Roger Ebert wrote an interesting blog post about the current state of home entertainment and with the popularity of Netflix, Hulu, Fandor, Mubi, Ultraviolet, iCloud, etc. DVD sales continue to take a hit (not to mention DVD rentals). What do people think of this and specifically, how it relates to film preservation. Ebert say, “If DVD sales decline, film restoration declines right along with them.” Having worked in this specific industry for the past five years, I’ve always been concerned that restoration is so dependent on, and being driven by, DVD and BD sales. With the upcoming restorations of Lawrence of Arabia, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark all finally coming to BD, it’s difficult to imagine these restorations happening without the existence of the BD format. Would Spielberg really invest years of time and money restoring one of his films strictly for viewing on iTunes? There has yet to be a guaranteed financial incentive for downloading and streaming – which is why studios are unloading their catalogs to these services in highly questionable quality.
I wonder what others think about this, particularly cinephiles. Does access to a film via streaming mean everything, even if the file you are watching is coming from a low quality, VHS source? Does it trump having a film fully restored and released on a BD disc? For cinephiles, I hope the answer is no. Unfortunately for most average moviewatchers, I’m not sure they really care all that much about restoration, preservation, and film quality. Ease of convenience seems to be paramount. I’m curious not so much in the debate over physical media versus streaming/downloading but rather the unintended consequences that new technology brings.
Here is the full blog:
Movies Don’t Stream Themselves
Yes a noice article. Frankly streaming has never been without problems for me. I’ve come to realize that the only way to be satisfied with something is to have more control over it, and streaming is yet another method in which power is taken from the individual and given to the collective. Is it bad? Dunno. It certainly seems inevitable. We’ll find a way around it.
My issue with streaming as opposed to DVD sales is that, if the company should decide to stop streaming a film, I no longer have access to it.
Also I prefer the big TV screens in general.
But in the future I think TVs are going to have download capability, so you’ll be paying for a 1080p download rather than a monthly fee for streaming.
Yeah I think everybody here prefers physical media to streaming.
…But I guess it’ll be fun to talk about this issue at length yet again! :P
I prefer hard copy to streaming, due to the higher quality of the image and the lack of issues regarding internet connectivity (curse you, U-Verse!) but I still use four paid streaming services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, MUBI, Fandor) along with two free services (Ubuweb, YouTube) and a small indie studio (No Budge) which releases films via free streaming and/or DVD. VHS to DVD quality prints of obscure and harder-to-find films at a price relative to the picture quality ($7-10 for a month’s subscription to a streaming site vs. $8-20 for a new blu-ray) is a deal I can’t pass up.
I think my intention was not so much to discuss what do you prefer, streaming or physical media but rather how the decline of physical media and the rise of streaming effects film restoration. That’s really what jumped out at me when I read Ebert’s blog and I think it’s something a lot of people don’t take into account – maybe the unintended consequences that come with new technology.
“My issue with streaming as opposed to DVD sales is that, if the company should decide to stop streaming a film, I no longer have access to it.”
It’s highly more likely that streaming results in a proliferation of digital copies than hard media results in a proliferation of bootlegs/used copies. The digital source is right there, even more accessible than digital hard disc (DVD) rips.
“Yeah I think everybody here prefers physical media to streaming.”
Nope. Hate owning stuff anymore, prefer mobility, and literally watch more Netflix streaming than any other format currently available.
I sympathize with the issues, I really do, but the more I’ve lived in a streaming world the more I prefer it to what has come before.
“That’s really what jumped out at me when I read Ebert’s blog and I think it’s something a lot of people don’t take into account – maybe the unintended consequences that come with new technology.”
Right, something is always lost and even if we gain film preservation collectives and not-for-profits, the production of film itself may be lost and so they would have nothing to print the film too. Plus the cosmic discussion of the post-cataclysm, where film and vinyl create easier-to-reproduce reverse engineered archives of our works and societies because the understanding of how to ‘read’ the media is written into it, whereas digital compression and magnetic strips et al are not so immediately understandable.
“Nope. Hate owning stuff anymore, prefer mobility”
But Polaris, do you prefer mobility at the cost of potentially losing preservation?
I don’t get why preservation is suffering as a direct result of people preferring to stream stuff than watch a physical copy. Surely they come from the same source (or can do if they do it right)? In a digital world – meaning both streaming and dvd, It’s just information we’re talking about, so surely it’s either a case of one step to pump the information from the source down some cables to the viewer, or two steps; pump the information from the source down a cable then burn it to a disc which is sold to the viewer? Both results are able to be the same all things being equal. Or are you suggesting that the companies who stream are deliberately compressing or somehow degrading the information before they pump it down the wire to the customers? If so then the same can happen with dvd transfers should the company wish to cut corners there too. I don’t see the diference.
Downloading leads to proliferation of digital copies more than streaming.
@ Scampi, the issue is with restoring the film itself. Old film suffers from all kinds of damage, and must be cleaned and restored before being transferred to DVD Blu-Ray or before a streaming copy can be made. That sometimes also involves finding prints from other sources (other countries in some cases) that have undamaged portions correlating to portions that are heavily damaged or have been removed from the original source print or negative.
This is a very labor-intensive and expensive process. A studio will only undertake it if they expect good revenue from DVD or Blu-Ray sales.
“I don’t get why preservation is suffering as a direct result of people preferring to stream stuff than watch a physical copy.”
Because streaming has yet to be proven a lucrative money maker for the studios the way DVD has. So studios aren’t going to spend tons of money restoring a classic if they aren’t going to make money. Like I said, this is why currently everything that is being streamed is coming from existing elements. This might change someday but as of yet, it hasn’t. As far as I know, films have yet to be restored specifically for streaming purposes.
“Or are you suggesting that the companies who stream are deliberately compressing or somehow degrading the information before they pump it down the wire to the customers?”
Well yes, that’s sort of the definition of streaming. This is compressed information that you’re getting.
But streaming doesn’t have to be compressed. You can stream in any quality you like. HD streaming exists. And even if it’s not common right now, it will be in the near future. The quality of the movie you’re watching when you stream is a matter of available bandwidth, not the quality of the original source material.
I do get your original point though. I wasn’t considering old movies shot on film. But my point still stands. Right now the profit in restoring old movies is dvd sales. Of course that’s just right now. As the movie delivery method evolves from physical bits of plastic to an information stream, so will the profit from preservation shift from dvd sales to streaming subscriptions.
Quality will always trump ease of use for me. I will go out of my way to secure a vinyl copy of a record rather than downloading the mp3s, even if it means waiting months. Same thing with blu-ray, if I know a movie I want to see is coming out on blu-ray, I will wait for the release. I simply want to see/hear these works in the highest quality format possible.
Now, as far as restoration goes, it’s an interesting question. For older films, film preservation is a huge deal in updating the films. Looking to the future, however, by the time ALL physical formats are gone, we will probably be downloading 100GB movie files (in fact, one documentary maker has already made his film available as a 4k resolution download). Hopefully, we will be streaming gigabytes per minute on our networks so I would think there would still be a market for high quality transfers.
On the upside, newer films (within the past 20 years) seem to have been preserved much better since the companies now rely on back catalog so much. Decades ago, it seems like they threw the damn film canisters around like they were toys. I can’t believe it when I hear stories of bits of film being found in an old insane asylum in Brazil or whatever happened with Metropolis. Plus, for better or worse, now that a lot of films are made on HD cameras, that kinda takes the restoration part out of the equation for those select movies.
I try to get a physical copy now if it’s something I really, really like, but I stream to find out whether I like something enough to buy it.
As someone who doesn’t even own an iPod, I use streaming services only if I cannot get a disc to watch a film. NetFlix streaming is spotty and often herky-jerky, with no surroundsound capability. Mainly, though, the picture quality is poor.
I agree with earlier posters who want to own a copy of the film. If I want to watch Seven Samurai, I just take the Criterion edition off the shelf and watch it. NetFlix is notorious for removing and replacing films in its streaming catalog. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Streaming will undoubtedly improve and eventually reach true HD, with fast loading. I envision a service like iTunes where you buy a film and download it to some device with gargantuan storage capacity like TiVo. Then it’s yours forever — or until the hard drive crashes on your device.
I would sorely miss the booklets and other printed supplements that come with boutique DVD labels like Criterion and Blue Underground. Hell, I miss vinyl records when you could actually read the damn liner notes on the back of the dust jacket.
As a purely pleasurable consideration, I also enjoy walking into the entertainment room and seeing a motherlode of films arranged on the shelves of four tall bookcases.
The question of preservation is interesting. If we only lived in a perfect world, preservation would be done because it is the right thing to do. But i am not sure about DVDs and Blu-rays as an enduring revenue stream for studios. Seems to me that streaming gives far greater ROI, since there is no physical product to manufacture, package, ship and price it for sale in retail outlets.
I also know DVD “burning on demand” is working for a lot of studios looking to mine some gold from the more obscure titles in their vaults, but streaming is clearly where the industry is headed.
I don’t get why preservation is suffering as a direct result of people preferring to stream stuff than watch a physical copy. Surely they come from the same source (or can do if they do it right)? In a digital world – meaning both streaming and dvd, It’s just information we’re talking about, so surely it’s either a case of one step to pump the information from the source down some cables to the viewer, or two steps; pump the information from the source down a cable then burn it to a disc which is sold to the viewer?
It’s a much more profound shift than that. The movies are even shot in digital, meaning there are NO archival-quality copies, and the creation of those copies are prohibitively expensive. The counterargument is that sure, people will just continually replicate the data infinitely, since after all it is so easy to do so. That counterargument is based on the assumption that digital technology will continue to operate at its present form, whilst continuing its expansion into singularity-levels of information storage and retrieval. Possible, but unlikely — the readers change just as quickly as do the source codes, and in any copy or storage runs the risk of data corruption, and no matter how the data is compressed the compression loses quality.
Plus it removes the concept of ‘original print’ which is a discussion that also stretches from the epistemological thought-experiment games of ’Well how can you tell this is the original text? Did Amazon.com go into 1984 and edit out passages seemingly anticorporate in theme? After all they can just make digital copies on Kindles disappear overnight," to more wider cultural changes of our relationship to works, wherein now every single digital piece of artwork available is immediately accessible, editable, and alterable so that any person who owns any copy whatsoever can personally insert their own data into the code — writing extra fanfic chapters into their own copies of books, shooting original footage and cutting it into their favorite movies, a practice that has already begun and is already expanding at such a rapid rate that, hey, who was the original creator of [enter meme here]?
Without some codified preserved analog copy of a product with an obviously reverse-engineerable reading apparatus like film stock itself (you can tell how to make the movie play just by how the film stock is structured) or vinyl (possibly not immediately apparent, but close examination can reveal the physical grooves in obviously non-random patterns that create wavelengths that translate to sound), we decenter the notion of ‘original print’ in such ways that affect both our ability to trace the history of an art piece’s origin, but also changes our relationship to how we consume or relate to it. The Internet being by design user-uploaded content, means by and large digital information is user-processed, not originary. This can be a good thing or bad thing depending on your perspective.
Or to put it this way, it’s a damn shame that Lucas controls the original prints of Star Wars so that he has full authority over its subsequent adjustments, but he is an extremely rare extreme rarity in the world of original print archiving; and the digital world is one where every single Star Wars fan is capable of being a Lucas-style revisionist. Now think about it becoming so commonplace that nobody can remember what the original Star Wars was like or where it came from, and everyone just sort of assumes it started as a back-and-forth about bondage and giant slug monsters on 4chan.
Which brings me to:
“But Polaris, do you prefer mobility at the cost of potentially losing preservation?”
Understanding and knowing the issues, I unfortunately have to recognize my own personal actions and the reasons I take them, and at this point in life I am compelled and even concerned by the loss of preservation, nevertheless my personal preferences are toward the accessibility and dephysicality of digital media.
^ Interesting, not least because I’ve actually tried to make my own edit of Return of The Jedi in order to eliminate those fucking stupid teddy bears. It’s happening DiB, you know it :)
I’m sure the CEO of my ISP could complete the circle, cushioning my indiscretions. paul typed, while donning his cat suit
Huh? The license holder doesn’t have to commit to various costly formats.
You meant no one will ever see it on film again?
“At this point in life I am compelled and even concerned by the loss of preservation, nevertheless my personal preferences are toward the accessibility and dephysicality of digital media.”
Well at least you’re honest with yourself! haha. I think most common folk feel this same way. It’s an odd bit of irony – as technology advances and equips us to have a better ability to preserve and restore films, we are less likely to do so because of the prohibitive cost and lack of return.
If streaming costs less, or people are only downloading files, i can definitely see there being problems in the future for film restoration. The incentive just wouldn’t be there. Dvd’s made a fortune for studios for at least a decade because they were so overpriced, which justified the grounds for investment in restoration. But how can you charge 15-25 dollars for a digital file? Would people really buy it? I have no idea.
My guess is that people see files as being less valuable, so they aren’t prepared to pay as much. Then again, i have no idea how the younger generations feel about these sort of things and i’m not going to pretend otherwise.
If streaming costs less…
Streaming is vastly more profitable. Plus there are degrees of restoration.
“But how can you charge 15-25 dollars for a digital file? Would people really buy it?”
No, and that’s part of the problem. Studios have yet to really figure out how to make money on streaming and how profitable it is remains a big question. At this point, they are just throwing out everything and hoping something will stick. For instance, Ultraviolet and the concept of a digital “cloud” is what they’re really banking on. But it remains to be seen whether this will take hold w/consumers.
Can you effectively market streaming video without physical media?
Oh, there are plenty of ways to prove your digital copy of a film is the same as the original. Just get original content providers to publish an MD5 hash. ;)
“But how can you charge 15-25 dollars for a digital file? Would people really buy it? I have no idea.”
No. Wrong model.
Subscriptions and advertising. $15-25 for a month’s worth of movies, lead into with advertising. Possibly, likely, increasingly cut into with advertising — higher rates for ad free viewing, lower rates for ad viewing.
The digital file download itself will be iTunes like in its cheapness. $4-5 maximum.
Will it work? Actually it’s unclear. The Mubi folk don’t seem to talk a whole lot about how well their subscription services are going, but have you noticed how often it’s changing? Price and other things? I think they’re still trying to figure out how to do it right and make people understand what they’re selling (the film pages for mainstream movies they have no intention of streaming don’t help, as you see on this forum sometimes). It’s growing pain era.
But based on the article Santino posted, and from my own personal experience, streaming is increasing and that’s where the demand is so it doesn’t really matter if it’s profitable to the companies, holding on to the older models isn’t profitable either. DVD is slipping toward POD (print-on-demand), so that those conservative collectors who demand their hard copy will just ask for a special order (even at a brick-and-mortar store) and they’ll just print out the equivalent of a high-quality DVD-R with some simple design elements. I don’t think it’ll die completely — that’s like saying books were destroyed by POD, which they weren’t — but that’s the way we’re moving regardless of what we’re losing or whether we like it or not.
When I go over to watch a movie at a friends house, they are having some event or something, they always just turn on their Netflix account, now that it’s hooked onto the television. Back in the heyday of DVD I remember most casual not-particularly-interested-in-movies people would have between 20-50 DVDs, and would mostly just rent. Now most of my friends have 10-20 DVDs and no rental card to any brick-and-mortar shop.
Previous years when I ran the Half-Halloween thing where we watch an entire franchise, it was based around what was available on rental shelves. This year, it was based on the fact that the entire franchise is available on Netflix for streaming. It’s just too convenient, and much cheaper. I could pay $18 in rentals for the entire Hellraiser series to rent at the cheapest place I know (IF they have every one of them, I never checked), whereas the streaming side of Netflix costs $8/month.
Does anybody know what kind of negotiating Netflix has to do for rights to rent dvd’s? Would it be possible for, say, Warner Bros. to decide that they don’t want Netflix to get any more of their dvd’s? I know that Netflix can’t rent most new releases, but what are the rights like past that? They seem to be way different from streaming rights.