Since the transition from vinyl to CD, from cinema screens to TV, there has always been anxiety around new and emerging technologies. This can be seen even now, with Netflix’s rocky relationship with the Cannes Film Festival, and with more and more film distributors opting to skip theatrical releases entirely. All of this begs the question: in a world in which physical music distribution has been phased out almost entirely, and in which streaming services and digital distribution platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and iTunes are thriving, is there any hope for DVDs and Blu Ray?
According to the Digital Entertainment Group’s year-end report of 2017, revenues from physical packaged goods dropped just over 14% from that of 2016, with only 4.7 billion US dollars made through physical sales. In comparison, total digital earnings amounted to 13.6 billion dollars, almost triple that of physical, with 9.5 billion earned entirely through subscription services. This shows a clear public interest in digital media over physical media, a trend that will only increase in coming years as internet speeds become more efficient and digital distribution platforms create and release more exclusive content.
one must take into account the sentimentality behind the physical
So, what place does physical content have left in this industry? Firstly, there is content on Blu Ray and DVD issues that aren’t available online, such as commentaries and behind-the-scenes features. And while these bonuses may only seem appealing to hardcore film fans or those aiming to enter the industry, they are still a feature that should not be left behind. Physical media also makes for great gifts – not just for holidays, but in general. As music, literature, and gaming have slowly made the transition from physical to digital, gifting has been more difficult than it ever has been. Lastly, one must take into account the sentimentality behind the physical; owning a Blu Ray or DVD – be it a standard edition or an expensive collector’s copy – stands as a physical representative of a person’s passion for the given film. Collector’s editions remain a novelty but simply can’t exist in the digital realm.
But all of this doesn’t change the fact that digital distribution is just so much easier and cheaper. For those that travel a lot, especially internationally, digital films take up no space and can be watched on a small laptop, tablet, or phone, much easier than having to carry around physical sets. It is also far cheaper; while an unused Blu Ray can cost anywhere between £5 and £15 from HMV (and that’s only standard wide-release editions!), a subscription to Netflix can cost as little as £6 per month, which includes over 5000 films and TV programmes, and a library that grows and changes every month. With original exclusive content on top of this, the market shift seems inevitable.
It is difficult to see a world in which digital does not completely take over the market space that physical held in the 2000s, but perhaps the Blu Ray format will occupy the same space that vinyl does for music: an item for cinephiles, for those explicitly wishing to fund their favourite creators, for collectors, and for dedicated fans of the medium who wish to demonstrate that through the physical form.