Movies: Rent, Own or Download?

Here is a question: how often do you buy movies on DVD/Bluray these days? I don’t. I can’t tell you when was the last time I actually bought a movie in a physical format. Actually, scratch that. I do remember. Last time I bought a movie on physical media was when my cousin got herself a HD-DVD player and we wanted to give it a test run. I can’t honestly remember when was the last time I actually bought a DVD.

I do have a small stack of movies that sit next to the DVD player but those are mostly lame gifts I have collected over the years. Hey, you like Scrubs, right? Here is a DVD containing 10 episodes you have seen at least 30 times already during the countless reruns. Thanks! Thanks a lot. I have that kind of stuff, or shit my dad pulled out of the $3 bargain bin at Wallmart.

I don’t buy these things because I don’t actually see the reason for it. I will usually watch a movie once, decide it is total crap then throw it on the stack where it is going to gather dust for the next 10 years or more. I might as well rent it. Every once in a while there is an epic movie out there that is worth owning, but these are few and far in between. And besides, it’s not like these things are scarce resources. If I ever have an inclination to watch a given movie, I know it is out there somewhere.

We live in an age where information is ubiquitous. Pretty much every movie out there can be nearly instantly streamed or downloaded to my computer. If I want to watch something, I can do it without actually needing to get up from my desk. What is the point of actually owning a large, fragile shiny optical disk associated with a movie. It’s bulky, easy to damage and awkward to handle. I can put the same movie, along with 5-6 others on a thumb drive that fits snugly in my pocket.

Not to mention that I can readily get my movie in a flexible, open format (legally or otherwise) and put it on my phone, laptop or other device. DVD’s and BluRays are locked down tightly and require special hardware and software to run. You can’t just take them and expect to be able to play them anywhere. A few mpeg’s on a thumb drive however will work just about anywhere. The worst you may have to do is to download the VLC player or perhaps some codec pack. But that’s only if you are unlucky.

Of course if you want HD quality and a home theater type experience you’d probably want the physical Bluray media rather than a digital download. But who does that anymore? The only time I use the DVD player these days is when I’m actually watching a movie with someone – and it is a whole social event then. We break out chips & dip or some popcorn and etc. If it’s just me – I’ll pop in the DVD into my computer and watch it while sitting at my desk. In fact, I’ve been known to download a movie that I knew was somewhere in the house just because I was to lazy to go look for it, then extract it from the forgotten DVD cabinet under the TV in the living room. Who knows what is in there these days. That thing has not been opened in years. As far as I know, there might be a dusty tomb covered with spiderwebs, skeletons and booby traps there. Hell, there might be a whole colony of Gnomes living there – using the old DVD’s and VCR tapes to build their houses. Who knows!

I don’t think I’m alone in this though. This sort of attitude seems to be an emerging trend:

DVD Sales Dwindling

DVD Sales Dwindling

According to this nice chart published by The Economist, the DVD sales seem to be slowly dwindling in the recent years. It peaked around 2006 and has been falling ever since then.

Of course this chart does not include BluRay sales which probably need to be factored into this equation. Drops in DVD sales could potentially be explained with the new format slowly taking over the market. But is it really? I actually don’t know anyone who owns a standalone BluRay player. Couple of my friends have PS3’s but that doesn’t relay count. I just don’t see BluRay disks flying of the shelves that much.

What I do see is the boom in rentals. Those self service kiosks mentioned in the article are fucking everywhere. Every single supermarket and/or department store has one of those. They usually put them right next to the soda vending machines near the exit. I swear, I see these things every day. Not only that, but everyone I know seems to have a Netflicks account.

No one seems to want to own their movies anymore. Imagine that! Who would have thought that after years, and years or behavioral training customers would actually change their habits to conform to the policies of the copyright holders. Yup, you heard me. I blame the DRM for this.

People don’t want to own movies anymore because they know they don’t really own them. They are not allowed to back them up. They are not allowed to format shift. They can be sued for space shifting it. They can’t capture parts of it to use for the purposes of parody. They are technically not supposed to watch it with a group of friends cause that could potentially be considered public distribution. They get their movies locked to specific regions meaning that they may not even be able to play their legally purchased media if they move to a different country. What is the point then?

I mean, you have to rip the DVD to be able to actually use it for anything. Ripping is illegal whether you purchase the DVD or just rent it. So why purchase it in the first place if you going to break the law anyway?

I’m not saying that an average person understands these issues and makes a conscious choice to rent rather to buy on a principle. No. Most people have no clue about this. But the entertainment industry has been working very hard to train the general public that they don’t own their movies. Each time you pop in a DVD you are treated to that scary FBI warning and an un-shippable 3 minute propaganda ad about the evils of piracy. This message works!

But it doesn’t work the way they intended it to. It simply makes people realize that the shiny disk they are holding in their hands is encumbered with all these regulations and hidden legal threats. There are rules about using it, and prohibitions you must follow or else.

I mean, what do you really get when you buy a DVD? A piece of plastic that will eventually get scratched up and will need to be replaced. An item that can’t even be returned back to the store after you open the shrink wrap. A chunk of data sealed on a fragile medium that is bound to a region specific hardware.

This awareness combined with the sheer convenience of digital downloads (legal or illegal alike) is the reason why the sales are dwindling.

But back to you, dear readers. Do you purchase DVD’s these days? Do you have a large collection? Or are you like me and you tend to rent and/or download more often than you actually buy?

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11 Responses to Movies: Rent, Own or Download?

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    One-line summary: They still put stuff on discs these days? Who knew…

    I can’t remember the last time I bought anything on disk with the intention of watching it myself… as a gift for the less technical maybe, but not for me. Even TV’s gone the same way for me – it just doesn’t provide what I want or match up to the way I watch things. If they could get On-Demand video right then maybe I could be drawn back, but until then it’s downloads all the way.

    Bandwidth and storage space are plentiful, and the result is that I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want without having to wait or go anywhere or … y’know, pay.

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  2. Ricardo INDIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I usually buy good concert DVDs because those are worth watching/listening over and over, in many different circumstances. So in the long run it becomes cheaper than renting.

    But with respect to movies, I agree with you, there is no point in buying DVDs.

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  3. Chris UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I bought my last DVD back in 2005*. Since then it’s only been bittorrent or $1/night rentals.

    *One exception: I later bought a Red vs. Blue DVD because it isn’t DRM-encumbered and the movie was made by some guys in their free time.

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  4. Rob UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I used to buy like crazy and amassed a very large collection. From about 2000 to 2006 or 2007 I purchased DVDs like it was going out of style (which I guess it kind of has). Then I started to slow down mostly because money has gotten tighter and I purchased a PS3. Now if I buy something it’s got to be something I REALLY like and it is on Bluray only. I very rarely buy an actual DVD anymore. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I purchased an actual DVD (might have been that Chuck Norris triple pack from the Walmart bargain bin solely to annoy my wife).

    So yeah, I still buy, but at a much slower pace. We rent a lot of movies, but most of them I don’t end up owning later on anymore like I used to. Basically if it’s a movie I really wanted to see in the theater I’ll probably end up buying the Bluray (like Star Trek). If I waited until the rental, most likely I’ll never own it.

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  5. jambarama UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    I haven’t bought a DVD in forever, but the last time I went to the movies was a double-header drive-in last summer (Dark Knight & Hancock). We have some sort of blockbuster membership that, for $10/year, gives us a free rental each month and “rent one get one free” Monday – Thursday for all non-new releases. We find it is a good deal.

    I also see my family renting more too. First, I think for them it comes down to cost against value. Even though DVDs are relatively cheap – typically $15 for non-new stuff – a rental is far cheaper, closer to $3. And the utility from having the disc on the shelf isn’t 5X greater. Second, they’ve replaced all the good old VHS stuff they had, so they aren’t re-buying movies anymore. And I’m certain they won’t be replacing their DVD set with bluray anytime soon.

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  6. Morghan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I use mplayer, cue it up to the main title and play, been forever since I’ve seen an FBI warning or trailers. The other day I had one that wouldn’t play in my computer, popped it in to the playstation to watch and realized that you’re not supposed to be able to skip all that crap at the beginning of the DVD. My main reason for buying far fewer DVDs is there are no where near the number of recent movies I consider to be worth a rewatch. I bought Watchmen, Equilibrium, Dark City & Boondock Saints. All my other movies are older or obscure DVDs, though Equilibrium could be considered obscure (especially when I bought it), many of them that only play on my region-free player.

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  7. fuxter RUSSIAN FEDERATION Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    it’s been more than three years now, for sure… good god!

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  8. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I remember buying “The Matrix” on DVD back in the 2000s to try out my PS2 video player feature, and that’s about it. I don’t recall buying or renting a DVD after that. I have a couple stacked up from gifts, but most of them are still opened. If the movie sounds interesting I’d rather go see it directly as it’s released. Otherwise, I’ll wait for it to come out on TV eventually.

    I download a few movies occasionally, but my video watching time is mostly spent on TV series (that I almost exclusively download, damn dubbers for being so slow).

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  9. copperfish Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I still buy kids movies as my daughter loves having the DVD box with the picture she can recognise (she’s 2 1/2). However the first thing I do is rip a copy and take the original disc out of the box and put it away never to be seen again. Kids hate sitting through trailers, menus and piracy notices.

    For me its a combination of “rent, rip, watch” or “download, watch”. Due to lovely international copyright laws download movie services aren’t available in South Africa so for me download means pirate. Great movies I still buy because ripped files don’t have DTS etc. but those are the ones I’ll likely watch again. The rest get deleted. Why waste disc space with junk you won’t ever watch again?

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  10. ZeWrestler UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’ve been slightly different here. I haven’t bought a new movie for myself in years. However, I get movies for the price of a block buster rental on and I usually buy something there that has been on my mind for a bit. Other than that, I refuse to get DVDs new.

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  11. Shae UNITED STATES Mozilla Linux says:

    I, too, have not bought any DVDs really. The last one I got was Rear Window for a film class I was taking (The Library’s Copy was “lost”). Generally I think that rewatching movies is rarely something I just want to do so having the movie always at hand is not very appealing. On the other hand, I think that having a few DVDs have saved be from going crazy when the weather knocks out my TV and Internet. (Ice storms suck.)

    But one important demographic we are missing here are the non-computer-people. We all can get on here and say, “No, we do not buy DVDs.” but what about people who need help to turn on or unmute their computer. (Ever try holding in laughter when you are walking someone through unpluging and repluging the powercable on a router?) I know some people who still do buy DVDs, although they rarely buy the absolutely latest release. In some ways though it is good to know some people like this since they can also let you borrow movies to watch.

    But ultimately, nothing can help the lack of great movies to watch anymore. I have seen some made-for-TV movies that seem better that some of the crap Hollywood has been making.

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