The DVD Is Not Dead Yet

Let’s not write off old-school physical media just yet.

Today, I received a press release – I won’t bother saying for what – that stated that the DVD was dead, with “no more support at retail for the format or end-user demand”. That is, of course, the widely perceived wisdom about the once-dominant format, now caught in a crush between Blu-ray on the one side and streaming/downloads on the other. But is it true?

I checked the figures and yes, they are sobering. In 2018, DVD sales were at just 10% of the US home entertainment market with combined sales of $2.2 billion, a sizeable drop from the format’s peak of 64% and $16.3 billion. This has been a slow decline since 2008, one put down to various factors – not least of which was a global recession that probably made DVDs feel like a bit of an unnecessary luxury for many people and we can assume that the numbers dropped further during the pandemic when shops were closed and casual purchases were impossible.

People have put this decline down to various factors outside the recession. Some will claim that the rise of Blu-ray has made the DVD redundant. “No one still buys DVD” is a cry I hear regularly from the cult movie scene – and if we are talking about specialist labels like Arrow, Criterion, Blue Underground and the like, then that’s probably true. But outside the audience that constantly wants the best version available – and immediately declares the previous best versions ‘unwatchable’ when a new format comes along – things are very different. We should note that sales of Blu-ray during 2018 were $1.8 billion, less than DVD by some distance (especially as Blu-rays are generally more expensive than DVDs and so we can’t even assume like-for-like in terms of numbers of discs sold). For some reason, Blu-ray enthusiasts get really angry when you point this out but it’s unfortunately true – and what’s more, the Blu-ray market at its peak (2013) was only worth $2.37 billion – barely more than the format that we are now told is dead.

The sad truth is that Blu-ray has always been a niche format – despite what collectors might tell them, most people simply don’t see a big enough difference in picture quality to see the need to upgrade to a more expensive format. Similarly, most people probably don’t want to own that many films – so of course the advent of streaming services was going to bite into the sales of physical media. Given that you are reading The Reprobate, I probably don’t need to tell you the downside of not owning your content – the fact that it can vanish or be edited at the whim of the distributor perhaps being the biggest. The fact that it might never make it to streaming services because it is too old and too offensive is perhaps less of an issue with the move of niche labels into streaming – but of course, once those labels’ licences for these films expire, so the film is lost.

The big question is: will DVD and Blu-ray (and UHD, which is even more niche) take up a similar position to vinyl and CD, two formats equally written off over the years but both still surviving (and, in the case of vinyl, thriving as a collector’s format)? If a couple of billion proves to be the bottom line for the sale of these formats (and again: I don’t have post-pandemic figures to hand), then that’s not a figure to be sniffed at – there still seems a financial motive for most distributors to carry on releasing films on the formats, even if the variety of films might vary according to which format and the number of labels issuing discs might diminish. If we have learned anything from those other physical media formats once declared dead, it is that there will always be a core audience that wants to own their content and there will be money to be made from supplying them.


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  1. I like physical media. I still buy books, CDs, vinyl and DVDs while also embracing digital media – Audible, Kindle, Amazon Music, Netflix, the usual.

    The latter is fine when you’re on the move, but there’s nothing like settling down with a good physical book and a physical scotch in the comfort of your home.

  2. I love what Vinegar Syndrome et al ddo, but am more of a voyeur – the price of blurays is eyewatering. I am glad that a super-duper edition of Incredible Melting Man exists, but my three DVDs of varying quality are probably enough for one lifetime. Over time, I’ve ended up investing heavily in DVD, I don’t so much collect them as accumulate them. I just seem to find them attached to me when I get home. I’m glad Bluray exists, just like I’m glad somebody somewhere has a complete mint condition set of EC comics, say – I feel like the burden of responsibility has been lifted from me. Somewhere a pristine archive exists, and I can continue in a ramshackle path. Doesn’t it feel illicit and sexy to watch grubby prints? Don’t get me wrong, I have purist tendencies, and appreciate lush restorations greatly. But there are other sides to things, and one must explore and relish them. DVDs can look fantastic. I have Zombi Holocaust on Italian Kult label that makes me weep with joy. I compare it with the Vipco disc, disbeleivingly. The Kult label is dynamite, Italian amaz*n has them all, cheap. That’s the other thing, cheap! You can get a suitcase full of DVDs for a fiver. Enjoy it while there are still interesting titles in circulation. A lot of Vinegar Syndrome’s catalog was released on the infamous Hollywood DVD label, albeit in cruddier dress. The Hollywood label has a minor cult following – there is a webpage listing their complee catalogue. Surely Vin Syn have a Godfrey Ho box in the works – in anticipation, why not pick up Ninja Terminator, Dragon, etc. in a double-bill or quadruple film set, for much less than the price of a coffee? Ah, the glories of cheap entertainment. On a related note – Network are releasing a Eurotrash (TV show) box set, on DVD. Someone on instagram queried as to why they weren’t doing a bluray. Probably, since the show was made on video, viewers won’t be missing much, and it might even look worse on higher-def? Enough of my prattle – I will concede that blurays, from what I’ve seen, do have high ‘ooh!’ factor – anyway, the main thing is maybe lost on the youngsters: it was a revelation when widescreen and remastering came along and old films which had been flogged to death for decades were restored to rightful glory. Why, I’ll never forget being absolutely rivetted – rivetted! – by the Platinum release of Deep Red mumble, mumble … … (‘Has he been bothering you? He harmless, honestly. We’ll calm him down and put him to bed. Thanks for not calling the police’)

    1. We’re about to cover Eurotrash – and yes, a Blu-ray would be pointless in terms of image quality, given when/how the show was made. You could, of course, put more episodes per Blu disc and so reduce its footprint and – maybe – cost. But that’s another argument that I’ll get into in the article.

  3. Personally I have very lilttle interest in extras, but have no faith in retaining access to digital versions so I stick to physical media. Even that’s not guarantee as I have a number of discs that have failed over the years, some of which are no longer available (Warner releases seem to be particulary susceptible to failure). Although my very first disc. Anaconda. from the late 90’s still works perfectly.

    1. Weirdly, one of my first disc failures – within two years of buying it – was the first US edition of Boogie Nights, which reverted to ‘blank disc’ status. Everything else from that era (1999-2000) is still fine. Of course, the other point that was too off-topic to go into is that physical media only lasts as long as (a) the actual copies remain playable and (b) you can still find machines to play them on. Probably a concern for future generations rather than ours – and who knows if they’ll even care? – but it’s interesting. That, and the complete loss of content not considered important – I think we probably have more ‘lost’ titles on VHS than we have on film but much of it is still seen as worthless so no one really gives a damn.

  4. What about VHS tapes? I purchased one a couple of months ago. I’ve been copying the VHSs and DVDs off to hard disk and one of the VHSs got chew up. It isn’t available on DVD but I managed to find a VHS tape and copied it off no problems. I will always keep the physical media. I have a couple of Blurays, which came as a douple with the DVD. I don’t have a Bluray player, but I am only missing out on a few extra features, but I don’t bother watching them on the DVDs either. I don’t watch films with the commentary turned on either.

    1. I had to offload a LOT of VHS when moving house – just not enough room for the amount I had. I still have what feels like the most valuable stuff and will be starting to transfer and – where possible – upload soon.

  5. I like buying import blu rays as they have comment tracks by David Flint and I like to help his bank balance

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