Yes, you read that right: DVDs.
With Netflix announcing in a blog post that it was shutting down its postal DVD service after 25 years and with Disney Plus recently announcing it was deleting shows from its streaming service (via Deadline), I couldn't help but feel a pang for the old DVD disc.
When Netflix first burst on the scene – and with every new subsequent streaming service since – the promise was that you’d have every show and every film that you could possibly watch at the click of a button. They wouldn’t even take up space in your home in clunky plastic boxes; they’d all be neatly stored in the nebulous cloud. And you could, for a pittance of a monthly subscription, watch them whenever you wanted to. So convenient.
TV shows binned... forever?
Except that’s no longer the case, is it? Not only have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and Apple TV+ all upped their subscription prices in recent months, but there are also now so many more streaming services that have now popped up since Netflix’s dominant reign. And not only does the money add up (if you’re even trying to keep up with all the new TV shows across various platforms), there’s so much more than you could possibly watch in a lifetime, let alone every week. Trying to find where the latest episode of Rian Johnson’s new show will appear, or where you can watch old episodes of The X Files, takes a lot more searching and researching. It’s not the instant gratitude it once was, or promised to be.
What’s more surprising – shocking, even – is the recent news that Disney is deleting entire shows altogether from its service. And they're big-budget original shows with big stars attached too, such as Y The Last Man, Willow and The World According to Jeff Goldblum. Disney claims it’s part of an ‘impairment charge' – effectively a cost-cutting measure that should save them billions by getting rid of 'content' taking up library space. While the focus is on underperforming shows (no one expects them to get rid of a Marvel or a Star Wars production, of course) there's still a horrible sinking feeling when something that was created is simply wiped off for a business reason.
Disney isn't the only one, either. The Warner Bros. Discovery conglomerate has also been 'purging' shows from HBO Max, with Westworld the big-name, popular show that was culled. In this case, Warner said many of those shows will be licensed out to other free services (via The Hollywood Reporter, Polygon).
Disney has yet to make any such announcement or assurance, and we can only hope that its binned shows will appear in a physical format, or are archived on a different platform. (Yep, another platform.)
Streaming's transient nature
It’s even more of a kick in the teeth to anyone actually involved in the creation of these shows – all the writers, directors, actors, VFX artists, crew members... anyone who worked on the shows in any way – as it means they simply no longer have evidence of the work they’ve done.
If you've been saving a show on your watch list, thinking you’ll get to it in your own sweet time, you might be in danger of missing it altogether now. Y The Last Man had a promising premise, but busy work (and general life) schedules meant I couldn’t finish it amongst all the other shows that came out at the same time. And now I never will, it seems.
But that’s where my big concern lies. Once a show or film is off a streaming service, where can you watch it next? Do you have to sign up for a brand-new streaming service just for that single show? Is it worth paying yet another tenner per month just to be able to watch that one show, film or episode when the mood strikes you? Wouldn’t it be easier if, say, you had a copy of it yourself, that could simply put on anytime you wanted without any extra cost…?
Many What Hi-Fi? readers will likely already be in agreement here, but I need to add my voice to the chorus: I’m so glad I never got rid of my DVD (or Blu-ray, if you will) disc collection. Because what’s become abundantly clear is that relying on streaming services if you’re a dedicated film and TV fan may not be a safe bet anymore. You used to be able to own your copy of a film; now you pay a monthly fee to rent it – and it could disappear at any time.
The comfort of physical media ownership
I’ve never felt more affection for my small but curated DVD collection in light of this recent news. It’s by no means the most impressive collection of media (please share your own favourites in the comments), but these are mine and they’re special to me. Those DVDs aren’t just a mash-up of my favourite films and shows; they’re also tied to certain periods of my life and I can track how my tastes have evolved as I try to put them into some sort of order (genre, for me). There are films that I’ve loved since my childhood – Home Alone, Clueless, The Craft; films from a specific director – Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan; films that I discovered and watched on repeat at university – The History Boys, Withnail & I, Pan's Labyrinth.
They’re not just meaningless shiny discs, either. So many of my DVDs are tied to a special memory, such as the film my sister and I quote to each other the most (Ocean’s 11), the first film I saw with my now-husband (My Life As A Courgette), tiny not-well-known films that meant the world to me that will likely never see the light of streaming day (Neil Gaiman/DaveMcKean’s Mirrormask). There are certain films and TV shows that are simply worth preserving, too, such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where the DVD boxset retains the original TV broadcast quality (the first HD remaster was poorly done, with colour grading errors and crews or equipment clearly in shot; it's still not available on Blu-ray).
There’s also the forgotten joy of rummaging in your local supermarket’s £1 DVD bin to find something rubbish (or a surprise gem) to discover and enjoy. Yes, you can pick any of Netflix’s vast catalogue of shows in varying qualities for that same reason, but it’s nowhere near as fun as picking up a physical DVD box, reading the blurb on the back, judging the terrible front cover, and deciding it’ll be a terrible laugh with the right mood, food and friends.
Surely, you’ll protest, there are so many shows and films – like Home Alone, Friends or Matilda – that are always being shown on TV and you don’t need a physical copy of it at all? I thought the same until a couple of weekends ago when I wanted to rewatch the absolute stone-cold adventure classic that is 1999’s The Mummy. But I failed to find it on any UK streaming service at the time. It wasn't on Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or anywhere on Now TV – and those are the four main services I subscribe to every month. Luckily, though, I had my trusty DVD copy of it, and I got to enjoy this wonderfully perfect film exactly when I was in the mood for it (which is often). It’s the best 99p I’ve ever spent.
There are plenty of other classics that aren't available on any UK streaming services at the time of writing: Withnail & I, Leon: The Professional, The Shawshank Redemption, the 1960s Batman TV series.
Nice & cheap, relatively
That’s another element: price. DVDs are – and have been for most of my life and for most released films – affordable. You have to pay more for brand-new titles and for Blu-rays and 4K Blu-rays (and the picture quality is clearly more than worth it with the latter), but to own your favourite film or show on DVD? You can spend less than a tenner and you can own a physical copy that’s yours to keep and own and watch forever. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Streaming services aren’t an archive, but your DVD (or Blu-ray) collection is.
Physical media, if you’re a fan as I assume we all are of films, TV shows, documentaries, music and video games, is tangible and yours. It can’t – and shouldn’t – ever be replaced. And especially not by something so transient as streaming.
You don’t even have to splash out on a full Dolby Atmos AV system to enjoy your DVDs – but it certainly helps. I have a 4K TV, a pair of speakers and an elderly DVD player. Even the latest consoles like a Sony PS5 will play any old DVD disc, and you know what? They still look decent, no doubt thanks to the various upscaling processing technologies that are part and parcel of sources and TVs these days. The picture quality of my The Mummy DVD was solid, detailed and full of rich, dynamic colour. Black levels were deep and neatly contrasted against brighter, more colourful moments. It was an exciting watch, and at no point did I ever feel I was missing out with the DVD print.
There are certain films that I will splash out for the Blu-ray quality version (Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Knives Out are recent examples). But for the most part, I still opt for DVDs if I’m looking for a new (or old) favourite film or show to buy. I just find it cheaper and more convenient.
Thankfully, films and shows are still getting their Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray releases for us collectors and completionists. While I’ll still carry on subscribing to Netflix, Disney and Amazon for the latest shows in the hopes of ever catching up with everything on my watch list, it won’t ever stop me from buying physical disc versions of TV shows and films I love. Or going to the cinema to watch the latest film on the big screen. And I’m still never letting go of my precious DVD collection.