Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Does Anyone Want to Own DVDs Anymore?

Lately, I've found myself staring irritatingly at the hundreds of CDs and DVDs that occupy numerous shelves in my living room. How can we get rid of all this clutter without investing in an uber-expensive media server? Sure, there are Media Center PCs that can store all this content, but that would mean having to sit down and rip one DVD after another, repeatedly, for hours on end. Even then, what happens if the system crashes? Sure, there's always back-up, and even a back-up for the back-up. But I wonder: are people really interested in owning all of this content, namely movies, or do we just want to enjoy it, then chuck it?

Case in point: popular U.S. video rental company Netflix has just announced that it will get out of the previously-viewed DVD sale market and focus on rentals and streaming video. Despite how much consumers might be upset at the change, it makes perfect sense. Why do I need to own a physical DVD movie? There are very few titles that are worth watching more than once, and often times when I have watched a movie for a second or third time, it's because it happened to have been broadcast on cable TV. If there's a particular movie that I want to watch at home on-the-fly, I'll grab it on-demand.

As I write this, I hear my former self yelling "hypocrit" at the top of her lungs. I used to be the one that argued passionately in favour of previously-viewed DVDs. Why would I pay $5 to rent a movie when I can just own it for a few bucks more? I would say to people. And there certainly are people who appreciate the full DVD experience, including the extra features and interviews, and love to admire the beautifully-created cover artwork. But now, looking at the hundreds of colourful cases unnecessarily taking up so much space at home, I don't quite feel the same way.

But before you're quick to call me out on predicting the end to a profitable after-theatre movie industry, that's not what I'm implying at all. Rather, the money will funnel itself through new channels. This could mean a cut of pay-per-view profits or specialty TV channels subscriptions, and probably the most lucrative option going forward: involvement in the streaming movie business. And hey, perhaps Blu-ray will take over as the only viable physical DVD format worthy of investing in and "collecting" because of its premium video and audio quality.

This, of course, is great news for cable/satellite TV providers and online distribution companies; not so good for DVD makers and distributors. But who knows: maybe in future, everyone will have a stab at the TV airwaves, and you'll be able to tap into services not from just one cable or satellite provider, but from a host of them, operating somewhat independently of one another. Sure, the idea might seem far-fetched to some; not to mention potentially confusing (and expensive!) for the customer. But if it means I can watch what I want, when I want, in high-definition quality, and take back a big portion of space in my living room that's now otherwise occupied, then I'm game.

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