Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Say DVD's Are Dead (Yes, Blu-Ray too)

This week Netflix announced a new $1 Billion deal to further cement their leading role in the rapidly changing new media landscape. They signed a deal with a company called Epix that will allow them to add new movies from Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate and MGM to its online subscription service.

(*image sourced from:

As much as the streaming service is being embraced by Netflix users, it's big limitation has been the limited number of movies, especially new ones, in it's streaming service.

For the record I never really believed in Blu-Ray DVD's. Not that I don't think they are a superior and valid disc format, I just think they missed the window in all the years they spent bickering over a unified High-Definition DVD format (not unlike the 80's BETA vs. VHS tape wars). Had they have settled their war earlier (or never fought it in the first place), I think they'd have a better hold of the marketplace and would last awhile longer. In my opinion, they didn't miss with the technology per se, they missed with the timing.

Basically while the big technology players like Sony and Toshiba battled it out to push their two different formats, Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD, even smarter visionaries were looking past discs and physical media altogether and instead focusing on the future viability of pure digital delivery- downloading and streaming flicks and video content straight to your tv, phone, computer (or any other screen you want to consume it on).

I know there are plenty of filmmakers that will see this as some sort of heresy to dump the physical media, but it really is no different than the natural switch from CD-players to iPods and MP3 players- or from shooting on Mini-DV tapes to solid-state P2 and SxS cards for that matter. Yes, we lost the album liner notes (and in the case of this debate, the DVD back cover), but let's catalog the 3 Big C's we gain with this switch to all-digital delivery:

The 3 Big C's of All-Digital Delivery
1) CONVENIENCE: It's way easier to transport and manage a digital collection of videos, better yet, with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we now have vast catalogs of content at our fingertips that live in "The Cloud" of the Internet and we don't have to carry a thing or even decide what movies we want to watch before we go on a trip. (I'm also one of those people who often ends up with the wrong DVD in the case or missing altogether, so for the unorganized DVD collector, streaming and downloads are a Godsend.) And best of all I can now watch a movie on the device and at the place of my choosing- TV, computer, iPad, videogame system or phone.

2) COST: It's cheaper to deliver and consume digital content. For less than the cost of a single DVD purchase, I watch dozens of movies from Netflix for $8.99 a month from anywhere in the world. Add on Hulu consumption (Free-cheap), iTunes Video downloads (reasonably priced), and On-Demand cable movies (plenty for free and included with premium channel subscriptions) and it really doesn't make much sense anymore to drop $30+ on a fancy Blu-Ray DVD or even $10 for a regular DVD.

3) CHOICE: The cost of Blu-Ray DVD's naturally means that we buy less of them and are more careful in our purchases. However, there's plenty of room in "The Cloud", so there is a growing (and soon to be endless) supply of movie, tv and video content available to stream or download. Watching an unknown indie movie is not such a commitment anymore since we don't have to go back to the video store or wait for our next DVD in the mail, we can just click on the next one if the flick's not for us. As a result, this newfound freedom of choice online allows us to discover and watch many more movies without fear of making a bad choice. And to top it all off, companies like Netflix and Apple have invested millions in honing systems that recommend new movies that we are more likely to like based on our previous choices.

So for all those reasons, plus a few I haven't mentioned here, I think DVD's - Blu-Ray included are dead. I give them 2-5 more years of meaningful life as video sales and consumption shift to the all-digital realm and don't think it's a bad thing for consumers or filmmakers.

That's my prediction and if you scroll back to the first years of this blog, I've been pretty on the money so far. Of course, I welcome a spirited debate with the Blu-Ray fans.


Anthony Q. Artis said...

I wanted to add that most Netflix movies are currently only streamed in SD, but they are steadily (and quietly) offering more HD content.

Peep this article for more info:

Tom Weber said...

I agree that Blu-Ray is here-today-gone-tomorrow, but perhaps for a different reason.

I think there will always be a market for physical goods in both music and film. Witness the tremendous resurgence of vinyl as a "collectible" format for music.

Digital distribution is fine for content that you only want to watch once -- classic example being concert videos -- I do not want to watch the same concert over and over again.

But, for independent filmmakers who follow the Peter Broderick / Jon Reiss model of hybrid or D.I.Y. distribution, physical goods are an important part of any marketing plan. You need something to offer your core audience that is a little different, a little better, than what they can download or stream.

The problem with Blu-Ray is that Sony did not comprehensively re-engineer the whole DVD interface for more interactivity. It's just a larger capacity storage device, not a new and improved format.

Part of the reason I think viewers are getting bored with DVD is the clunky nature of the interface. An interface that allowed your HD DVD player to interface with your Internet connection, NOW you're talking.

I think that streaming/download-to-own is going to decimate cable, particularly premium or pay cable, and take a bite out of video on demand. Why all the big cable providers are trying to cut broadband deals now -- they see their market drying up. But I do think that physical goods, particularly of the deluxe or collectible variety, will not disappear anytime soon.


Anthony Q. Artis said...

All great points Tom. It seems that most people I've engaged in this discussion agree that DVD "demise" is eminent although we all cite slightly different reasons. My friend Alex Houston wrote a great response to this post on Facebook, that I'd also like to share here, because he's much more eloquent and tech-saavy than me...

Response from Alex Houston on FB:

I have to agree that for mass consumption, Blu-ray is going to peter out. But it's important to remember that when CDs became popular, people predicted the demise of LPs. But they're still around, often sold as a premium product due to thei...r higher fidelity, and in some cases preferred. Maybe the same will happen to Blu-ray.

I doubt the technology will completely die, because most distributors and film festivals still ask for DVD screeners of films. There's value in hardcopy, because when people buy a dedicated player, they want to get the most use out of their investment, and hardware standards make compatibility more reliable. Technotard executives or producers prefer to put a disc in a player and push a button than worry about whether they have the latest codecs installed on their computer. You don't need an IT department to push "PLAY."

In terms of IP, hardcopy DVD is also more secure than emailing a file or a link to a file online, which can easily be downloaded, copied, and shared. No medium is 100% secure, but you can copy-protect DVD to the point where it takes a deliberate effort to rip it, preventing casual or accidental piracy. These things are all valuable considerations for indie filmmakers who need to protect their work.

But yeah, as mass-distribution media, DVD and Blu-ray are becoming extinct...and Blu-ray just won the war, dammit! :/