The day that movie fans have been dreading is finally upon us. We all knew that downloads and streaming would eventually convince movie studios to end their distribution of physical media titles and it would appear that Disney is moving their chess piece first.
This announcement does not impact North American or European film fans yet but it is very clear which way this is headed. We expect Disney and other studios to expand this process starting in 2024.
Disney Strikes With The Hammer
It appears that Disney is the first to test the waters by announcing that it has decided to end releasing DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD DVD titles in Australia and New Zealand
Tip: Disney’s final DVD, Blu-ray, and UHD Blu-ray Disc release in those markets will be Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3.
Australia and New Zealand are certainly not the largest film markets compared to North America and the rest of Asia, but they were not picked randomly.
It’s obvious that physical media sales have been steadily decreasing across all markets, including Australia and New Zealand, as a result of the convenience of accessing content from a steadily increasing number of streaming services (including Disney+).
Let’s face it, one way to increase the number of Disney+ subscribers is to move content away from other sources and provide access only on that platform.
Tip: Although down 20% in 2021, sales of DVDs, Blu-ray, and UHD Blu-ray discs worldwide generated $1.5 billion dollars in revenue for 2022 (pdf).
After the Guardians Vol. 3 release and the remaining stock of previous Disney Disc releases run out in the Australian and New Zealand markets, those viewers will either have to resort to mail orders from other markets, or just rely on streaming and digital download sources to access Disney entertainment content.
While Disney’s decision only applies to Australia and New Zealand (at the current time), keep in mind that Disney, as well as the other major studios, will be watching the results of this move closely. Let’s face it, the hammer might be making its first contact with the nail that closes up access to disc titles forever.
The Implications of Ending Disc Media Access
However, although the growing population of those that access all their media content via streaming may not care about the end of DVD and Blu-ray, this move will eventually result in consumers having less control over what they watch from the perspective that the studios control distribution of titles and control what you see and for how long.
Being able to stream and digital downloads have expanded our ability to access and view content – after all, no one can afford (or want) to purchase everything on DVD or Blu-ray – and streaming also provides the opportunity to check titles out that you may not have considered watching.
Removing the ability to buy and own movies on physical formats will not be popular with videophiles and only drive up the price of admission. Do you want to pay $200 for a DVD copy of a film that has been out of print or for your favorite Marvel or Star Wars title?
Content Shuffling: It’s not guaranteed that your favorite movie or show will always be available on a streaming service. Most streaming services cycle content in and out on a monthly basis.
Content Removal: If you buy a digital version of a movie, it may not remain accessible after a period of time, despite assurances by the streaming service you “purchased” it from. Also, streaming services may just remove a title from their offerings, such as what MAX and Disney+ have done as a result of mergers or changes in marketing strategy.
Altering and Censorship: Unlike physical media, a streaming or digital version of content can be altered, censored, or removed for a variety of reasons including the changing winds of political or cultural standards.
Loss of Ownership: You own any DVD or Blu-ray disc that you purchase and as long your DVD or Blu-ray player still works, you have the ability to watch it even if it disappears from all of the streaming platforms.
Quality: Although the quality of streaming video has improved over the years, it is still dependent on the viewer’s broadband speed. Unfortunately, not all consumers have access to or can afford the internet speed that will deliver the best possible quality.
Using Disney+ as an example, an internet speed of 5.0 Mbps is the minimum required for HD content, while 25.0 Mbps is for viewing 4K UHD content. Other streaming services have similar requirements.
Although standard definition DVD quality can be easily provided to most streaming viewers, physical 1080p Blu-ray supports transfer rates of up to 48 Mbps, and UHD Blu-ray supports transfer rates of up to 128 Mbps. The only streaming service that can support more than 40mbps is Sony Bravia Core which provides up to 80mbps. However, that is only available to owners of select Sony Bravia Smart TVs. Disney+ and Netflix are nowhere near that level yet.
This means that streaming services have to use sophisticated compression techniques to try to deliver equivalent quality to their subscribers despite low transfer speeds. However, they don’t necessarily reach that goal.
Don’t Stop Enjoying Your Disc Collection!
Regardless of how much you depend on streaming for your entertainment (after all streaming is very convenient), if you want continued access to that special movie, TV show, or music album, don’t toss out your physical media quite yet. Also, if there is a movie or TV series that you are a real fan of and it is or becomes available on physical media, consider purchasing it…while you still can.
Criterion Collection has not indicated that they are going down this route yet and we hope that they never will.
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