My friend Andrew Robinson recently posted an editorial on HomeTheaterReview titled “You Don’t Own Me – Another Reason Streaming Will Ultimately Win the Disc/Streaming War.” I’ve disagreed with Andrew on this point before, but in this case, he makes an incredibly tight, compelling argument for why physical media are almost certainly losing the war of Blu-ray vs streaming:
Agree with me, or hate me, I think (hope) Blu-ray is our last rodeo with physical media. I think discs of all types are but dead formats walking, especially Blu-ray, as it is the least prevalent in terms of market share. Moreover, streaming popularity grows by double digits every year whereas Blu-ray has slowed – note, I didn’t say stopped. Blu-ray will never be as big as DVD nor VHS before that, and the recent news that only last week the Blu-ray Association found it necessary to form an UltraHD taskforce charged with discussing (note I said discussing) the viability – not probability, but viability – of an UltraHD/Blu-ray format is more than a little disconcerting.
That’s just the start. As the piece progresses, Andrew goes on to detail the numerous reasons that streaming and online downloads are set to overtake physical media once and for all. You should definitely read it all. The only real beef I have with the piece is that Andrew sees this as a good thing, whereas I lament the decline of discs, and not merely because most (most, not all) streaming sources pale in terms of audiovisual quality compared to a good Blu-ray.
What’s getting lost in the transition from disc to download is the enriching supplemental material that, granted, many people probably don’t care about. But I, for one, do. Sometimes more than the movie it’s attached to. I was dreadfully disappointed with Prometheus, but bought the Blu-ray anyway, solely for Charlie de Lauzirika’s amazing feature-length documentary, The Furious Gods. Whether you enjoyed the film itself or not, The Furious Gods is an amazing film in its own right, and an astoundingly in-depth exploration of what Prometheus could have been, what it was, what it meant, and what went into making it. And it’s not available with any of the movie’s online incarnations.
The Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology, 1978-2006 is another fine example. I recently picked up the UK import on Amazon, and have been digging through six of the eight discs with my wife (we don’t acknowledge the existence of III or IV in this house, sorry), not only so she could experience the films I loved so much as a child, but also to give her a more thorough cultural perspective on the character, and to dig deep into all of the drama and politics that surrounded Donner’s relationship with the Salkinds and Pierre Spengler — how that struggle impacted the first film, why we have a new, half-finished version of the second film — and how Superman: The Movie practically invented a new genre of film.
I’m not saying that online delivery of those enriching materials couldn’t be done; I’m merely pointing out that they’re not being done. Buy Prometheus on iTunes, and sure, you’ll get some bonus materials. But certainly not the best of the film’s supplements. And you’ll have to sit at your computer to watch them. And sure, you can watch all of the old Fleischer Superman cartoons on Warner’s YouTube channel, but the only other supplement from the Superman Anthology I could find easily (legally) accessible online was Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman on iTunes, which costs more than half of than I paid for the entire eight-disc set.
Maybe one could argue that Wikipedia and other online sources make all of this information redundant; anyone who wants to know more about a film can Google it, you might say. But no amount of hyperlinked text will ever measure up to the amazing filmmaking of de Lauzirika’s The Furious Gods.
Maybe it’s just a matter of supply and demand. Maybe the folks who are satisfied by streaming really don’t care about how movies are made. Maybe the curious folk like me are in the minority. But if supplemental materials really do get lost in the transition to digital distribution, I, for one, feel like we’ll be losing a whole lot more than mere five-inch discs and a bit of audiovisual quality.