We Can’t Let Physical Media Die

With Samsung’s decision to stop producing Blu-ray players, physical media is one step closer to becoming obsolete.
Physical Media Death
By  · Published on March 5th, 2019

Samsung recently announced that they won’t be making any more Blu-ray players for the US market. Some of you may think that’s not a big deal. Other companies make Blu-ray players, after all. Why should we care if one focuses their resources on other products? And you are correct — other companies do churn out Blu-ray players and will continue to do so for years to come. Regardless of that, though, this development is yet another blow to the long-term survival of physical media.

It’s no secret that disc sales have been declining for years now. According to Statista, streaming and digital formats have been surpassing home media format sales since 2016. Furthermore, Blu-ray sales dropped a further 15% in 2018, which further proves that the warning signs of physical media potentially dying are there. As a pop culture enthusiast, this worries me.

Here’s the thing: I’m a big fan of streaming and digital platforms. They’re convenient, and the streaming services I subscribe to every month are giving me my money’s worth with their selection of original content and pre-existing favorites. There’s definitely a place for these online entities in today’s consumer climate. However, as the recent deaths of Filmstruck and Ultraviolet proved, streaming and digital services aren’t always reliable.

This unreliability was further confirmed last year when movies that people bought on iTunes just disappeared. This was due to some legal agreement that meant the service could no longer host certain movies. Of course, Apple’s user agreement states that if you buy a film on iTunes you might not be able to own it forever. But who even reads T&Cs when they just want to buy a movie? Perhaps we should, but most of us don’t.

The good thing about physical media is that it’s permanent. This means that we don’t have to rely on online services to see movies that we want to access at any given time. Streaming services and digital platforms tend to only host movies for a limited period anyway, which isn’t ideal for when you’re in the mood for something specific and can’t find it anywhere to watch on the internet.

Another thing that online services don’t regularly provide us with is a wide selection of special features. In recent times, discs have also been severely lacking in this department, especially when it comes to insightful commentaries and meaty making-of featurettes. Extras have been valuable tools for filmmakers and fans to gain the behind-the-scenes knowledge they crave. Commentaries also inspire one of the most popular ongoing features on this very website. I’d hate to live in a world where such features are a rarity.

Of course, some features are included exclusively with digital purchases. In the physical realm, the new trend is for different features to be included with discs that are sold at certain stores. For fans who want to see every feature included with a movie, they’d need to buy it several times — digitally and physically. That’s pricey, and special features aren’t as substantial as they were during the DVD boom, when you could buy one disc and have the full array of extras available to you, for the most part. If more people bought physical media, perhaps companies would be more inclined to stop striking exclusive deals with multiple outlets and give us everything in one package.

Buying physical media also supports the business that sell these products. In the UK recently, several HMV and Fopp stores were forced to close because keeping them open was no longer financially feasible. It’s only a matter of time before more stores experience a similar situation. People will lose their jobs, and movie fans will be deprived of the joy of spending hours scouring through shelves for treats. There’s a great social aspect to buying movies from shops that online entities can’t provide. One time I bought a copy of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer at the behest of a random stranger I met in a DVD aisle and it was the best decision I ever made.

On top of keeping stores in business, physical media also supports specialist home media companies that go out of their way to ensure that their releases are deserving of our hard-earned money. Arrow, Scream Factory, 88 Films, Criterion, Vinegar Syndrome, and other like-minded labels stack their releases with groovy features that are entertaining and educational. Still, those companies target their releases towards niche audiences. But if physical media was thriving in general, everyone would win.

Blu-rays and DVDs aren’t going to disappear overnight. That said, if we want to keep physical around then we need to support it. Maybe you prefer streaming and purchasing digital copies for whatever reason, but movies and shows existing on these platforms relies on them sticking around and hosting them. Neither is guaranteed. But a tangible disc on your shelf will always be there, provided you take good care of it.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.