For the time being, most of us probably still have a few pieces of physical media somewhere in storage boxes lying around the house, although most of the media we consume comes from digital sources. The media we still own dates from times when it was still the major form of media consumptions we had access to, or maybe just a few collector’s pieces we just had to have. But will physical media continue to be around for long, in this era of YouTube and SoundCloud and Netflix movies? One of the opinion pieces from Flavor Wire has definitely raised some interesting issues about whether this form of media is disappearing or not.
In this immersive long-read, author Jason Bailey interviews Mark Desiderio, who is, in the author’s own words, not ‘just a funny guy or an enthusiastic movie buff’, but all that and beyond. The guy collects VHS tapes of virtually all the movies which catch his eye, as well as a few DVDs and Blu-ray movies. His collection of media can boast of pretty staggering numbers (over 5,000 movies collected, and some of them even come with a double). Mark doesn’t own a computer and not even a Blu-Ray player yet (although he plans to buy one at some point in order to watch the small fraction of his collection that comes in the form of Blu-rays). He doesn’t have anything against the Netflix video the rest of us watch, and each time he watches one (on his girlfriend’s computer) and he likes it, he then adds it to his collection of DVDs or VHSs (and, much less often, Blu-rays). *Quick side note: if you need to learn how to convert VHS videos to DVD, we have you covered here.*
The story presented by Flavor Wire then extends beyond the eccentricities of one movie aficionado and onto the problems of physical/tangible media itself. Sales of both DVDs and Blu-Rays flatlines for a couple of years a while back (in 2005 and 2006), only to fall completely the following year (in 2007). The falling sales trend continued throughout the subsequent years and is expected to continue its downwards trend. There are of course, multiple reasons for this plummeting trend. The main one is probably precisely the rapid change in preferred format and the fact that people didn’t want to buy their favorite movies all over again in every decade as the mainstream format changes. But still, this raises the question of existence for physical media in itself, beyond the squabbles between VHS and DVDs and between DVDs and Blu-Rays then.
Once people have gotten used to the much simpler path, of digitally owning media or simply of paying for a subscription to one of the best streaming sites, why would they go back to media? For now, this media format endures still, not least thanks to the efforts of people like Mark Desiderio, but one cannot but wonder if it’s still scheduled for extinction nonetheless.
Video Label Companies and People Who Are Keeping Physical Media Alive
There are of course some other actors who do their part in still keeping media alive. Several important figures in the movie industry (among which Quentin Tarantino) have pronounced themselves against the industry’s takeover by streaming video networks (like Netflix, Amazon and so on). Of course, the best streaming sites and services are super-convenient, which is precisely what had so many consumers flock to their subscriptions and abandon DVDs completely. But the point that some people who still support media are trying to make is that convenience shouldn’t trump variety and the relative reliability of this type of media, which is accessible even when your internet (or subscription account) fails.
Among the actors fighting to keep media alive are a few video label companies that make it a point to still offer older movies in their catalogue of available titles. The main problem with this market segment is that customers looking to buy movies in different media formats only have a very narrow scope of available titles, and the video corners of hypermarkets such as Walmart only offer a few titles that were just released. Therefore, even supposing that people would want to buy DVDs more, the offer would be pretty poor. This is where these video label companies come in, with names like Criterion Collection (the gold standard for movie aficionados, especially due to their bonus features like interviews, making-of scenes and so on), Olive Films, Shout Factory or Kino-Lorber Studio Classics being some of the most well-known.
In addition to labels that sell tangible media, let’s not forget the involuntary hero of old movie archives in the digital realm: free movie streaming networks. Often subject to much criticism (and legal harassment) due to their often copyright infringing acts, websites which offer free streaming and torrent websites associated with digital piracy are actually doing the world of movie archives a huge service. Once a movie isn’t significantly demanded anymore in the logic of consumer markets, paid services and subscriptions (like Netflix movies), as well as record stores which sell tangible media are probably not going to offer that movie anymore. Or, if it still exists for sale somewhere, it will probably be quite rare and pretty hard to find. But with the help of free movie streaming websites, you can still find virtually anything you’d like, even if it’s an old forgotten title that no one would want to buy anymore.
Will Physical Media Disappear One Day?
To wrap it up, even if there aren’t really any reliable ways to foresee such changes, it would be safe to say that tangible media will not disappear completely. Even if just in the private collection of passion-minded individuals with a penchant for the past, there will still be some video tapes and DVDs available as technical relics. Of course, this isn’t the most desirable scenario for physical media supporters, but nothing on the scale of true mass consumption can be guaranteed for this media format. Recent history shows us that whenever people had the choice, consumer behavior always preferred convenience over anything else, which is why video streaming will still remain the dominant movie consumption form.