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Disney Plus Reimagines Content Delivery to Stream ‘The Simpsons’ in Both 4x3 and 16x9

(Image credit: Disney)

Disney Plus engineers managed this week to solve a little problem that had been irking a small but vocal portion of its global subscriber base—that is, enabling users to stream episodes of The Simpsons that were shot natively in 4x3 aspect ratio. 

But as Joe Rice, VP of media product at Disney Streaming Services explained it in a Medium blog post, the solution that allows users to seamlessly toggle back between 4x3 and 16x9  wasn’t easy to come by. 

Disney had to re-engineer the way it packages and streams content, he said.

“A content package consists of audiovisual components (video, various audio languages and formats, subtitles) and both functional and display metadata (artwork, title, description, credits, etc.). This generally means dozens of related assets for each episode, all of which must be identified for tracking as they make their way from Springfield to your town,” Rice explained.

Content packages are assigned an EIDR ID, a standard developed by the non-profit Entertainment Identifier Registry Association.

“An inherent assumption in the existing content model was that the video edit would be singular and unique. While multiple audio or subtitle components could be associated, the video would be the anchor for the EIDR ID,” Rice said.

To create the ability for Disney Plus users to stream both aspect ratios, Disney had to "make a fundamental change to the content model to break the assumption that only a single version of video would be present in any given package,” he added.

The gripe among I loyalists isn’t new—fans also complained back in 2014, when FX published the Simpsons World app entirely in 16x9. 

And the complaints aren’t just about aesthetics. The Simpsons has run on FOX for 30 seasons, but the first 20 were in 4x3, the aspect ration commonly used in TV’s pre-HD era. Many of the sight gags the venerable animated sitcom is known for got cut out of the picture when FX and Disney Plus aggregated the entire series into a more rectangular 16x9 frame. 

The still images below, included in Rice’s blog, are just a few examples.

(Image credit: Disney)

(Image credit: Disney)