So here’s a funny story.
To get to the crux of the issue as quickly as possible and not to beat around the bush, this is the elevator trip version: Back in the days of yore, in 2000, a CEO of a humble company called Netflix was trying to get the CEO of a big booming company called Blockbuster to buy his piddling little DVD-by-mail service for about $50 million.
Everyone knows what happened. Blockbuster CEO laughed in Netflix CEO’s face. Netflix evolved, Blockbuster didn’t and now Blockbuster is in video rental heaven while Netflix — which, ironically, found success by abandoning is red enveloped DVDs for streaming — is worth more than $19.7 billion today. Hindsight is 20/20.
You see, this little anecdote came streaming (sorry) back to me when I was browsing for a beautiful, if unorthodox biopic of an author I’ve been reading lately — namely, “Mishima: In Four Chapters.”
At the age of 25, I’m at the intersection of the demographic Venn diagram where I can clearly remember online streaming, Blu-ray and DVD, VHS, cassette tapes and even old school vinyl in my personal experience. I understand that some obscure titles I’m interested in may not be as readily available as I’d like, but I still found myself taken aback somewhat. “Mishima” was a no-show — not Netflix, not Hulu or HBO GO, not YouTube Red and Amazon Prime Video.
No, my “Mishima” could only be acquired as a DVD box set. Honestly, it’s been months, if not years since I’ve seriously popped a compact disc into a computer drive or player.
As such, I’m just another head in the herd. It’s a global trend toward online streaming. According to the annual Theatrical Home Entertainment Market Environment Report by the Motion Picture Association of America, viewers are switching from physical media to streaming services in droves.
Global sales of compact-disc-based video entertainment — which includes DVD, Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray — generated roughly $13.1 billion in 2018, according to the THEME report. The figure is down 48% since 2014, when sales were $25.2 billion — or, in more visceral language, DVDs have been halved by the advent of streaming, and the decline of physical video media only looks to continue.
It’s not rocket science — why drop even as little as $5 or $6 on a Blu-ray copy of “The Godfather” in the Walmart clearance bin when you can subscribe to bundles featuring thousands of shows, documentaries, movies, music videos and short-form clips for a year with a couple $14 or $12 services like Netflix and Hulu?
It’s a matter of instant accessibility, having all of these shows at the touch of one’s fingertips and in the comfort of one’s home. No digging around. No storage.
Filmmakers often also like it. While viewers may balk at coughing up cash for movie theater fare or mass market DVDs, they’ll take a flyer on some unlikely candidates when there’s no new upfront costs and time to kill — everything from the latest Adam Sandler flick to art house pieces like Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind.”
But there is something being lost by the decline of DVD and older forms of physical media — and, it should be said, maybe some good reasons to keep a few DVDs around.
Perhaps this is particularly pertinent for those of us in rural areas without ready access to broadband for now: DVDs don’t require an internet connection. You can typically download episodes of shows preemptively, but it’s not quite as dependable as sticking your trusty copy of “Up” in the armoire where it will wait, patiently, for you to pick it up and watch again years later.
That points to other advantages of DVDs — streaming services will be a fixture in most homes, but do they offer a much higher caliber of high-definition resolution, sound quality, physical dependability, storage and secondary features like behind the scenes expositions that come with Blu-ray? Maybe you have perfectly tolerable quality with your HBO GO subscription — until the Wi-Fi conks out at 50 kilobytes per second, or the internet gets cut off altogether.
Then too, there’s the likes of “Mishima,” great films that — until otherwise — may only be available in old fashioned physical copies.
Of course, this isn’t some knock on online streaming. Online streaming is here to stay — ostensibly, until the next big thing in home entertainment takes over — but online streaming is just one big part of an ecosystem of entertainment.
This is a world where there’s a place and a market for the likes of vinyl music albums just as much as streaming Spotify and Pandora, where someone can pick up a paperback, ebook or audio copy of their favorite novel, as well as a host of other dualistic examples.
In short, consuming media isn’t just a matter of competition, but complementary experiences, and we’re all the better for it.