A Case For Physical Media

There’s a reliance on streaming media for movie consumption, and it grows every year. The days of scouring a DVD rack at the store has passed for many. Physical media is considered passe to many people. The argument is that with a little patience the same content can eventually be streamed from home. While that holds true for new an re-released material, things aren’t as easy when it comes to older films.

Here are a few reasons I think everyone should have a physical collection of some kind.

#1 – You Like Stuff From Before The 80’s

I know this isn’t a given, as each region is different in what they offer. However, there is little content on many of these SVOD services that pre-date cable tv. Of course, the classics will always have a better chance than anything else, but who decides what a classic even is? The 70’s, in particular, had a wealth of blaxploitation and arthouse movies that will likely never see the light of day on Netflix or other SVOD services. Even legitimate cult-classics like A Clockwork Orange and The Warriors are no shows, at least in Canada. I realize that those are specific examples, but using Netflix global search site uNoGS, I found that there are only 370 movies total from 1900-1979. Worldwide. The decade of the 1980’s has 434.

#2 – It’ll Be Available Until It Isn’t

Even newer films, documentaries and episodic content on Netflix and other SVOD services drop on a monthly basis. There’s little guarantee that a favourite go-to will be there when you want it. Many major entertainment blogs and news sites have a monthly “what’s leaving/what’s coming to Netflix” articles. Outside of getting a final moment to catch something you haven’t gotten around to, these PSAs do little to numb the blow of losing some personal favourites. I for one got rid of my copy of American Psycho because it was on Netflix at the time. It hasn’t been available to me for years at this point. Now it’s something that I would have to repurchase if I wanted to enjoy it again guaranteed.

#3 – With Competing Services, Does It Save You Money?

The value of SVOD is undoubtedly higher than purchasing the same available content, even just the brand-new stuff, on a week to week basis. For the price of a newly-released DVD, I can have two months of Netflix. Maybe I can’t watch that particular film right now on any service, but chances are it will come eventually, and meanwhile, there’s a ton of other things to watch.

Amazon, Netflix, Shudder, and in a short time, Apple and Disney will all have their own services. With each of those having exclusive in-house content and exclusive deals in different regions, there’s a justification to have more than one if you love tv and movies. If they all sit at $10, how much are you willing to spend each month in the hopes that you’ll always have your favourite stuff available?

Disney knows how this works before digital was even a thing. If you wanted to watch Beauty And The Beast, you better find it before it returns to “The Vault,” or you’ll be waiting a while. Who’s to say they won’t do this when their service debuts in a year or so? The possibility of Frozen being unavailable all of a sudden garners a very different reaction from children and their parents. At least with a physical copy for can just hide it for a while.

#4 – Money Talks

Like most companies outside of the non-profit sector, SVOD services aim to make money. The metric for how much revenue they receive month-to-month largely depends on stats more than anything. When the newest hit movie appears on whatever service, the company not only looks at how many new subscribers they have, but how many subscribers watched at all. To paint a basic picture, if I watch ten movies a month on a $10 subscription, then I’m paying $1 for each movie. Obviously, that’s an unlikely scenario, but the takeaway is that a portion of my overall subscription takes into account with everything I view.

Think of how much you consume on your streaming service per month. Take that number and divide your subscription fee by it. Assume everyone is exactly like you and multiply that by every subscriber in your region. Now divide that number by the total content on your service of choice. That’s how they calculate the value of individual programs. Some movies are cheap for the services to get, like smaller studios who want exposure and a guaranteed payday. Other, larger studios, charge a hefty fee that has to be covered by the monthly subscriptions. Anecdotally, a small studio might get paid $1 million for a five-year contract, where a larger one gets paid as much for six months.

The balance of cost vs. views creates a platform where the biggest stuff stick around while it’s performing, and then immediately becoming less viable to renew once viewers diminish past a certain threshold. The difference can be 1% between another month of streaming and getting the axe.

#5 – No Room For Older Indies Or Lesser-Known Movies

The strict balancing of budget brings up a greater point of contention for me. If movies appearing on the service are contingent on millions of people watching, what happens to older smaller films? I mentioned newer low-budget fare above briefly, but those can get exposure and make life easier for them in the long run. Get in front of as many eyes as possible. The hope is to entertain enough people to continue signing streaming deals and hopefully get other projects greenlit and acquired to one of the providers.

That’s well and good for people doing this now, but there have been a number of limited run movies in the past that have no chance of returning. Many films were part of now-defunct studios that may not have current distribution options. Features long forgotten by the masses, but beloved by a passionate few. I don’t know what I would do without my or my friends’ copies of The Room (not that one), Miami Connection, Chocolate (not that one either) or Gymkata. Are these great movies? No, not really. Are they movies I would show to people enthusiastically when given a chance? Absolutely!

#6 – It Compliments Physical, But Shouldn’t Replace

There’s nothing inherently wrong with SVOD services. I pay for Netflix as my main destination for a bunch of content, but have Amazon Video as a perk with Prime and Crackle because “why not?” There have been plenty of things I’ve watched because of those services. It’s also an incredibly easy way to steer long-distance friends towards movies they might otherwise never see. I can recommend Tucker & Dale vs. Evil to everyone reading, and my physical copy stays secure. But that recommendation only means something today, April 26th, 2018, for readers in one of eight countries. May 1st might be a different story for any or all of you. I know I can watch it at least.

The Counterpoint

Naturally, I’m expressing one side of the equation. Some passive viewers don’t care to go back and rewatch something over and over. Many are content with whatever drop s on their service of choice and once they cease to be available, don’t care or notice that it’s no longer streaming. For $10/month it may very well be seen as a considerable saving over the old rental method many used to see something new at home. It certainly beats the traffic and time limits. Housing prices are at an all-time high, and square footage is a luxury that many don’t have. Expansive shelf space for plastic boxes, or even large folders, is not only impossible in some homes but outright tacky in the age of minimalism. All valid points, relevant to the discussion, and worth highlighting.

Ultimately though, films should be less disposable than they are in our lives. The one-and-done mentality of enjoying a movie isn’t Hollywood’s fault explicitly either. Movies are made, on some level, to speak to us about the human condition. They are moments to share with someone to reveal a little bit more of ourselves. We identify with themes, genres, quirks and settings in a way that is unique to everyone around us. Sometimes we want others to see what we see, enjoy what makes us smile.

Many a cast, crew, director, a cinematographer, some producers and a host of others put their vision out there. We all miss plenty, and I for one enjoy revealing lost gems to a friend or fifteen. It’s me. It’s you. It’s all of us. Movie watching is the ultimate shared experience that also doubles as a very intimate one.


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