The Reports of the Death of Blu-Rays and DVDs are Greatly Exaggerated

(photo source: Pixabay)

Oh, dear. Once again the usual “experts” are tolling the death knell of “physical media,” which is the term for CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays, and any other forms of recorded entertainment. The reasoning is that average consumers will soon abandon physical media in favor of streaming because (a) streaming is more “convenient” than the unbearable drudgery of loading a disc into a player, and (b) think of all the money these theoretical average consumers will save when they stop paying for their favorite movies on DVDs and Blu-rays!

This reasoning is nothing new. Over five years ago, Rich Smith at the Motley Fool admitted that Blu-rays provided “cleaner, clearer imaging” than streaming, but in his next paragraph, he proclaimed that “Blu-ray is also toast. It’s obsolete. Netflix, and other streaming services will bury it and within a few years, hardly anyone will remember that Blu-ray ever existed.”

This latest round of condolences for physical media began in February of this year when it was reported that Samsung had not only ceased production of their 4K UltraHD Blu-ray players, but was also no longer manufacturing some of its 1080p Blu-ray players as well. Combined with Oppo pulling out of the Blu-ray player market the previous April, this seemed to confirm the doomsayers’ predictions.

Adding fuel to the fire was the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual Theatrical Home Entertainment Market Environment (THEME) Report in March which indicated that sales of physical media had dropped off by almost 50%. As Samuel Axon at Ars Technica explained, “According to the data, which was obtained from DEG and HIS Markit, global sales of video disc formats… were $25.2 billion in 2014 but only $13.1 in 2018.”

And then there’s the supposed last nail in the coffin of physical media: the technical improvements in streaming itself. In an April article for Home Theater, Jerry Del Colliano declared that “the silver disc is going the way of the dodo bird,” then explained why. “Yes, HD streaming kinda sucked as recently as a few years ago, but today it is so very close in performance to UHD Blu-ray that most people will want to just dial up a cover flow list of movie titles and shop that way versus having discs sent via USPS.”

Sounds bad for collectors of classic movies and TV series on DVD and Blu-ray, eh? But not so fast! No matter how much the technical quality of streaming improves or how much more convenient it is for consumers, there’s one major, irrefutable advantage that writers like Smith and Del Colliano conspicuously pass over in their analyses: permanence. In other words, once you own a movie or TV show on physical media, it’s yours to watch whenever and how often you wish.

You see, the selection of titles the streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu provide may seem impressive, but they at the mercy of the licensing deals they have with the studios that made the product. And as anyone who’s ever gone to the trouble of establishing a queue on Netflix of films they plan to watch will tell you, there’s an excellent chance that just about any of those movies simply won’t be there when you decide you’re in the mood to watch them. Instead the would-be viewer gets a message that explains that the license for the movie in question has expired.

Joshua Piercy nailed this in his February article for 220-Electronics titled “Why Physical Media Will Never Die.” As Piercy explained, “not everything is available through streaming. There is a massive amount of content in the world which has not, and never will, be on any streaming platform. Even worse, the shows that you enjoy today might be removed at any time! On their website, Netflix writes: ‘Netflix licenses TV shows and movies from studios and content providers around the world, and those licenses can expire if we don’t renew them.’ Netflix asserts they first check to see if the rights are still available and analyze a show’s popularity and cost. They then discern any seasonal or localized factors which might be relevant. These explain how Netflix, among other streaming services, lose content that you might be a fan of… When using a streaming service, you naturally do not ‘own’ that video; even purchased digital versions of films have this issue.”

Addressing the permanence issue, Piercy concluded optimistically, “Digital media downloads and content streaming are obviously not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. They do, of course, serve as wonderful supplemental forms of entertainment. Having a wealth of content at your fingertips, ready to stream at any time, is a uniquely contemporary concept. This will only continue to grow in coming years. Physical media will never be left behind, despite this new technology.”

In March, Francois Richard seconded this sunny outlook for the future of physical media on the Le Blog website. “Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony, and even LG Blu-ray players are going to take advantage of the void left behind by Samsung and Oppo to share the market and provide all home theater enthusiasts with the tools to enjoy their passion for, hopefully, many years to come,” Richard wrote. “Each of these manufacturers include several players in their catalogue, some of which are high-end models. In particular, Sony, Panasonic, and Pioneer are benefiting from the space left by Oppo in the audiophile UHD 4K Blu-ray player market: Sony with the UBP-X1000ES player, Panasonic with the DP-UB9000 player, and Pioneer with the amazing UDP-LX500 and UDP-LX800 players. Make no mistake, UHD 4K Blu-ray isn’t dead and is the best way to enjoy a large picture in High and Ultra High Definition.”

And don’t forget the market for MOD (made on demand) DVDs, which provide fans of classic cinema with no-frills copies of rare older films that wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to general consumers. Warners, Fox, and Universal are still releasing classics from their vaults to the cinefiles who collect them. The Criterion Collection still produces deluxe releases of classic movies with a wealth of special features as well. None of these companies has indicated they’re be cutting back production of their video releases, much less ceasing them altogether.

So buck up, video fans! The usual suspects have been beating the “physical media is doomed” drum for years now and yet, amazingly, DVDs and Blu-rays are still with us. No, physical media most definitely isn’t going to be “toast” or “going the way of the dodo bird,” no matter what some “expert” tells you.

Writer at Broadcast Beat
Doug Krentzlin is an actor, writer, and film & TV historian who lives in Silver Spring, MD with his cats Panther and Miss Kitty.
Doug Krentzlin
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