PricewaterhouseCoopers (which, yes it is spelled with no spaces and a capital C) just released a study finding that sales of physical media are expected to plummet over the next couple of years, with the shrinkage of the market already beginning. Sales of DVDs dropped 28% last year, and it’s not because people are buying Blu-ray instead. They only increased a couple percent from 2012 to 2013, and it’s expected that spending on Blu-Ray will actually decrease this year. The next five years are grim, with disc revenue expected to be less than half that of streaming by 2018.
As someone who hasn’t bought a DVD since sometime around 2008 and has never considered buying a Blu-Ray player, I am shocked. Shocked and appalled.
But I’m also delighted, because any articles reporting this online are turning into shit-storms in the comments. And there’s something so wonderful about reading the detonation across the Internet, sweet as napalm in the morning. It’s a perfect storm where a good chunk of people are essentially completely indifferent, and a very vocal group is up in arms, mortally offended by charlatans predicting the death of DVDs and Blu-ray by 2020 through the sheer gall of evaluating evidence.
Here are the four main arguments floating around the Internet arguing that numbers are fictional:
1. This is just a conspiracy by big media to make us pay more for less.
Response: True. It’s called capitalism. Pointing out that powerful interests are conspiring to get rid of DVDs is not exactly a coherent argument for why DVDs aren’t going to disappear.
2. But what about all the special features, director’s commentaries, deleted scenes, and easter eggs? You only get that on physical media.
Response: I think the only time I’ve ever watched any of those things was for about half of Fight Club since I’d seen the movie an ungodly number of times and was curious. Then I shut it off because I really didn’t care what they were talking about. Yes, that’s anecdotal, but I don’t think that I’m that unusual in that regard. And more importantly, there is no reason that such features can’t be on streaming as well. On a technical level it would take nothing for services like Netflix to let you select different commentaries or other options, just like there are ways to tweak resolution and all that. In fact, it’s far cheaper to offer those things on streaming (at the cost of some extra hard drive space on their server) than it is to burn a second disc. The fact that this isn’t standard is probably the best evidence that the market for such special features is extremely small.
3. When you buy physical media, you actually own something. You don’t own digital media, and so it will never fully replace physical media.
Response: Sure. That’s why iTunes was a disaster, and we all buy CDs at Tower Records, right?
4. Physical media is of vastly superior quality while streaming is like fucking your eyes with razor blades. Usually things like 4K and 8K are mentioned as well, which look suspiciously like distances I have no desire to run.
Response: I watch most of my television on a 17 inch laptop screen. The rest I watch on a 50 inch DLP. Netflix looks the same as DVDs on both of them to my eye. Of course I’m assured by commenters that DVDs are barely even a civilized resolution in these gentle times. Blu-ray certainly looks crisper when I’ve seen it, but sort of in that way that a Corvette drives more nicely than your average automobile: fancier, but not better in any way that outweighs the convenience and cost of the alternative. But then, I also remember these precise same arguments a decade ago when I couldn’t hear the apocalyptic difference between mp3s and CDs that supposedly meant that audio discs could never die.
This article has been brought to you by the 8-Track Memorial Society, with additional funding kicked in by the Horse Drawn Carriage Workers Union.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.