BLAARGH! Physical Media

Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!

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(In response to Ben Gilbert’s In Defense Of…Physical Media.)

Last month, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment announced (via Conan O’Brien) that the 1960’s live-action Batman television series, starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Cesar Romero, etc., would finally (?) be released to home video via boxed set sometime in 2014 (details are still minimal). The comics internet seemed to stand up and cheer in unison as if something extraordinary and revolutionary had just come across their Twitter feeds. My response? A puzzled chuckle and dickish tweet about how cute it was to see people excited for DVDs in 2014.

Why was this such a big deal to so many? Sure, the home video rights to Batman had been in limbo for years, but my DVR used to runneth over with episodes of Batman recorded from The HUB. It’s not like Batman hasn’t been available, fans just haven’t been able to hold it in their greasy little sausage fingers. And that speaks to the bigger issue: Physical Media.

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For years I was reluctant to make the switch to streaming, and would rebuff the Best Buy cashiers’ offers of a Netflix free trial every Tuesday when buying a stack of DVDs. Now, my MASSIVE DVD collection gathers dusts, as I would prefer to watch any number of the titles Netflix has to offer than get up from the couch, go to the shelf, pick out a DVD, walk over to the player, insert the disc, and wait as the DVD menu loads. Even titles that I own on DVD I would prefer to watch on Netflix, because the quality is often BETTER than a standard definition disc on a high-definition television. Chalk this, and most of this article, up to personal preference.

Physical Media is taking a turn for the obsolete as streaming is quickly becoming the standard. I still own a VCR and VHS tapes. Most of my home video collection is on DVD, with a few titles purchased on Blu Ray in recent years. That’s not to say that I’m chucking all of my physical copies, or that some day they will all magically cease their primary functions when Netflix brings the hammer down. However, it’s disappointing to stand back and look at the wall of DVD discs I’ve collected over the past 15 years, only to realize that I can now watch many of those same movies without leaving such a large carbon footprint and flushing thousands of dollars down the toilet. Betamax begat VHS, VHS begat DVD (Laserdisc is in there somewhere), DVD begat Blu Ray, and Blu Ray will make way for streaming. I can’t imagine another generation of actual physical home video when streaming has become so prevalent.

Among the arguments in Ben Gilbert’s article In Defense of…Physical Media, he cites the Netflix streaming service’s inability to offer every title available on DVD, as well as the lack of permanence in the streaming offerings. These claims are true, but why do we need every title available at all times? It’s a hoarders mentality. It’s the same mentality that got me thousands of dollars in the hole with a collection of DVD discs that I rarely touch anymore, some of which I’ve never even watched. Also, I’ve never heard of a more “white people problem” than the concept of being stressed or afraid that a title in your Netflix queue might disappear without notice. GOD FORBID. Guess I’ll just have to watch one of the hundreds of other titles Netflix offers via streaming.

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What about those fans who enjoy collecting DVDs and Blu Rays for their supplemental content, such as special features, commentary, and bonuses like Marvel StudiosOne-Shots. Obviously, I’m not your mommy, you can buy whatever you want.  But that’s not to say that Netflix streaming won’t be offering similar content in the future. They’ve already shown their willingness to provide commentary tracks, as seen with House of Cards, and implementing the option for special features for after you’ve finished viewing a title seems like a simple addition. Not to mention the simple fact that a lot of DVD and Blu Ray special features are available on YouTube following a disc’s release, I don’t see the practice of supplemental content going away any time soon.

What value does physical media hold over streaming? A new DVD or Blu Ray depreciates in value as soon as you tear into the shrink wrap, more than driving a new car off of the lot. Has anything with the words “Collectors’ Edition” emblazoned across the top ever ACTUALLY been collectible? While I’m not wholly against the clever DVD/Blu Ray boxed sets that give you something to hold or look at, like the Breaking Bad barrel, the Dexter blood slides, or the Walking Dead heads, why not just buy merchandise? Why not action figures or statues or replica props?

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We all have movies and TV shows that we love, titles that we need to have in an arm’s reach at all times just in case of emergency, so sure, there is your benefit of physical media. My family will always have physical copies of Star Wars and The Dark Knight trilogies in our home. However, streaming and digital has drastically changed the way we collect physical media, and instead of filling our shelves with previously viewed copies of movies from Blockbuster that we’ve never seen before, we’ll instead fill up our queue with the same type of random garbage we may or may not ever watch anyhow. But at least there’s no cleanup, no fuss, no muss, and no dust.

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Who ARE these people!?

Jason Knize, K-Nice if you're nasty, is a co-founder of PanelsOnPages.com, resident News Editor, and one-half of the World Tag Team Champions, The 11th Hour. You can usually find him in the most wretched hive of scum and villainy...The PoP!ulation Forums.

   

Comments (13)

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  1. matweller says:

    You have to realize we’re ahead of the curve, right? I would guess as much as 50% of the country still doesn’t own a device that can stream movies to their tv, and as much as 20% of the half that do may not use their devices that do (game systems, TiVos, smart tvs, etc) to do any streaming whatsoever.

    In my estimation, three things have to happen before you can place the tombstone on physical media:

    1) High speed internet needs to become a public utility. They say as high speed has as much as 85% market penetration these days, but they count DSL in those numbers and it’s not fast enough to stream movies. It’s barely fast enough to download Angry Birds to your phone in under 3 hours. It won’t become more ubiquitous until either the price comes down to a level like every other developed country in the world, or the government steps in and makes it a price-regulated utility like it should be. And I just saw a commercial where AT&T was bragging about offering 4G (barely fast enough to stream a movie to your tv and 1/5 the speed of European mobile internet) for /only/ $150 — they’re not going to be lowering prices to widely attainable levels anytime soon.

    2) Smart TVs need to become the standard. Mainstream acceptance of streaming service will never happen as long as it requires a separate device. If it’s not in the TV, the DVD player or the cable box, It’ll just never get to the less tech-savvy that make up the majority of the population.

    3) Media companies need to be realistic about the price of the media. iTunes sells music from 1988 at the same price as a current top 40 hit? Forget that. Movies that cost $16 on DVD cost almost the same as “buying” them to stream despite the fact that they have 1/3 the overhead of physical media and if you have an argument with Amazon or Apple you lose everything at a push of the button on their side? Pffft. What moron would agree to that?

  2. Jason Knize says:

    Which do you think will happen first? Your three caveats in regards to streaming or a next generation of physical home video?

  3. Dave says:

    Slight correction, Betamax did not beget VHS, they were concurrent and competing magnetic tape storage. Beta lost out to VHS the same way HDDVD lost out to BluRay. And as for what will come first, those three caveats or new physical media, new physical media. Sony and Panasonic are already working on a 300GB capacity disc to be compatible with 4K tech.

  4. Tito says:

    Separate devices has worked for the VCR, DVD, and blu ray. Yes Smart Tv being the standard will go along way I don’t thinks its necessary. Apple TV and Roku boxes are out there as well.

  5. Tito says:

    100% agree that Internet access needs to be treated as a utility!

  6. matweller says:

    New physical media. Blu-Ray is the LaserDisk™ of the HD generation.

    High-speed internet is the biggest hurdle of the three, and Comcast doesn’t seem to be showing any interest in changing that situation in either price or infrastructure and with Comcast buying Time-Warner, what they say is the only thing that matters because competition does not exist.

    Price is a big issue too if the middle and lower class folks that make up the body of the audience don’t start seeing some economic recovery, entertainment will lose share of the income dollar for every penny that gas & groceries go up.

    • Jason Knize says:

      I’d think that HD-DVD was the Laserdisc of the HD Generation.

      And if price is the issue, I’d say that leans in the direction of streaming. If you’ve already got internet, $10 a month for unlimited streaming is much more cost effective than driving the Redbox 2 or 3 times a month or buying one blu-ray every two months.

  7. Gojiratoho says:

    LaserDisc was available at the same time as VHS and BetaMax. It’s more accurate to compare it to the VHS (as both were the clear winner in their respective “format war”).

  8. Gojiratoho says:

    It being BluRay.

  9. matweller says:

    $10 a month does not get the movies you get with physical media. To do that you have to rent for $4-5 each or $14+ to ‘buy’ (even though you don’t end up ‘owning’ anything and your use of it is completely at the whim of Amazon or iTunes), and as I said, there is no excuse to pay the same for something with much less value or cost. It’s the same with video games — anybody that pays the same price for a downloaded game or ebook that they would for a disk is insane. You can’t share it, you can’t re-sell it, you can’t even always use it on other devices you own — it’s not worth half the price.

  10. matweller says:

    Betamax was well gone by the time Laserdisk came around.

  11. Gojiratoho says:

    BetaMax began production in 1975 and sold until about 1988. LaserDisc entered the market in 1978.

  12. matweller says:

    In what capacity? I don’t recall ever seeing a LaserDisk in a store before 1990.

    And BetaMax sales after 1985 were about what cassette tape sales are now. There was no point, they weren’t long enough to hold a lot of movies in their entirety.

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