RIP Lovefilm: Why I'll miss renting discs in the age of streaming

This week's announcement that Amazon would be closing its Lovefilm by Post service was met with a mixed response. While many voiced surprise that a postal disc rental service was still an ongoing concern, others were disappointed - if not entirely surprised.

Now buried deep within Amazon’s many menus, the service’s lack of visibility, last year's price rise, and the increasing promotion of Amazon’s Prime Video streaming and download services, Lovefilm was clearly inching towards the exit. But I, for one, think that's a shame.

The move is reflective of the space discs - and to a lesser extent films - now occupy. As streaming services proliferate, delivering a level of convenience that many can't live without, the DVD is almost becoming a forgotten relic.

The way we consume content is evolving and it seems fewer people are prepared to sit and watch a film uninterrupted at home, perhaps preferring a more manageable 45-minute chunk of TV content. And this is the very thing that most streaming services place front and centre, relegating films to almost hidden menus.

With people owning multiple screens, all connected to the internet, and all allowing you to stop and start video whenever and wherever you want, sitting down and watching a two-hour film on disc starts to look positively archaic.

And yet Lovefilm offers something that the major streaming services still haven't managed to replicate - the sheer breadth of titles available.

From action to horror, foreign films to black and white classics, it's an antidote to the trimmed offerings on streaming services, which focus on the latest shows with the biggest buzz.

And, despite the promise of instant gratification offered by the streaming giants, step outside the mainstream, and it often remains easier to find, order and watch films on disc.

I currently have Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Tony Kushner’s HBO series Angels in America at home on disc - and these titles can't be found on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

Search for North by Northwest in the Prime Video channel and you get a programme called The Next Bite. Search for another title on my watchlist, The Big Sleep, and you get the title Relax Music & Beautiful Big Cats – Relax Meditation – Sleep Music. Not quite what I was looking for.

And while there are certainly plenty of classics on both services, they're rarely promoted and you can never be sure they will stay on the service - thanks to changing licensing agreements and the general churn of content. With a service like Lovefilm you could almost guarantee that the disc would be available.

Similarly, less well known programmes can be hard to find and are rarely promoted. Even high profile titles can disappear into the streaming catalogue when something new comes along.

And let's not forget the AV quality. We're adamant the best 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs deliver a better picture and sound experience than their streaming equivalents, and even with DVDs there's no need to worry about dropped internet connections or using up your data.

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Of course, streaming services have their benefits. Both Amazon and Netflix pick up shows and films that would struggle to get a release in the UK by traditional means (iZombie or Chi-Raq) and are investing heavily in all sorts of video content. Even Apple is getting in on the act.

There are under-the-radar programmes and films tucked away, too. And at times, the simple convenience of browsing and then hitting play can't be beaten.

But there’s a sense of impermanence with streaming that you don’t get with physical discs, which will be tested even further if the likes of Apple and Disney, launch streaming services.

Lovefilm catered to all tastes, delivering a fairly democratic service. That may be a rose-tinted view, but it’s reflective of how I was introduced to films I might have otherwise struggled to see. It won’t be the same without Lovefilm.

Thankfully, there are still alternatives - Cinema Paradiso is one such option in the UK. So while the bell might be tolling for discs, and especially disc rental services, they aren’t dead just yet.

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Kob began his career at What Hi-Fi?, starting in the dusty stockroom before rising up the ranks to join the editorial and production team as the Buyer’s Guide editor. Experienced in both magazine and online publishing, he now runs the TV & audio section at Trusted Reviews where he keeps a beady eye on all the latest comings and goings in the hi-fi and home cinema market.