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You Should Start Buying Physical Copies of Your Favorite Movies and TV Series

It should be obvious now that streaming services aren’t interested in being exhaustive, perpetual libraries.
Compact Discs
(George HodanCC0 1.0)

The appeal of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime has always been their convenience. You can watch your favorite movies and TV series whenever you want, wherever you want, so long as you have a internet connection. The obvious side benefit of this was that you could finally get rid of all of those DVDs taking up precious shelf space in your home or apartment. (I know I’ve probably purged at least half of my DVDs and Blu-rays over the last ten years.)

Of course, that was never really the case. Streaming libraries are constantly in flux; even as new titles are added every month, others are removed. Some titles might return a few months later — which you’ve probably noticed if you’ve ever read my monthly streaming recommendations — but there’s no guarantee of that. This was perhaps less of an issue when Netflix et al. were the only streaming options, but now that every studio has launched their own streaming service, more titles are getting locked down and restricted as studios exert greater control over their own content.

It was once possible to watch Star Trek titles on numerous streaming services. But as io9 reports, Paramount+ has spent the last several years making Star Trek an exclusive on their platform. Which, from their perspective, makes sense: why allow other services to make money off their property? But that same article also points out how this affects non-US viewers: Paramount+ is only available in about 30 countries, compared to more than 190 countries for Netflix. More concerning, though, is Paramount+‘s decision to not only cancel the youth-oriented Star Trek: Prodigy’s previously announced second season, but to also remove the series from their platform entirely.

This follows similar decisions by other streaming services. Back in May, Disney+ and Hulu began removing a number of series, including Willow, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The World According to Jeff Goldblum, and Y: The Last Man. And following last August’s merger of HBO Max and Discovery+, numerous HBO Max titles have been removed, including Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Infinity Train, Minx, Westworld, and even the iconic Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

As for why these services are removing titles, the answer is two-fold: money and market saturation. By removing a title, the studio no longer has to pay residuals to its cast and crew, and it can be written off as a loss come tax time. Plus, it could be sold to another service (e.g., Westworld is now available on Tubi). On top of that, the streaming market is positively packed with a number of services all vying for smaller and smaller slices of the pie, since viewers have only so much money to spend. In 2022, Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in ten years while other services, like Disney+, reported major losses.

When studio-based services began competing with the likes of Netflix and Hulu, there was an implied promise that we’d now have access to their entire libraries, forever. (Indeed, when Disney+ debuted in 2019, there was an emphasis on its library being permanent.) Obviously, that promise no longer exists. We all know, deep down, that studios are money-making machines focused primarily on protecting their intellectual property and increasing shareholder value, not faithful stewards of art and culture. Just look at the recent brouhaha surrounding Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

TCM’s library is filled with classic movies, and is curated by a team of devoted programmers and executives. A team that was recently fired by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. Given that this is the same David Zaslav who defended removing all of those aforementioned HBO Max titles, nixed releasing the fully-produced Batgirl movie (while totally supportive of the abysmal Black Adam), and was criticized for his handling of CNN, folks were understandably concerned about what this meant for TCM.

These concerns may be somewhat ameliorated by the announcement that Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Thomas Anderson will be involved in curating TCM along with TCM’s now-un-fired programming executive Charles Tabesh. But this came only after the original announcement grew into a PR nightmare thanks to TCM’s beloved status amongst film buffs.

So what to do? Well, a good place to start would be to clear some space off your shelves for new DVD/Blu-ray copies of your favorite movies and TV series, because it’s increasingly clear that we can’t trust streaming services with them. This is a bit of challenge given that streaming services tend not to release their original titles on physical media (with some exceptions). But the only way to ensure that you’ll always have access to your favorite movies and TV series — not to mention your favorite albums and books — in the midst of corporate shenanigans and market volatility is to own actual physical copies of them.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of places to do so. There are specialty shops like The Criterion Collection and Eureka, used sellers like Thriftbooks, and of course, Amazon. Meanwhile, Blu-ray.com is a great place to keep track of special deals. And if push comes to shove, there are always library sales, pawn shops, and thrift stores. You might be surprised by some of the gems you can find for a shockingly low price (like that Blu-ray copy of The Tree of Life that I picked up a few years back), and no streaming exec will be able to take them away from you.

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