Apr 9, 2015

In Defense of Physical Media

Recently, show runner Al Jean announced some news that only sounds unfortunate on the surface: The Simpsons would cease to be released on DVD after 17 seasons that began being released in 2001 and have subsequently released two a year on average. It is easy to make snide remarks and claim that the series has gone downhill and the later years aren't worth memorializing on disc, but there's some other issues at play here. While the world is moving to digital and streaming content, I want to suggest something more personal: I like owning physical media.
I get the upsides to digital content. For starters, it leaves less of a carbon footprint and isn't predicated on having a disc within reach to watch. There's even more options in a lot of the circumstances, especially in regards to Netflix and Amazon. These markets make it easy to rent content and view it without any frills of having to drop it off in the morning at a video store or something of the ilk. I am guilty of watching a lot of content through these platforms as evident on this website. I know that it is the direction that we're going, but I do find myself coming across a bigger problem when I am left to surf through Netflix's massive body of work that I don't with discs. 
There are way too many options. I have had a Netflix account for over six years and can attest to some things. While I may procrastinate on watching the discs, which themselves are far superior to streaming variety, there is obligation to it. With on demand, I am forced to consider my *best* option. The issue is that films that I may have considered my *best* option in the past have been reserved to my queue and are celebrating anniversaries in there, such as Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Black Hawk Down. I know that they are great, but I become immediately distracted by something more fitting into my ideal time frame. There are countless films that have dropped out of my queue due to expiration dates and I have forgotten what they are. Presumably they were great, but I will never know. This may be an issue of everything is great and nobody's happy. I kind of see it that way.
True, I don't buy every movie that I see and immediately like. However, I find that there's convenience in owning the films that matter to you. For the sake of continuity, I will discuss The Simpsons DVD's. As you can predict, I have an infatuation with it. I own predominantly all of the DVD sets and have put them on occasionally as background entertainment. I have even been known to watch an episode when it is discussed on podcasts like The Simpsons Show or Worst Episode Ever for refreshment. The production that goes into them is rather exceptional considering that they include commentaries, deleted scenes, and interactive menus. Even if there's debatable decline in episode quality, the DVD's far and away put everything else to shame. They were created for fans.
Still, I am aware of the decline in interest. It has been common knowledge ever since Matt Groening gave one of his traditional greetings on a DVD set by calling the format obsolescent. There was desperation then that this wouldn't make it through the current 26 seasons. So to hear Jean announce the annexation of the DVD's is not all that shocking. Consider where we are compared to where we were so much as a few years ago. The Simpsons now has four hours of programming 5 days out of 7. There's the Simpsons World App that creates an on demand service. Basically, the series has finally entered the current zeitgeist much like the recent HBO Now.
Then there's the reality: the cheapness and convenience of streaming exceeds the limitations of discs. This can be seen in the quality of DVD manufacturing, which has arguably been mediocre in general. Save for HBO's top notch packaging and The Simpsons' overstuffed special features, most discs exist solely to play films and not provide the viewer with worthwhile bonus features. I recount David Fincher's sentiments from The Social Network commentaries that EPK's (electronic press kits) are pointless. In a way, DVD's have generally shot themselves in the foot because of this. Even series that I do love have declined in quality. While I consider Louie season three to be one of the best seasons of TV period, I refuse to buy the DVD set due to complaints that the packaging is flimsy and is modeled more after DVR's without much else to offer (let me know if this information is wrong).
So while I can never accuse The Simpsons of flimsy packaging (save for their 20th anniversary set), I get why this is coming. The medium, by its primitive ways, has brought it upon itself. However, I want to state why I will miss the DVD's. I am not likely to purposefully rent episodes of The Simpsons online. The movies that I watch the most, such as Frances Ha, are available online, but I choose the DVD's because of its convenience. There have been countless nights where I have longed to watch something and turn to my DVD shelf to decide upon a title. More than flipping through 100's of names, I am able to get my mind jumping from the limitations and find something that is worthy of watching again. Maybe it will give me a suggestion of what to rent later on.
Of course, there is one specific reason that I will stand by DVD's. If you can't turn on a computer or a server is down that keeps video from streaming, you are up a creek without a paddle. You cannot watch whatever it is. Then there's times where they're removed due to copyright and you may never get to see them again because they're likely forgotten to you. However, with DVD's there is the convenience that only requires a player. Save for wear and tear, there's no expiration date on the discs that will stop you from being able to see the film. Not even the sudden loss of internet connection will be a problem.
I know that this is't a popular belief, but I do think that having media that can be stored in your house as opposed to the internet is nice, especially if you consume a substantial amount of content. Maybe it does seem ridiculous to buy everything you remotely like and some packaging is embarrassing, but I think that we need to just limit the quantities and make the medium feel important, even if it's just releasing Criterion movies and HBO sets that actually provide worthwhile content. I am not against moving on, but I am against forgetting where things came from because there's still films that are lost in the transition to VHS or even from turn of the century film prints. To ignore one is to do what is harmlessly done with online streaming: never get around to seeing a film you might actually love.

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