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Sound and Vision: The big, glaring issue with digital media

OPINION: I’ve read plenty of articles recently about the death of physical media, the death of Blu-ray, the death of CD, the rebirth of vinyl and cassette tapes. And I’ve read probably just as many (some I’ve written) about the issues with streaming services. Rather than these things being a certainty, everything is more in a state of flux.

Right now, the trend is moving in the direction of digital media, and it’s an area that will continue to grow. Physical media isn’t in its death throes, it’s not going to evaporate into a wisp and float away on the wind, but its hugely popular, mass market days of the early 2000s are likely behind it.

Digital media has supplanted physical media (replaced is not really the term) but it has come at a cost. The news that relates to this column was announced back in July so it isn’t really ‘new;, but it didn’t come into force until August 31st. The news was that the PlayStation Store will remove StudioCanal movies from its German and Austrian stores because of licensing issues.

Of course that’s nothing new, licensing agreements are always evolving, but the stickler here is not that you won’t be able to download StudioCanal content from the store anymore, but that you will lose access to films that you have bought i.e. you will no longer be able to watch these films at all.

That is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The fact that you’ve lost access to content that you’ve paid for baffles. It’s a problem exacerbated by these walled gardens of content, the inability to transfer these items off of one platform due to digital media rights. As has been noted before with digital content, you don’t own it, you are effectively leasing it and the rug can be pulled from beneath you suddenly.

I’ve heard of the issues with the iTunes movie store where content purchased in one market cannot be transferred to another, so if you move countries there’s the possibility you won’t be able to watch the movies and TV shows you’ve stocked up on. Digital media was, at least it seemed to me, meant to offer more freedom and flexibility: all your favourite shows accessible on your laptop or tablet. That notion now seems to be something of a utopia.

It highlights the obvious and glaring issue with digital content, made worse still by the fact that in the statement on the PlayStation Store from 2021 about its move to discontinue movie and TV purchases, as the post said “users can still access movie and TV content they have purchased through PlayStation Store for on-demand playback on their PS4, PS5 and mobile devices.” Well that’s now not true, and that only serves to cause a sense of mistrust.

The streaming wars haven’t made things any easy, with content now spread over several services that viewers subscribe to watch what they want and then unsubscribe when they finish. With the amount of money being invested into streaming services, it’s not a healthy state of affairs, however you look at it.

So I will be sticking with physical media, and continuing to invest in my 4K Blu-ray collection. While physical media is by no means perfect; it’s less aggravating than digital media.

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