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April 10, 2024


In September of last year, Netflix posted their final DVDs to customers as their mail-based service came to an end. With just under one million people estimated to still be subscribed to the DVD mail service, it wasn't losing money as much as it simply was not making enough. Marc Randolph, Netflix’s co-founder and former CEO, commented that they “knew DVDs would go away” and the move was a “transitory step” for the company.

Netflix’s DVD service offered films that are either very hard to find physical copies of or are completely unavailable via streaming, and a lot of people were left disappointed. This service was never available in the UK, but our most closely related version of the service, Lovefilm, was discontinued far earlier in 2017 after Amazon announced a decreased demand for discs as many customers turned to streaming services. Its closure also left many users disgruntled.

Whilst I rarely watch films that are only accessible on DVD, I’ve noticed some surprising films are unavailable for me to stream in the UK, such as Eraserhead (1977) and Near Dark (1987). What’s more, I learned recently that 28 Days Later (2002) is, for the time being, unavailable to watch on any streaming platforms after the ownership rights for the independently financed film were passed from Disney to Sony. After an intense bidding war, Sony won the rights to a two-part sequel of the original film, and it disappeared from streaming services for legal reasons.

Although Sony likely will re-issue a digital copy of the film at some point, the whole scenario got me thinking about how difficult it is becoming to easily access physical copies of certain films, particularly classic or older films. I find it disconcerting that, as it becomes harder to find affordable DVDs, access to films is increasingly dependent on companies who care more about profits and bonuses.

Whilst I see the value in streaming services and digital content - it is convenient, easy, and offers nothing if not choice - I do not believe it should restrict access to or replace physical media. Although Blu-ray and DVD sales have decreased, it doesn’t mean millions of people aren't still buying physical media. If anything, I am anticipating a resurgence in the popularity and appreciation of physical media, as people come to understand the issues associated with relying on streaming services.

Cards on the table, I love physical media, so this may not be the most balanced account. I don’t own hundreds of DVDs or anything, but I do invest now and again in a Blu-ray or an extended edition of a film I love, or hint, quite unsubtly, that they would make great gifts on birthdays or Christmas. I enjoy having access to my favourite films without googling where to find them or worrying about quality that's dependent on my Wi-Fi, not to mention the artistic value of additional content and bonus features. I also like the idea of my money benefiting the filmmakers in a fairer, more effective way than streaming allows for.

As such, I would like to advocate for the many positive aspects of buying, renting, and generally ensuring wide access to physical media, especially in comparison to a future dominated by streaming services, and highlight the reasons why it is important to preserve.


If you purchase a film digitally, you only own the right to stream it via that streaming service for as long as they retain the distribution rights to said film. Whilst streaming services promise that you can watch whatever you want, whenever and wherever you want, a film that you have bought at full price can be removed from your possession due to loss of rights and other negotiations. What’s more, streamers like Netflix and Disney+ routinely remove their content without warning. This means that not only could you lose access to your favourite films and TV shows without knowing, but you’ll have to pay an additional subscription if you want to watch them on the streaming service where they’re available. Paying for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+, etc. in order to access all the films and TV you want to watch is simply unaffordable.

Additionally, streaming services have been known to edit or censor content, so streaming-exclusive content can be changed, leaving no record of its original cut. There have already been many instances of streamers editing potentially offensive jokes out of sitcoms or making those episodes unavailable. So, physical media is a way to ensure you have an unchangeable version of that content.


Streaming is reliant on the quality of your internet access. I personally always have issues when streaming, finding that dark colours are always pixelated, fading colours don’t render properly, and varying Wi-Fi speeds impact the sound, which is of poorer quality regardless. Even though some streaming services support 4K or HDR, you need high-quality, very consistent internet, not to mention zero bandwidth limitations, to get the best results. Even then, it's not perfect.

However, DVDs and Blu-rays reflect how the film was intended to look, with a lot of effort going into their high-quality production. Of course, physical media deteriorates over time, but when well looked after this won't happen for many, many years.


This is incredibly subjective, but I believe that going out of your way to find a film specifically after you made note of it from a positive review, or because it was recommended to you, is a rewarding experience. It’s personal. On the other hand, navigating streaming services feels like social media, with everything compartmentalised into inpersonal categories or being recommended by an unknowable algorithm. In my view, this way of consuming film and TV is one of the biggest contributors to the view that everything is “content,” and it hurts the visibility of smaller productions that can fade into the vast digital libraries.

Not only this, but again, streaming-exclusive films can be deleted from these platforms, quietly removed and their existence lost to audiences without a physical copy. However, with physical media, those films or TV shows would have a place to be discovered and re-discovered.


Before the prevalence of streaming services, physical media generated huge revenue and was more effective in supporting filmmakers in the long-term. Now, the profitability of a film on streaming is heavily reliant on being successful in the first few days of release, or it risks being lost in the shuffle of options without the promise of the revenue of physical sales.

Recently, Matt Damon in his appearance on Hot Ones spoke on the issue, commenting “DVD was a huge part of our business” and “the movies that we used to make, you could afford to not make all of your money when it played in the theatre because you knew you had the DVD coming behind the release.” He believes a lack of physical media has “changed the type of movies we could make,” which is hard to deny when looking at the type and quality of films that dominate most streaming services. This sentiment also has been reflected by others in the industry, especially Christopher Nolan, who similarly has spoken on the fleeting nature of films on streaming services, which especially negatively impacts “filmmakers who want their films to have a life beyond…whatever their initial release is.”

This speaks to the issue of viewing film and TV as disposable content, resulting in a contemporary cinematic landscape that is risk-averse and lacking in the theatrical release of mid-budget films, mostly notably romantic comedies and dramas, and films that aren't associated with IP or a franchise. Relying on popular IP and foregoing the extra costs associated with a theatrical release is generally safer for studios, and since more content means more money, there is an abundance of very average film and TV. In my view, there is an obvious difference between the quality of theatrical releases vs streaming-only releases, and watching a film in the cinema will always be superior to home viewing. It’s a shame to withhold the opportunity to experience a film in the most immersive way possible, or decide that some films are undeserving of a theatrical release.

I, personally, will continue to invest in physical media, for all the reasons stated above, as well as the sentimental value that my small collection holds for me. Whilst I do not dislike or discourage streaming services, I believe it's important to preserve physical media in an increasingly digital world and an industry that's driven by prioritising profits over art.

Photo Credits: Photo 1 - CNN; Photo 2, 4 - A24; Photo 3 - USA Today

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