Thursday, 5 May 2011

Talking Point: is physical media really doomed?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

It's been revealed that US sales of DVDs fell 20% in the first quarter of 2011, falling from $2.58bn to $2bn over three months. The report by the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) also showed that rentals fell 36% to $440m, but online streaming rose by 33% to $695m.

Hollywood is quick to claim that four tent-pole cinema releases in the first quarter of 2011 perhaps steered moviegoers away from DVD and to the multiplexes. Or, y'know, it was a blip and things will even out as the year progresses. And they may be right about that.

But some insiders say the movie industry's starting to feel the effects of its customers moving away from physical media to embrace digital. This is something the music industry was forced to deal with in the early-'00s, and has seemingly managed to turn online streaming into decent revenue -- via the likes of iTunes, which has managed to entice customers because of low prices and user-friendliness.

Can the movie industry do the same, now super-fast broadband is just around the corner? Will you embrace a world where movies come as purely electronic content? Or will you miss having a physical disc in your hand, to proudly display on a shelf at home?

Personally, I have the mind of a collector. If I buy an album or a movie, I want to own it tangibly. I hate the idea of a "collection" being a list of text displayed on a computer, that's either accessible on my hard-drive (thus susceptible to deletion/corruption) or held on a central server I have paid access to. I'd much rather see a shelf of colourful spines, which visitors to my home can peruse like a small-scale branch of HMV.

It just feels like you OWN something if you can touch it. But then again, music fans appear to have moved away from CDs in droves. Maybe that's because it makes more sense to turn music into an easily portable medium, which you can listen to while jogging on an iPod without the sound skipping.

But movies? I'm not sure I want empty shelves and a TV streaming content to me. It's handy in some ways (no time-consuming trips to the shops or waits for a postal delivery), but I don't feel like I truly own that content. Then again, maybe digital media will forego the irritating trend for discs to cue up with about an abundance of movie trailers, anti-piracy adverts and studio idents. It can take me three-minutes to play a movie after inserting a Blu-ray these days -- even if I'm furiously stabbing at the skip button. Blu-rays even download content from the internet, unless you disable your connection beforehand!

But what about upgrades? The movie industry make a lot of money when technology progresses, as they can resell their back catalogues on the latest media -- as they're currently doing with Blu-ray now that DVD's been superseded. If you downloaded a movie, would you have to re-download a better version if technology improves? Would customers be as willing to do that with digital media -- without the enticement of snazzy packaging?

What do you think? Do the pro's of digital movies outweigh the con's? Would the demise of physical media be a sad day for film fans? Or is this issue more a concern for people who have a fondness for collecting things, over a general public who just want to see high-quality content delivered quickly and easily?

Over to you!

A quick reminder that I'm unable to read or leave comments here during working hours, on weekdays. So don't expect a response from myself until sometime after 5PM GMT.