As the motion picture industry has evolved, so has the concept of home media. At one time, the idea of watching a favorite movie at home was a novelty. Now thousands of movies are available to fans at the touch of a button. Streaming has certainly made watching movies and TV shows much more convenient. So much so that many think the idea of going out and buying a physical copy is dumb and a waste of money. There is a large group of fans who say otherwise. In the eyes of many, physical media have all but disappeared. However, collecting and viewing physical media is still very much alive, but why? There are a number of reasons why physical media is not as dead as many are led to believe.
Film studios are adapting to the times. Now, most heavyweights have their own streaming services to showcase their movies. To help sell their services, they don’t advertise their physical versions as much. Many of them would rather fans think the only way to see their movies is on their streaming sites. The physical media still has a valiant fan base that will stick with them to the bitter end, and there are several reasons for that. To understand how important physical media are, let’s look at a brief history of the medium.
Today, every movie buff has had the luxury of watching a movie at home to some degree. From video libraries to streaming, it’s hard to imagine a world where that wouldn’t be possible. Indeed, it used to be, and not so long ago as one might think. Home media was not widely available until the mid to late 1970s. to even consider this path.
For casual moviegoers, they should catch the movie when it originally hit theaters or risk not seeing it at all. If the film was extremely popular, there was a chance that a local theater would rerun the film periodically. The best way to see a movie after the theatrical release was to watch it on TV. Again, this was only for the most popular films, and fans would have to drop everything to see a highly edited version of the film.
For years, media companies have searched for a way to provide families with an affordable way to watch movies at home. There have been many attempts over the years, but things really started to take shape in 1975. Sony would present the Betamax, a cassette that can hold movies. These tapes could only be rented at the beginning. The studios that allowed their movies to be released on Betamax believed that consumers would only want to rent the movies. However, once the machines became more and more affordable, it was clear that things had to change. Soon movies will be released on Betamax for fans to buy and own. It was clear that the studios had a new industry on their hands and the home media war was about to begin.
There were several types of home videos vying for the top, including early disc formats like CED and Laserdisc, where the Criterion Collection began to take shape. However, the two main players were Betamax and VHS tapes. Thanks to the fact that VHS tapes could hold double the runtime and had cheaper playback machines, VHS won out. VHS will reign supreme until 2005, when mass production stops in favor of DVD.
At one point, home video sales were just as important as box office numbers. As home video evolved, so did the internet. Soon it was simple to stream feature films online, and the streaming era slowly began to kill the video store. Now, it’s undeniable that streaming is the dominant way to watch movies at home. The convenience alone is worth it. However, contrary to popular belief, physical media is far from dead. But why is this?
As convenient and ideal as streaming is, it’s not without its problems. To begin with, it is entirely dependent on the Internet. If someone’s internet goes down, they’re out of luck. If someone can’t get internet fast enough where they live, then they’re stuck watching a buffer wheel instead of a movie; approximately 37% of the world’s population do not have or use the Internet.
With physical media, the Internet is not necessary at all. All you need is a tape or record in good condition and a machine to play it. Another reason that many believe streaming is inferior is the ability to edit. So many movies and TV shows have had their content removed or changed in order to appeal to the masses. Although this is sometimes due to political correctness, sometimes it seems that the changes are absurd. An example is when Disney made Greedo scream “Maclunkey” just before he was shot by Han in the Disney+ version of Star Wars: A new hope. This random line is not present in any other version, and it appears to have been added for no reason. Disney+ has made changes to much more than that.
Streaming services that can freely edit movies rub a lot of consumers the wrong way, which is why they’re happy that their physical movies can’t be edited. Now, there are countless streaming services and that number seems to be only growing. Studios can choose where their movies air, which means movies and shows will change often. Nothing is worse than watching a show, only to have it leave a site before someone can finish watching it. This means the consumer has to shell out even more money for that new site just to complete a show. When Office left Netflix, fans weren’t too keen on signing up to a new site. However, if they had purchased the show on DVD, they could watch it as often as they wanted without worrying about it leaving.
Pursuing a movie on multiple streaming sites can be an expensive pain, as titles move from one service to another due to copyright. However, just buying the movie on DVD or Blu-ray for one price seems like a much simpler idea. Physical copies also tend to include a host of extras that aren’t available to stream, from commentaries to behind-the-scenes featurettes. The final reason many fans prefer physical is the ability to watch in 4k. Many streaming sites allow 4k streaming, but a flawless, super-fast internet connection is required. Even then, the digital file doesn’t look as good as a 4k disc. Fans paying big bucks for multiple streaming sites seems absurd to some, who prefer to pay once and enjoy a movie or show whenever they want.
While a vast majority of famous movies are available for streaming to some degree, many movies are only available on home video. There are even some who have never left the VHS format. Most of these movies might not be of the highest quality, but fans of physical media hate that there’s a whole world of media out there that isn’t widely available. Even some well-known movies aren’t available to stream, like George Romero’s classic dawn of the dead or the movies of David Lynch The heart that is in Desert and lost highway. While casual moviegoers might not care about some of these movies, diehard moviegoers want to watch any masterpiece they can get their hands on, the more obscure the better.
Streaming is clearly the best dog when it comes to watching movies at home, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. In fact, some movies are hard to find on physical media and are readily available for streaming. If it hadn’t been for streaming, the movie industry would have been much more affected during the pandemic than it has been. The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to watch movies, but to say that physical media are dead just isn’t true.
Sure, the DVD section of many retail stores has shrunk dramatically over the past decade and the video store empire has fallen, but fans still manage to buy their favorite movies on the physical medium of their choice. Many physical media fans would rather just hold a physical item in their hands than choose from a digital library. Even the physical media on other media are still there. Almost every new album receives a vinyl release, as this medium has come back in a big way.
Are physical media dead? Not at all. There are even several documentaries on the VHS collection, showing that it is more alive than ever. Home media will continue to evolve for the rest of time, that’s for sure. At some point, streaming may even become obsolete; technology is advancing rapidly now and can easily change, although infrastructure problems or a power grid collapse can wipe it out instantly. However, as long as there are moviegoers, physical media will live on.
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