BY ALEX WEPRIN, Hollywood Reporter
ILLUSTRATION BY KATHLEEN FU
This year has been a melancholic one for collectors of physical media. DVDs and Blu-ray discs, once a source of billions in revenue for Hollywood companies, are at risk of becoming obsolete, or at least irrelevant.
The first blow came at the end of September, when Netflix mailed its last DVD (a copy of the 2010 film True Grit, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen). As of Nov. 1, the DVD Netflix website functions as an interactive in memoriam page.
Netflix’s DVD business had dwindled in recent years (falling from over $1 billion in revenue in 2012 to $146 million by 2022), but it was a safe space for film fanatics who loved its immense library of new releases and classic films and shows that aren’t available to stream. The shutdown was in many ways the end of an era, and while some, like Redbox, try to fill that gap, it is a service that appears unlikely to return.
Then Ingram Entertainment, once the largest distributor of DVDs in the country, said in September that it will exit the disc business — and, in October, the country’s biggest electronics retailer, Best Buy, said it would stop selling DVDs and Blu-rays at the end of 2023.
“To state the obvious, the way we watch movies and TV shows is much different today than it was decades ago,” a Best Buy spokesperson said in a statement, adding that removing the rows of discs “gives us more space and opportunity to bring customers new and innovative tech for them to explore, discover and enjoy.”
To be sure, the market isn’t dead, especially with Amazon and Walmart still in the game. In fact, Media Play News reported over the summer that Walmart was in talks with Studio Distribution Services (a Universal/Warner Bros. joint venture) about partnering on its physical media business. However, without Netflix and Best Buy, and with others perhaps set to follow, the fate of DVD home entertainment has never been more perilous.
Yet there are also signs of hope. A significant strategic shift by major streamers, paired with the current state of play in the music industry, offers a potential way forward for physical media.
When Netflix launched its streaming business, you could find everything you wanted, from every era of film and TV, available at all times. Everyone else followed that strategy — but now things are changing again.
Warner Bros. Discovery last year began a content purge of its streaming service HBO Max (now just Max), removing thousands of hours of programming. Disney+, Hulu and Paramount+ followed suit, canceling shows and culling old titles. As the cost of content will continue to rise in a post-strike world, even Netflix or Amazon might be tempted to remove titles to save a few bucks.
That strategy shift, as jarring as it is to some creators and consumers, reinforces the value of physical media. It’s a similar state of play with digital downloads, which you might “buy” from Amazon or iTunes, but can be removed from your library at any time. Studios could pull Westworld and Good Burger from Max — but not from your bookshelf.
Then there’s the lesson from the music industry, which was upended by streaming well before Hollywood. According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s 2023 midyear revenue report, while streaming accounts for 84 percent of music revenue, physical media is on the rise. Vinyl records are the main growth driver, but sales of CDs have also increased. “The new data also shows the lasting power of physical formats,” RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier commented, adding that “physical revenues reached their highest level since a full decade ago, topping $880 million so far this year.”
Vinyl records, with their unique sound and artists willing to add bonus tracks and content that isn’t available to stream, helped turn around music’s physical media business. It’s not unlike the behind-the-scenes access and director commentary that defined the DVD and Blu-ray era.
With titles disappearing from streaming services at a rapid clip, it might be worth opening that DVD or Blu-ray distribution window one more time: Buy it now, before it leaves your subscriptions and doesn’t come back.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.