Streaming media is becoming embedded into our lives more and more as technology advances. People with Xbox 360 gaming consoles have had the ability to purchase and download digital copies of movies to store on their hard drive for a decent amount of time. When Netflix decided to team up with Microsoft to provide their streaming movie feature to Xbox Live subscribers at no extra cost, it became inevitable that other companies would follow suit. Netflix recently announced plans to eliminate hard-copy from their catalog within two years. The announcement accompanies a new plan that has been made available, in which you subscribe to streaming content only. While the announcement may have shocked some, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise. We have been approaching this point since long before anyone had even imagined the ability to stream films via the internet. Every tangible form of home entertainment comes with an expiration date. The problem is, you have no way of knowing how long that particular format will last. This is particularly hard on the hardcore collector. You invest obscene amounts of cash into your film collection, only to be told at some point that the format is being discontinued.
Personally, I think Netflix’s agenda is unrealistic. Yes, streaming movies are becoming a popular alternative to visiting a brick and mortar store, but the people who participate in this form of movie viewing are easily in a small minority. Many things have to happen in this two year time window before the company can realistically move to online content only. As it stands, a small percentage of their film library has been made available for streaming. Deals must be made, palms must be greased, rights must be dug up from obscurity. Unless Netflix plans to eliminate completely, a major chunk of their library, some poor intern has a mound of letters to send, and phone calls to make, and I’m not sure that two years is enough time to accomplish this.
Something else that troubles me about this plan is the lack of technical aspects, and extra goodies that we have come to know and love on tangible media. Admittedly, it’s been a couple of months at least since I have streamed a movie on Netflix, but the last time I checked, the audio quality was still far from worthy of the sound system’s a lot of us have invested into heavily. Even if you’re not a tech savvy person, what about the special features? Sometimes a film is released with different versions of the film on a single disc, will Netflix host the different cuts of the same film? Or will they simply supply one or the other? What about commentary tracks? Some movies that I already own on several different formats continue to be re-released with “ALL NEW FEATURES!!!!!” If I want to hear a commentary that one of my current discs doesn’t feature, I’ll queue it up on Netflix for that purpose alone. Deleted or extended scenes, gag reels, alternate endings or openings, TV spots, documentaries exploring the production of the film, these are all things that are not delivered via instant stream, at least in it’s current form. Are those of us that enjoy these aspects of physical media in the minority?
Personally, I don’t think we’ll ever witness the elimination of physical media, at least not in our lifetime. There’s too big of a demand. You can’t pick up a 5 dollar steaming movie in a budget bin on impulse while shopping for Oreo Cakesters. And let’s face it, on that same late-night shopping trip, you happen across people digging through those budget bins who’s heads would collapse if you were to attempt to explain a streaming movie to them. Streaming doesn’t allow a 32 year old man to purchase cookies, lube, and “Adventures In Babysitting” at three in the morning.
Netflix may very well make a hard push to move customers toward their new streaming only plan, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the consumer will respond positively to that notion. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have the best that technology has to offer, often take it for granted. I’ve been using the internet since before there were graphical web browsers to assist you in your journey, and I often found myself assuming that, since I was personally on the internet, that everybody else was as well. Yes, the world wide web is far more prevalent in our society than it was in the early nineties, but there are still plenty of markets that have not yet fully embraced the cutting edge of communication. Broadband is more popular now than ever, but has it reached a stage of popularity that people are ready to abandon their stand-alone players? My guess is no. I don’t think two years is enough time for Netflix to prepare their entire subscriber base for digital-only content.
Personally, I think DVD is here to say. It’s possible though, that there were people thinking the same thing about VHS back when we made the jump to DVD. The difference though, is that the tape format had no room to expand, where as disc based media is far from reaching it’s full potential. If you were shaken by this announcement, put down the pitch-fork, you’ll still be able to queue that hard-copy of “Showgirls” for what I would assume to be a long while.