First Way: “Oh, no! I wish they’d keep doing that!”
Second Way: “Wait. What? They’re still doing that?”
The news item in question is this: Netflix has announced that it is pulling the plug on its DVD/Blu-ray rental service. Remember those cheerful red envelopes delivered by the friendly postal person, containing movie goodness? Soon, no more. The company announced that after 25 years of disc rentals, and some 5.2 billion discs delivered, the last discs will be mailed on September 29, and must be returned by October 27. Presumably, DVD.com will go dark forever.
I confess that I responded to this news in the Second Way. I certainly remember that Netflix was founded as a DVD rental company, but frankly the prominence of its streaming model made me forget about their red envelopes and silver discs. And that’s too bad. Although the quantity of their online offerings is impressive, there are countless other movies on disc that are not, and will never be, available online at Netflix. The disc library is vast because you can simply buy discs and rent them without any copyright complications. In contrast, to stream a movie, you must negotiate and pay for the rights. Thus, you’ll naturally stock a lot more discs than streams.
I can imagine a warehouse filled with discs, neatly stacked, each disc waiting with bated breath for the picker to pluck it from the shelf and send it to an eager family. Now it’s just a bunker filled with servers, spewing entertainment to the masses. Much more efficient. Much less romantic.
Of course, this is just another example of the power of convenience and the frailty of hassle. Would you rather dig through menus, make a selection, wait for the postal person to arrive, play the disc, then make sure you mail back the disc? Note that if your choice was a bad one, you’re just wasted a ton of time. Or would you rather just click on something and watch it? If you choose unwisely, bail and click on something else. And the reality is that we would rather watch a bad movie that’s easy to watch rather then go through the hassle of watching a good movie that’s hard to watch. I know. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Here’s something else that will hurt: The superb audio and video quality of DVD and Blu-ray discs is not available via streaming. The streaming bit rate is a mere fraction of what can spool off a well-authored disc. In a time of relentlessly improving TV screen technology, this is a huge step down. Netflix claims that it delivers 4K video resolution at half the bit rate of a disc. But I have my doubts.
In any case, the only remaining question is this: What will happen to all those slightly smudged DVD and Blu-ray discs? It’s an interesting question because the Netflix library is probably the biggest disc library that has ever been or ever will be. Certainly the now-streaming company will divest itself of that physical inventory. I hope the library goes to a good home, preferably one with a mailbox nearby.