As Mr. Burns would say: Excellent. Disney Plus is finally making The Simpsons original 4:3 aspect ratio available starting later today. This fix is delivered as a special new feature that allows viewers to toggle between watching the episodes in the original 4:3 aspect ratio or the remastered 16:9 widescreen format (when available) which gives Disney new ways to stream content.
Disney Plus may be one of the best streaming services in the market, but it has gotten a lot of flak over the Simpsons aspect ratio since launching in November. In the first 19 and a half seasons of The Simpsons, episodes aired in the 4:3 format, but Disney Plus streamed them in 16:9.
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Forcing a 4:3 aspect ratio into a 16:9 window means you're zooming in on the show. And in the case of The Simpsons, that means cutting out a lot of the visual gags and background jokes that are peppered throughout those old episodes.
By rectifying its mistake, Disney Plus has made at least one of our staffers us want to subscribe again. Joe Rice, VP of Media Product, wrote in a blog post that Disney Plus' goal was to give fans control over which aspect ratio they viewed.
"To support both the original 4:3 aspect ratio and the 16:9 versions of The Simpsons, we needed to challenge prior assumptions and rethink how content for streaming is packaged and delivered," Rice said. "We introduced a new Disney+ app feature today that not only gives fans a choice in video viewing formats, but also opens up a number of exciting opportunities for novel ways of presenting content in the future."
The feature will be available across mobile, web and streaming TV devices.
Disney Plus' product team faced numerous challenges in making both aspect ratios available. Existing features like Autoplay, Continue Watching and Watchlists had to be maintained, as did all the audio, visual and subtitle components.
In his post, Rice gets into the technical weeds of how they did it. Each episode consists of audiovisual components (video, various audio languages and formats, subtitles) and both functional and display metadata (artwork, title, description, credits, etc.). These are pinned to an individual ID number. The industry standard previously assumed that an individual ID would be associated with one singular video edit.
"The concept of multiple media 'facets,' or flexible combinations of audio, video, and subtitle components, was introduced," he explained.
Each episode of The Simpsons will now have two facets of the same content, sharing all components except the video. Now, there will be a facet with the original 4:3 aspect ratio and another with the HD 16:9 ratio. And going forward, Rice said, "The new concept of facets will support additional types of content presentations on Disney Plus, opening up a number of exciting opportunities for novel ways of presenting content in the future."
Could that mean the door is open for Disney Plus to introduce vertical video for some of its shows? TikTok and Quibi had better watch out.