged buyout. the consortium intended to produce and distribute new content, but the group would not have made the deal without the stable cash flow of MGM’s library of more than four thousand films and thousands of hours of television programming. the mgm library had been a national news story two decades earlier, when, in 1986, Ted Turner purchased it from Kirk Kerkorian for roughly $1.1 billion—a sum that most commentators at the time thought was outrageously high. Within several years, however, Turner had proved the skeptics wrong, amortizing his purchase through colorization, cable distribution, and home video sales. Turner absorbed MGM’s library of classics, including The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), into Turner Broadcasting Systems, which he eventually sold to Time Warner for $7.5 billion. Although the post-Turner mgm had lost the Golden Age classics, the studio still boasted an impressive library—comprising MGM’s post-1986 output, the United Artists library, and a patchwork of acquired libraries, including Orion, aip, Filmways, and PolyGram. By all outward appearances, the 2004 leveraged buyout of mgm looked like a low-risk investment—DVD and cable distribution offered valuable ways to monetize old content, and MGM’s library generated more than five hundred million dollars in cash for both 2007 and 2008.

Mgm was not the only studio enjoying high profit margins from the business of content libraries in the early 2000s. Edward Jay Epstein reports that Time Warner grossed more than two billion dollars in 2009 by distributing its library—which contains more than six thousand feature films and . . .

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