Physical Media — Who needs it?

Image for post
Image for post
Paradise or horror show? You decide.

The year is 2018 and for many the world has never been a better place for consuming media. After all — music, television and film are all just a click away and it is ubiquitous, too. You have it with you anywhere and everywhere. On your TV, your tablet, your mobile device — even a little black box you can throw in your carry-on; ready to plug into your favorite conveyance wherever you may have to lodge yourself on holiday or for that last minute business trip.

Yessireebob — there is nothing like digital media. Life has never been better since you cut your $60 a month cable bill and signed up for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red, HBO Now and Amazon Prime. The savings are rolling in now — and the convenience factor has never been better!

Nothing beats access to Netflix while you’re holed up in Dumpwater, Florida — streaming Lost in Space at 360p across local DSL shared by 50 other guests.

You know what is really great, though? Always wondering what new stuff Amazon Prime has to offer every month. I mean, everything is a trade off, right? So what if you can’t watch Puss in Boots on there … anymore … you got House of Cards (shame about Kevin Spacey, but c’est la vie) and that other show your father-in-law keeps raving about.

Variety is the spice of life.

If that wasn’t enough, you can stream all the music you want for a mere $10 a month. No bulky CDs or pieces of vinyl taking up room in your home — no need. Almost everything you want is available on iTunes, Amazon Music or Google Music … well, mostly. A real treat is knowing you have subscriptions to all of them to make sure your favorite artist’s exclusively released new single is available. Gotta catch’em all.

So what if you couldn’t watch Groundhog Day last Groundhog Day. Make new traditions each year and save room in your closet from the nasty pile ups of useless DVDs and Blu Rays. My Demon Lover will have to come to Netflix eventually, right? Besides, RedBox had your back — Phil and Rita fell in love again in Puxitawny, PA and you enjoyed it on that old laptop that still has a DVD-ROM drive in it. No HDMI port so you had to watch it in 15" — but so what, right? You watched most of season 3 of Game of Thrones on a smart phone screen while you were spinning at Gold’s Gym (the naked boobs were awkward, but the guy on the bike next to you didn’t seem to notice).

You got rid of most of those bulky cumbersome movie discs when you paid $2 each to “convert” them to Vudu at Wal-mart. Well, the 20% or so that Vudu actually offered digital copies of. Good riddance. Plus you got to write them off your taxes last year for pennies on the dollar when you donated them to Goodwill.

Editor’s Note: By the way, I got three of your out of print DVDs from there for $1.99 last Saturday. One of them flipped for $25 on eBay. I had the Blu already, but the Director’s Commentary got dropped when it moved to HD. Amazing that people might actually be interested in that.

You’re okay with that. No commentaries or featurettes for you. B-Roll is for squares. Watch that movie — get in, get out; wash, rinse and repeat. Only 2,567 left in your queue to plow through. That will at least tide you over until Black Panther hits.

It’s great. All the movies that got me through my formative years … my perennial favorites … those great out-of-print classics whose rights are lost in some buyout of Thorn EMI or Vestron Video … it is good to be clear of that sentimental baggage. Who wants to watch Lori Loughlin in the 1980’s period piece Rad anyway?

Image for post
Image for post
Not for sale … Hmmm …

Not old enough to remember that BMX racing movie? That’s cool. In 20 or 30 years, you probably won’t be interested in watching films and television that helped shape your culture. I mean, you can just assume that Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman will stream to your holographic smart watch in 2035 — but those intellectual property rights can be tricky. So what you’ve Already Seen It(tm) — let’s move on.

You know, while we’re talking about this and being all friendly and all … let me share a story with you that happened to me recently.

It was Groundhog Day (well, Groundhog Season if you will) and I had a friend over whom hadn’t seen Happy Death Day — the horror, spiritual successor to the aforementioned Groundhog Day film. Great film, by the way. One of my favorites from last year.

Anyhoo, my internet provider (Cox Communications for those interested) was having one of its bi-polar down swings. My router assured me I had an IP address but the pipeline to The Big Internet Cloud in the Sky(tm) was clogged (possibly with all those baby wipes people wrongly flush down the toilet … #socialresponsibility).

Oh, I know what you’re thinking — we didn’t get to watch the movie and we ended up sitting around talking about our feelings over chi tea. Turned out to be a better day overall? Nope, the only reason I even knew the internet was down was because my mother called me to tell me she couldn’t access my Plex server.

Image for post
Image for post
Sorry, honey … You’re dead again

We were watching Happy Death Day on Blu ray in glorious, uncompressed, non-buffering 1080p; the unredeemed Vudu code was still firmly lodged in the keep case (Note: No, I won’t send you my unused Vudu codes, thank you very much). He loved it, by the way. A sequel is coming soon. In 2025, maybe it will rotate over to Netflix so you can see it.

A tragic tale averted? Nah. While Cox goes down hard from time to time, the truth is that it is pretty stable and fast … mostly. My cell phone 4G is mostly stable too. Oh, and even in Dumpwater, Florida they have pretty decent wifi available.

The stories represented above are true. Streaming really is convenient and useful. All you can eat plans are fun and adventuresome. Of course, not everyone is as big of fan of movies and television like I am.

But it is also true that media has become a truly disposable medium. With binge watching (hate that term, but I must speak in the vernacular) and a billion things to watch anytime, anywhere and with anyone — there is a lot of noise out there and an incessant need to quickly move along to The Next Big Thing(tm). After all, people want to talk about last night’s episode of The Walking Dead — not their favorite episode of Prison Break.

Intellectual property rights are traded, lost and buried under mires of lawyers and paperwork. Television like Ally McBeal and Cold Case are lost to music rights and distribution nightmares — leading to cheap bootleg knockoffs being sold. Small indie films vanish all the time. Even music — while better distributed — can fall prey to legal skirmishes (Ke$ha, anyone?).

Editor’s Note: Where the HELL is Herman’s Head? No streaming? No DVD? That show exists in VHS bootleg form and appears to be destined to be so forever. One of Fox Television’s biggest, early hits. Lost.

I grew up with John Hughes’ movies. Sixteen Candles is one of my favorites (I left my Man Card at the front desk if you could pick it up for me when you leave). That movie had an amazing soundtrack, too. The home version on VHS that I owned was worn down to nothing (sad my son won’t know what a chewed up VHS tape looks like on a glorious 24' CRT screen). When it finally came out on DVD, I was thrilled. The company even got the original soundtrack! Strange, I never realized that they had ever changed it. But yes — the VHS version that I had cut my teeth on — the music soundtrack I loved was actually gone. Replaced by the “much desired” original theatrical soundtrack. Music I’d never heard. Sort of ruined the movie for me.

You know I still have that VHS copy in my closet? Sentimentality for sure, but I can’t part with it. It was My Sixteen Candles(tm).

“Shut up, old man,” you say, staring at your smart phone. “Go watch your VHS tapes and listen to your vinyl”.


But physical media disappearing isn’t just about some old people that want to watch media from their youth. It is about preservation of time and culture on something more tangible than a service that swaps content like I change underwear. A service that can go away at the drop of a hat. Service reliant on technology outside of your control.

The key word is here is “service”. Physical media represents “ownership”; the ability to do with it what you will — and while laws exist to prevent you from doing ANYTHING you want with it — the chances of you being able to convert that Blu to a DVD for the kid’s TV in the wi-fi challenged backroom or for conversion to MP4 for your shiny new Plex server is all but assured.

Image for post
Image for post
Plex … Your Content, Your Way

Service implies a compliance and a finite period of availability. No guarantee is promised or implied.

The disappearance of physical media represents an end to true ownership and impedes possible future availability. The removal of your rights as a consumer. Even if you are not a collector. Even if you are not a movie aficionado. Even if you “don’t like television”. Even if you don’t care right now — they may come for something you do care about eventually.

Your “purchase” on YouTube, Amazon, iTunes … that is a a digital bit; a 1 in a field of a database where a 0 used to exist. You don’t own that. You can’t hold that. You can’t dictate where and when you watch that. You can’t play it in the car for your kids when you’re crossing the desert to visit your mother-in-law in So Cal and Verizon’s Greatest 4G In America sits at 1x with one bar. Offline viewing only works if you plan ahead and if your streaming services provides it (also not guaranteed).

Your “purchase” is not guaranteed to last a decade, a year, a month or even a day (I’m sure it is in the EULA you agreed to when you made the “purchase”). Your purchase is only as good as the digital rights that surround it.

But maybe you’re okay with all this. Maybe this brave new digital world is right up your alley. Maybe preservation isn’t on your mind right now — and you would rather free up that space in your media center for another media streaming box that supports a niche streaming service that your other ones do not.

Image for post
Image for post
Gotta Catch ’Em All — Courtesy of

If this was all the rage in the 1980s when I grew up — I would have lost a great chunk of my childhood that I still have access to now, thanks to my extensive DVD (er, and a few VHS tapes) collection.

Save what you love — otherwise it may not be there when you really want it.

Written by

I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store