It’s difficult to point to the exact moment a medium dies. When did the transition for tape to CD make your cassette tower irrelevant? When did the move from VHS to DVD (or DVD to BluRay) become official? Although it’s easy to look back and see the end of these formats coming, it’s often hard to see the slow transition while they are happening.
In a similar way that the music industry saw a steady decline in CD sales once digital music platforms like iTunes became more mainstream in the early 2000s, physical disc sales of movies are quickly seeing the writing on the wall. Some genres, like TV shows specifically, have had dwindling sales for years thanks to streaming services. Who wants to spend $40 – $60 on just one season a show when they can get every season of all their favorites for just $10 a month?
But many people don’t think this will happen with movies, because while streaming services like Netflix and Hulu offer a great selection of the most popular TV shows, they typically don’t get very great movie options; they usually are only offering the movies found in the Walmart $5 bin. But the streaming business is changing fast.
With Disney’s recent announcement that it would end its current contract with Netflix (which is why, if you were wondering, there was a brief and glorious few years when Netflix was getting Disney, Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel films so soon) and that Disney would be starting their own streaming service, this very well could be the end of physical movies. While yet another streaming service may sound like just another monthly subscription to fill, the feud brewing between Disney and Netflix over this new player in the streaming game is actually great for consumers.
Lets also take a brief moment here and remember that Disney just bought most of 20th Century Fox, so they get to add HUGE titles like X-Men, The Simpsons, Avatar, and so many others to their very long list of properties. In addition, this acquisition gave Disney the controlling share of Hulu, which only adds fuel to the Disney vs Netflix fire. Throw in television networks that Disney owns like ABC, ESPN, History Channel, Lifetime, and more, and you can see how big an impact Disney can really have on the streaming world.
The Disney streaming service (which Disney CEO Bob Iger assures customers will cost less than a Netflix subscription) is poised to kick off a pricing war between the major streaming players on the market. And as any good student of economics knows, competition breeds benefits for the consumer. Although there may be a brief period of “too many cooks in the kitchen” all vying for your credit card number, I have no doubt that very soon agreements will be made to start combining packages and consolidating subscriptions. Deals like this are already being made between companies like AT&T and Direct TV, and T-Mobile and Netflix. What does all this mean for you, the consumer? It means more high-quality movies being put onto streaming platforms so that companies can compete with Disney’s juggernaut of franchise offerings, and, thus, fewer discs that you have to go and buy.
But of course, this is only considering one side of the blade that is being driven through the heart of physical media (too macabre? Nah). The other side is outright digital purchases. For years people were afraid of digital purchases and what might happen if those companies went under, or if the services stopped. It feels much more secure to own the copy and know that you will always have it than to put your faith in some remote servers in some warehouse somewhere to store your data. But people are already doing this for their most valuable documents and treasured photos, so is a movie really going to be a hold up anymore?
Now that companies like Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon are playing nicely with each other and with consolidation companies like Movies Anywhere, the movies that you buy online through any one of these platforms are synced across the many services. For example, the movies I got digital copies for on Vudu, bought through iTunes, or my family bought on Amazon Video are now all accessible through the Movies Anywhere app.
(Which, btw, is created and run by Disney, and was previously titled Disney Movies Anywhere. See how much Disney is helping the consumers? I promise this isn’t a paid Disney ad. Although I wouldn’t be opposed to that if any Disney representatives are reading this… but anyway…)
Not only are movies you buy through one services available across platforms, but the movies are almost always cheaper and released sooner than the physical discs anyway! For example, you can buy a 4K copy of a brand new release on any of these digital platforms for $20. It comes with the beautiful 4K resolution you want, plus all the bloopers, extras, commentary, and behind the scenes that you probably never watch. Buy the exact same thing in the store and what do you get? A $30 price tag and another disc to squeeze into your already over-stuffed movie shelf. Plus, if you’re away from home and want to watch the movie, you’re only a WiFi password away!
The biggest complaint I’ve heard against digital is that slowing internet speeds will make a less enjoyable experience, and that physical copies will always be more reliable. True. But does that make you stop streaming T. Swift to go buy the CD (or cassette, or vinyl record)? Of course not. And with so many internet providers creating Gigabit internet services, there’s plenty of bandwidth to go around.
And, no, Net Neutrality ending is not going to be the end of the internet as we know it, but that’s a post for another time.
So, my advice? If you have any movies that came with a Digital Copy included, redeem that copy, get your accounts linked, and then try to sell your discs ASAP. Might as well get a little bit of cash out of them before they’re worthless right? Of course you could try holding on to them for a few decades just out of nostalgia, but ask your dusty VHS copy of The Lion King how that’s working out.
Oh, and PS – discs for video games aren’t far behind.