Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a significant decline in DVD sales. This decline is primarily attributed to the surge of streaming services, but it’s also tied to changing consumer attitudes. Many individuals you talk to will express that when a movie, television series, or short film becomes available on a streaming platform, there’s no need for a physical copy. After all, consumers are already paying monthly fees for these streaming services, so why incur an additional cost for something that’s already included?
This shift in attitude has resulted in most people parting with their physical media collections. DVD players are becoming increasingly rare, and many stores have either scaled down or completely ceased selling DVDs. And why wouldn’t they? If people aren’t actively purchasing physical media, there’s little incentive for stores to stock these products.
Nonetheless, this has given rise to a significant issue that many people remain unaware of. On episode 612 of the film podcast “Scriptnotes,” an anonymous screenwriter raises concerns about the absence of a physical copy of his work. This screenwriter recounts a situation where he penned a film for Disney Plus, and the film was subsequently removed from the platform’s library. In typical screenwriter contracts, it is stipulated that “when a DVD for the product is created, the writer will receive a copy.” However, in the case of a film exclusively available on Disney Plus without a physical retail release, this contract provision becomes null and void. Consequently, a screenwriter for an entire film, upon its removal from the library, finds himself with no means to share his work with his children or anyone else, for that matter. While you may not be a screenwriter, what’s essential to grasp is that you, like everyone else, lack access to this film.
The problem here lies in the growing influence of streaming studios as they evolve into media powerhouses. In the past, the option to purchase physical media allowed individuals to own a personal copy of their favorite content. However, today, this right is diminishing. Studios such as Disney Plus, Netflix, and Amazon now have the capability to create films and maintain complete control over them. But it doesn’t end there. Even older films are at risk. In the present day, unless a film is available on a streaming service you subscribe to, you may find yourself unable to access that movie. Services like Apple, Roku, and YouTube readily offer older films for rent or purchase at a nominal fee. However, each of these services exerts its own form of control. When you agree to digitally purchase a film through one of these providers, many people don’t realize that you don’t technically own it. You essentially pay a fee for full digital access, but nothing more. Recent Reddit threads have highlighted a concerning trend where some individuals have noticed that films they purchased have been removed from Roku. It’s worth noting that the act of purchasing does not guarantee permanent access, as per Roku’s terms and conditions, access is contingent on Roku’s continued provision of the content.
What this signifies for all of us is that the need for physical media is more significant than ever. Without physical media, we surrender control over our possessions and, more importantly, forfeit the ability to safeguard what should be preserved. If DVDs eventually vanish, and a film is removed from all digital platforms, it effectively ceases to exist in the mainstream world. Without accessibility, it risks being lost to the annals of time. To avert this, it’s imperative to champion physical media. Whether that involves continuing to make individual purchases or supporting a library or archive that curates a physical collection, it’s crucial to safeguard our physical media. We must act before we lose not only films but also our fundamental right to own them indefinitely.
Andrew Hartman is a senior at Indiana University. He is studying Cinematic Arts within the Media School, and hopes to one day hold a career as a Screenwriter. He is on the Media Services Desk Staff, and has held the position for almost two years.