Discussion Topic: Movies-on-disc – Brian Florian – December 15, 2008

The press loves to be sensational.  Over and over we’ve seen Blu-Ray being gunned down with declarations of “disc is dead” and “a download-only future is right around the corner”.  Well, I think not.

I admit that when HD-DVD closed its doors, I was one of the many saying “…that doesn’t mean Blu-Ray has won…” but I never said disc in general was going anywhere, just that Sony needed to get its act together…which for the most part they have, considering how the Blu-Ray section in stores and rental chains keeps creeping into space previously occupied by either CDs or DVDs.

Of course there is a bunch of people who would like to see disc disappear, but I contend it is a small slice of the market.  They are predominantly the net-tech types who tend to move in their own circle.  If you talk to one of them, they usually will say something like “everyone I know downloads everything….” and they assume that means everyone outside of their circle as well.  The irony is that in my experience that same group also tend to be the ones doing the “illegitimate” downloading we keep hearing so much about (which might explain, in part at least, why they embrace a download-only life so fervently).

Sure, BlockBuster is crying hard times.  These days, who isn’t?  I routinely rent from BlockBuster and I’ll tell you they are not hurting that bad:  just this past week I beheld a wall full of Batman Begins DVDs….all of which were already rented, and then had to wade through the crowd and stand in line to get rung in with my copy of yester-week’s new release.  Rental is dead my foot!  The only credible threat to BlockBuster is Rent-by-Mail which, though web-based by nature, is still a disc renting business.

But let’s admit for a moment that there is a momentum in place for disc rental alternatives.  I can see the appeal behind Pay-Per-View, Video-on-Demand, and other more generic digital downloads, though for my part I cannot abide by the fact that I have to invest in often proprietary hardware and possibly a more expensive (ie faster) internet service just to take advantage.  Screen Digest apparently forecasted recently that so called “online” movies will represent only 5% of home video spending….by 2012 at that!  Disc it would seem not only has a future, but a solid one.

Even if we concede an eventual paradigm shift in the rental space, BUYING movies on disc is for all time, and that is guaranteed by human ego.  If you look at why we watch a movie we’ve already seen, it ultimately is always in a vain attempt to recapture the experience we had when first seeing the piece.  It’s a futile pursuit and we know it, yet we persevere anyway, generation after generation.  We love to buy movies and pop them in at whim hoping it’ll be just like the first time.  It never is but we enjoy them just the same, if in a different way.  This eternal hunger I grant could conceivably be filled eventually by a download infrastructure, but that is only HALF the reason we buy movies and why downloads will never take the place of discs in this respect.  Buying is about much more than just “having it on hand to watch whenever you want”.  Sure, that’s a benefit of having a movie on disc, but its not the driving factor of the purchase.

Buying and owning a movie is a statement.  It’s like wearing a “Save the Whales” t-shirt.  If a movie has meaning for us we feel we owe it to the movie to own it.  We tell ourselves “this movie is important enough to own”. If you own any number of movies, and take an honest look inside yourself, you’ll probably agree with me on this.

Are the Godfather movies good?  Good enough to BUY?  For those of us who have them in our collection the answer is an uncontested “You bet!”.  Fans of, say, Lord of the Rings will have bought the movies just because they are fans, speak nothing of the really big fans who have to have the super-duper extended editions because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be saying enough about how they feel about the movies.

The proof of this concept is in the EXPLOSION of the TV-Series-on-DVD market which caught a lot of us by surprise.  People spend BIG money on TV shows they’ve already seen, most of which are still running in syndication (and almost always available “on-line”, legal or otherwise).  People routinely spend well over $50 for just one season of a TV show!  Why?  Because they want to show the world (and by the world I mean themselves) that the show meant so much to them that they bought it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being derogatory.  I have a movie collection built up entirely from my own ego as such.

Bottom line is you just don’t get the same affirmation from having a copy on a hard drive in a media server somewhere in your basement (even if you did acquire it legally).  There is something magical, nay, powerful about having that slipcase on the shelf.  If the world offers more download axis for buying movies, buying them on disc will become even MORE special.  Imagine a friend telling you they bought/downloaded such and such a movie.  “Ha!” you’ll say, “I bought it on Blu-Ray!” making you fell like a bigger, better movie buff than they.

With the holiday right around the corner, if you are reading this odds are good, VERY good that not only are you going to be giving at least someone some DVD or Blu-Ray movies, but that you are also going to get a handful in return.

Ultimately my view is that while electronic distribution may well erode some of the rental space, anyone calling the death knoll for Blu-Ray or disc in general is very much mistaken.