The Death of the DVD: Advanced Funeral Notice

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Ten years ago, it might have seemed impossible to think that CDs would be on the verge of extinction. Artists like Eminem, U2 and (gulp) Limp Bizkit were on top of the world and moving albums by the millions. Now, with the reshaping of the music industry via the internet, platinum albums have become something of a rarity. So perhaps it’s not surprising that we may now be hearing the death knell of another media disc format at the hands of the internet: the DVD.

Initially, the rise of alternative rental services like Netflix and OnDemand cable seemed to only pose a threat to video rental chains like Blockbuster. Now that those chains have been all but eliminated, it seems that the next step could be a total elimination of the DVD format as a whole.

Services like Netflix and OnDemand were able to eliminate rental stores by being more convenient. The films came to you when you wanted them and didn’t carry the stigma of late fees. Then Netflix introduced its streaming film services, and OnDemand providers started to rent out movies without the normal delay between DVD release and OnDemand release. Apple also got into the mix by adding movie rentals and purchases to the iTunes store. Now, films are available to own without requiring the buyer to ever claim a physical copy. It all seems to raise a more serious question–why have DVDs at all?

Consumers seem to be trending towards abandoning the format, as DVD sales have been steadily declining since 2007, Blu-Ray included. Most of this is due to sheer convenience, especially in the case of Netflix, which allows subscribers to stream selected films directly to their computers, iPads and TVs with no additional cost from their basic rental plan. In addition, Netflix is now offering a streaming only plan, while raising the prices on their physical DVD rental plans. This allows viewers to use Netflix as an OnDemand style library, except that instead of paying for each film individually, they’ll pay a flat monthly rate to access all of Netflix’s streaming movies and television shows. The problem here is that if you want to rent physical copies of movies, it’s going to cost you extra.

Some movie studios are also beginning to explore new ways of releasing films in a format that would allow consumers to view the content over a wide range of devices. A perfect example is Disney’s Keychest, which was announced in 2009 to provide access to films that could be viewed on televisions, computers, phones and other devices all for a single purchase price. This is a clear advantage over DVD based film retail; now you can view a purchased movie anywhere, even if you don’t have a DVD or DVD player around. Between incoming technology like this and the growing interest in streaming rental services like Netflix, iTunes and OnDemand, the DVD market is about a step away from going on life support.

But DVDs aren’t dead yet, and there are still a few roadblocks to clear before the funeral service can get underway. Without question the biggest stepping stone is the selection of films available in DVD-less format. Though Netflix has a large selection of titles available for instant streaming, they rarely feature new releases in their streaming section, and also have just as many older films that aren’t available to stream. OnDemand faces the opposite problem; for the most part they only feature newly released films, and are only available for a few days. For repeated viewing of newly released films, purchasing a DVD still makes sense–for the time being, at least.

Soon You Won't Need a Disc to Watch "Coach Carter". From

Quality is the other issue. While streaming options are certain easier than DVD viewing, they can’t always match a DVD in terms of picture and sound quality. Of course, there are high definition computers and televisions that present a sharper image, but streaming a film and getting a high quality image is also reliant on a user’s internet connection. DVDs don’t have this problem, and neither do Blu-Ray. iTunes was able to become a mecca of music sales because the digital music they sell matches a CD in sound quality. In order for streaming video services to fully supplant video discs, they’ll have to find a way to ensure a crisp transfer of image and sound every time, and on every viewing medium, whether that be an iPod, a television, or a phone.

If online and cable based film viewing services can remedy issues about viewing selection and quality, then they will certainly be poised to deal a significant blow to the already-withering DVD market. But there is one other, small factor that must be taken into consideration: film collectors.

Just as there are those who continue to buy hard copies of music (whether that be on CD or vinyl), there will always be people who pride themselves on having a personal film library. No doubt this is a small group (just as it is with music), but there will always be a certain group with an aesthetic attachment to a physical copy of a film. They may become obscure in the same vein as rare book collectors and vinyl album fanatics, but just as they exist for those art forms, it is almost certain that they will exist for film.

For the rest of the world (and if we aren’t counting film collectors, that’s a lot of people), the signs are all in place that the DVD is on the way out. Blu-Ray discs are a small wildcard in the equation, but their revenue has also been on the decline, and should the alternative viewing services find a way to match their image quality, they will be all but obsolete. Only a few barriers remain between the current state and an almost disc-free market, and the change could happen much sooner than you think.

About David Braga

David Braga is a 2011 Film Student focusing on Film Studies and Screenwriting. In no particular order, his favorite films are: Trainspotting, Aliens, Breaking the Waves, School of Rock, Kill Bill, 2001, and Wayne's World 2.

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6 Comments on “The Death of the DVD: Advanced Funeral Notice”

  1. I feel bad knocking your article because it seems like you put a lot of time into writing it. But i feel your prediction is way off. In the few months since its release, eminems most recent album has sold 3 million physical copies in the united states alone… U2 has sold well over a million copies of their last album since its release last year and nearly ten million plus worlwide, all physical copies. Ever heard of susan boyle??? yeah me neither but she started as a viral sensation and she as well has sold well over ten million copies of her album worldwide on physical format since last year and according to CNN had the highest debut of a female artist since nielson started keeping track in 1991. Shes in the guinness book of world records for having the fastest selling album by a female in the uk… in “physical” cd sales.
    Avatar set world records on both dvd and blue ray with the highest first week sales of physical copies ever seen in history and that came out about a year ago. taylor swift went platinum in a week like a month ago. i could do research myself and easily name off plenty of other things, but these are the recent ones that stand out and crush your theory. you lack actual numbers my friend. Nielson soundscan shows recent studies with increase in sales of cd’s across all genres of music. Vinyl is actually up in sales as well. video games are also at an all time high. the only thing your article actually proves is that there are many new options to choose from when watching movies or listening to music other than physical format but that itself in no way shape or form means that physical format is going to die out anytime soon. maybe slow up… but thats it… sorry.

  2. You make some good points. However, while Eminem and U2 are certainly still holding strong with selling plenty of albums, they’re current albums sales are down compared to their last ones. For example, each of Eminem’s new albums have failed to go platinum in their first week (Relapse did 600,000+, Recovery around 700,000+ I think), whereas “The Eminem Show” sold over a million in it’s first week. U2 still has strong album sales, but overall the sales of “No Line on the Horizon” are significantly lower than their sales for “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” “No Line…” is actually their lowest selling US release in a decade. They’re still able to move large numbers because they are established brands, but they’re also feeling the effects of a market that is turning away from CD and album sales. And while Taylor Swift’s sales were certainly impressive, it’s also important to note that she had the first 1 Million Sale week since 2008 (for Tha Carter III). That’s a pretty big gap. Also, Billboard album sales include digital purchases provided the album is bought as a whole, so part of that does come from a digital marketplace. Nielsen SoundScan also includes digital sales. However, the main focus of the article was DVDs, I was really only trying to use CDs as an example to illustrate that DVDs could experience a similar decline in numbers, just like CDs have over the last couple of years.
    In regards to “Avatar,” it did move plenty of copies, but to be fair, “Avatar” has made money in a way that no other film ever has, so it should be looked at as something of an exception. While it’s sales did give the industry a boost, the important thing here is that DVD sales have been steadily declining since 2007. There are always going to be exceptions to the trend (like the big music sellers you mentioned), but the overall numbers show that DVD profitability is declining. I don’t necessarily think that either CDs or DVDs will ever be completely eliminated (because of people who are attached to them, like I mentioned), but I do think that both could be relegated to a more obscure status (sort of like vinyl was until it’s recent resurgence). The bottom line is that at some point, if it isn’t profitable or convenient and an easier option is out there, the majority of both manufacturers and consumers will go with whatever is easiest for them. I’m not trying to suggest that people aren’t going to buy music or movies anymore, but I am suggesting that the way people do that is changing and will continue to change.
    As for video games, I don’t really know too much about that, but I also didn’t make any claims that they were on the way out. That seems like an almost essential format for that medium for the time being.

    As a last side note, I kind of hope I’m wrong and somehow CDs and DVDs do stay around, because I like them both. But I think that position is a shrinking minority.

    On CD sales going down:

    1. Convenience trumps out sentimental value of owning media. Plus to be honest I think everyone knew the physical media format’s domination was on its way out dude.

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