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Sound and Vision: Physical media isn’t ‘dying’ but DVD should exit the scene

OPINION: You’ve probably heard about Disney’s decision to ‘exit’ the physical media market in Australia, and you may be feeling doom and gloom about physical media’s future.

Like a football manager, I remain “calm” about the decision and I’m not surprised by it either. Disney was reticent to jump onboard the 4K train when it started and hasn’t put much weight behind the format since. 2023 marks its 100th anniversary and off the top of my head, its only major catalogue release in the format is Cinderella. Its target market is a younger audience, and 4K appeals to an older audience.

I’d be more worried if other studios followed in Disney’s wake and pulled out, but I think for the foreseeable future that’s not on the cards. It is a decision that reduces the choice afforded to Australian customers, who likely have to fork out more money to import future Disney releases.

I’m not one to describe the situation in morbid terms such as “death” or “dying”, but the sands are shifting, and physical media doesn’t have the same pull it did at the turn of the century. And though I think Disney’s gone too far in its decision, there’s one aspect I would agree with.


They should have dropped the once mighty DVD and left it at that.

If you look at the sales data, DVD usually takes up to 50% of the overall units sold. For a technology that’s been around for nearly 30 years and surpassed by Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray, that’s a massive piece of the pie, and a sign of where things have gone amiss.

We are in a 4K world with 8K on the periphery, and there are people who still watch films and TV shows on Digital Versatile Discs. This is partly because DVDs are relatively inexpensive and when provided a choice, more casual viewers who still shop for discs will arguably go for the least expensive option.

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The knock-on effect is that fewer people see the need to upgrade to HD or 4K Blu-ray. You can see it in the number of 4K players made since the format launch. After a spree of players by Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, and LG; the latter two discontinued their players while Panasonic and Sony haven’t launched a new player in years, leaving the likes of Reavon and Magnetar to produce highly expensive players in their absence. More and more 4K releases are treated as ‘collectors’ editions with titles re-released in more expensive steelbook versions.

Best-4K-Blu-ray-player Panasonic DP-UB820

That is a sign that rather than being mass market, physical 4K discs are targeted to home cinema enthusiasts, which I’d argue is a symptom of DVDs remaining the ‘popular’ buy. In my opinion, this has contributed to the perception studios have that streaming is the mass market bullet they need.

If you’ve read any review of a TV on this site, you’ll know that even the best TVs can struggle to bring DVDs up to par. Films shot in IMAX or 8K have to be compressed to fit on a dual-layer DVD disc – it does not offer a rewarding experience.

Who knows whether dropping DVD like a hot brick would have necessarily turned around the fortunes of physical media. Perhaps the hope was that Blu-ray would easily trump DVD but the war with HD DVD in the mid-2000s probably didn’t help.

Consumers and the industry should have moved on from DVD years ago, and maybe (just maybe) people would have spent more money on the higher priced items that replaced it. People may have spent more on better players, and therefore better TVs, but Blu-ray and 4K aren’t free from fault. They have complicated matters with various HDR formats and technical terms. People like simplicity and that’s what DVD provides.

I don’t think physical media will ‘die’ but it’s on its way to being niche rather than mass market, and I can’t see that change being a good thing for the home cinema industry. The people consume content has changed but I’d say that if studios want to give physical media a boost, then DVD should be given the heave-ho.

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