Remember DVD's? Those flat, circular cheap pieces of crap on which we all used to watch movies or TV shows? Oh, those were the days, right? You open up that flimsy cardboard book to find your disc secured by a poorly molded plastic tab. You nearly break the disc in half trying to pry it out. Finally, you find someone who has greater dexterity and doesn't chew on their nails to release the DVD from its prison. Or maybe the DVD was already out of its case, sitting on top of your cable box melting. Regardless, you pop it in the $35 player you got at Circuit City (remember Circuit City!?!?), play it, and it starts to skip. You eject it, wipe it down with your t-shirt to clean the smudges your thoughtless child put on there. You pop it back in and hopefully it plays all the way through. Remember that? Remember when sometimes the DVD wouldn't play at all because for some reason your DVD is incompatible with the deck? Those were they days, right? Oh man, it was awesome!
OK, fine, I'll admit it. That's getting a little ahead of things. We still live in the world of the DVD, but that world is coming to an end. Trust me. It won't be long until everyone is making whimsical coasters out of their DVD's and donating the generic media racks that they bought at Sam Goody's or FYE to Goodwill and purchasing external harddrives to hold all their data-only movies and TV shows. And soon after that, they'll turn in those harddrives because media will be stored on remote servers. DVD's may not be dead, but they are moribund. It is fascinating and sad to see a medium rise so quickly and be so dominant only to be on its death bed just 10 years later.
But before we get to the future, let's talk about the past. I started hearing about DVD's in 1996 and longed for the day when I could start my collection of "crystal clarity" movies with "digital sound." I did not know a single person who owned a DVD deck or a DVD at this time. I was only aware of their existence because of a display set-up at my local record store, Rainbow Records. I distinctly recall that they had a copy of "Rambo: First Blood Part II" that was encased in this giant plastic holder and sold for around $59.99. After this, I started reading and hearing more and more about these nifty discs that would change the way we watched movies in Time Magazine or on the Discovery Channel or from surfing the web via dial-up. The distribution of DVD's coincided with my own increasing obsession of movies. Right when I was falling in love with older films, indie films, film history and theory, the world was dangling a way to watch all of these great films at home in a quality heretofore unseen. Essentially, DVDs made us realize how shitty VHS actually was and got us closer to the experience of watching a movie in the theaters. We had been living in the dark ages.
The day when I finally got my horny, teenage hands on a DVD deck came in July, 1999. My pops took me down to the Tweeter Center in Delaware (tax free shopping, booyah!) and for my birthday/heading off to college gift purchased me a Panasonic deck for the alarming sum of $400. This was half the price it was the year before and I'll have you know that I still own and use the behemoth. They don't build 'em like they used to. The salesmen in their "tweeter" embroidered, denim button-downs threw in a DVD of their choosing from their minuscule selection. I expertly chose In the Line of Fire, a film where Clint Eastwood plays an aging, over the hill Secret Service agent and John Malkovich plays a lunatic trying to assassinate the President. The menu on that DVD couldn't hold a candle to the menu your sister-in-law made on iDVD of her trip to Mt. Rushmore last summer.
In 1999 and early 2000, I was a pretty cool dude. I had a stand alone DVD player in my dorm and a solid and growing DVD collection. Granted, this didn't ever get me laid but my male friends were somewhat impressed. By the end of freshman year, nearly everyone on my floor had either a DVD deck or could play DVD's on their computer. They also had their own burgeoning collections. This is really where DVD ubiquity hit a tipping point. The price of decks came down and so did the DVD's themselves. Within just a few short years, by the end of my college career in 2003, you couldn't even find a VHS to rent at any Blockbuster. DVD players were standard on any computer. Hell, Macintosh started making G5 towers with two DVD players/burners. Ah yes, and by 2004 nearly 2/3 of all homes in the US had a DVD player, but to the careful observer this was the beginning of the end, just as DVD's thought they had their foothold. What was this mysterious factor that started the downfall of the DVD? Netflix.
Although Netflix was founded in 1997, it wasn't until around the middle Aughts that people like your parents started getting a Netflix account. After about 6 months of having a Netflix account I realized I never needed to buy another DVD again. If I wanted to watch something again, I could just re-rent it at no additional cost. If I truly had a hankering for a viewing, then fine, I'll hoof it to the local video store. The mentality of owning and collecting DVDs had changed and the cost effectiveness of Netflix wasn't the only thing working against the DVD market.
Over the next couple years, along came OnDemand and DVR and eventually movies for purchase on iTunes. And these were just the legal ways to avoid ever having to fire up your DVD player. Let's not forget about bit torrenting (file sharing) and DVD ripping software. The best thing about a Netflix account is that you have the movie for a day, rip it, turn it into a file, return the disc, and watch the movie or episode of Dexter whenever you want. Although the average, law abiding citizen doesn't partake in these nefarious endeavors, don't think that it doesn't influence the market.
From 2005/2006 onward we started to see that it's not all about the ways you can more easily watch movies on your TV. The rapid decline of the DVD is a complicated confluence of several factors and one of the most important factors is the growing number of people who watch movies on their computers, either on their laptop or a quality monitor connected to their desktop. If you're savvy enough you probably have your home computer hooked up to your main television. If you don't right now, you will within 5 years. I don't have all of these capabilities in sync right now myself, but I can honestly say that I watch more movies and TV shows on my computers than I do on my TV. My TV is mainly for watching live sports and catching a riveting episode of Tabitha's Salon Takeover, which I'm too embarrassed to download or DVR. There's is an economy of space and convergence of appliances going on right now that is changing the way we entertain ourselves at home and this is killing the DVD.
The last elements of the confluence of factors, which is closely linked with the computer becoming the new hearth of the family home, are Instant Netflix, Hulu.com, and networks themselves airing their shows on the internet. Now you don't even have to store anything on your DVR or on your internal harddrive of your computer. It's all accessible all the time! Who cares if you have to wait 8 days to see the latest episode of "House, M.D." Once that first week goes by you're on a weekly schedule just like the folks who watch it as it airs. Except, instead of sitting through 16 minutes of commercials, you only have to sit through 2 minutes of commercials on Hulu. And that's just one example. NBC shows appear on Hulu the night after it airs! This is one thing the film and television community is doing right that the music industry got wrong. Instead of fighting pirating and filesharing, they're beating the miscreants to the punch. Hell, yes! I would much rather pay $4 to rent something instantly, or pay my Netflix fee, or sit through very few commercials on Hulu, knowing that I'm going to get a quality file, rather than spend hours trying to bit torrent a movie not knowing if it's going to look any good or corrupt my harddrive. No thank you, sir.
Admittedly, it's not all gravy. We're in this phase of people watching files instead of discs and many of us are watching films and shows at deplorable qualities. It peeves me a little bit, but I know that things are getting better. Compression methods are improving by the day. Our home computers are getting faster and our service providers are getting better at delivering streaming video. But you know what, I'll take it. I just moved into a 5th floor walk up and I would much rather have my favorite movies saved on a single drive and know that all the other things I want to watch are at my finger-tips than have to carry any more boxes of DVDs up and or down those steps the next time I move. Not buying DVD's is green!
Lastly, What does this mean for the collector which I used to be? What does this mean for the lassie or fellow who must display their worth and tastes to friends and visitors by virtue of their DVD collection? I used to collect many strange and wondrous things. Baseball Cards, Starting Line-Ups, bottles, stamps, Garbage Pail Kids cards, stickers, foreign coins, nail clippings, and moist toilettes. Er, please disregard those last two. I, uh, made those up to be funny. Anywho. I was a collector of DVD's, but I don't think I've purchased more than 5 DVD's in the last 5 years. Many people are clinging onto their DVD collections like a Republican clings to his gun or his right to be made bankrupt by health insurance. This will surely slow down the death of DVD's, but at some point you're going to have to pull the feeding tube and turn off the respirator on your collection (a tangential 2000's reference, Terry Schiavo!). DVD's are cheap, plastic pieces of poop that are made cheaper and cheaper. Why do you think people are returning to vinyl albums? Because they last longer and sound better than CD's. Guess what? A file can last just as long and look and sound just as good as a DVD. Here's what I'm recommending. Take all the money you were going to spend on DVDs, buy an external harddrive, buy a back-up external harrdrive, and turn the cover art for your old DVD's into a screenscraver. This way everyone still knows how cool you are for your Sergio Leone Criterion Collection. You good? At least this way your kid can't smudge the movie with his/her hands.
Say "sayonara" to the Aughts and DVDs and say "how do you do?" to the Ten's and hi-rez files.
Come on, Eldrick.