The End of DVDs

Some people are still pondering the business market for DVDs. Guess they haven’t seen the memo. It’s over!  Kaput  The DVD is not yet dead, but it has been admitted into hospice. Various news agencies are already working on the obituary. It will eventually join the rank of such other great devices as the VHS cassette and the Laserdisc. I don’t think it will be a sudden death. More like a lingering decline (which is already well underway). But the end of the DVD format is in sight and the reasons are all pretty straightforward.

Technically, the format has long been iffy. It wasn’t supposed to be, but that thinking was based upon the presumed archival possibilities of DVDs. At the beginning, it was claimed that DVDs could store material for 100 or more years. Of course, they were talking about gold plated discs. Though there have been many vast improvements in discs, the cost of any type of real archival format is still expensive.

Which is why DVDs for the home market has always been cheaply produced. Because of that, the quality and reliability is highly variable. Likewise, the cheaper format has a shorter shelf life. The longevity issue is open to wide debate because the material hasn’t been around long enough for real testing, but the rough estimate for the average disc sitting on your bookshelf at home is about 12 years. Less, if you watch the movie frequently.

But that is OK since planned obsolescence is a traditional American business model. However, business models are the other major problem with the DVD market. There have always been too many models, none particularly compatible with any others, and all designed as solutions to immediate short focused goals.

For example, most major DVD distribution companies started with the “found money” model. The original structure was that the movie made its main profit at the box office and then the extra money generated through video and DVD sales and rental was a nice extra on the side. Then, as the box office began to drop, DVD profits became crucial. For a brief period, DVDs became the salvation of Hollywood. Then the market plunged. So that model is now dead.

Then you had companies that were exclusive distributors for DVD material (the so-called straight-to DVD market). The purest example of this business model was the porn industry. Porn moved into the video and DVD market with a vengeance. The home market became porn’s main focus, and business boomed. People who would never be caught sneaking into an adult theater were more than thrilled to take some discs home. There was an especially large increase in the female viewership of porn.

However, the rapidly expanding arena of online (and increasingly homemade) porn has basically savaged the business. So the porn model has been shattered while numerous sites on the internet offers something that could be titled  America’s Naughtiest Home Videos. While the industry has made major moves into online distribution, it is still trying to figure out a new and workable business model that can compete with the vast range of amateur freebies.

This leaves the indie movie model. Except there really isn’t one. Not exactly. Some of these movies are in that strange gray zone in which they enjoy limited theatrical distribution (but not enough to mean anything) and then go to DVD in hopes of finding a larger market. For the most part, they don’t. At least not enough to matter.

Others are films that have never seen the inside of a theater. Some are movies with significant names attached that quite simply got dumped by a major distributor before release. Others had extremely weak distributors who probably couldn’t open a film successfully no matter what. A few have been the byproducts of investment scams.

But mostly,  they are a strange mix of exploitation quickies and indie hopefuls. The exploitation line is best demonstrated by Troma Entertainment who first shifted from VHS to DVD distribution and are now moving aggressively into digital release. Troma YouTube channel is the eye candy as they precede to set up shop in the VoD trade.

One of the more successful approaches for indie filmmakers going straight-to-DVD has been niche marketing, most notably with some documentary and children productions. Certain types of social and political “issue” movies can drum up business, too, though this is heavily based on the filmmakers’ ability to find the choirs they intend to preach to. The marketability of children’s productions mostly depends upon desperate parents seeking something that will occupy the little rug-rats for a couple of hours. Ironically, one of the more successful straight-to-video productions ever was the Purple One himself, Barney. Early success in video rental stores is how it became a PBS series.

Unfortunately, most indie filmmakers are lucky to wind up in a remainder box at the local Big Lots. These discs are handled by very small (and sometimes dubious) companies, or else the filmmakers simply pay for production out of their own pockets in hopes of being able eventually to cover cost. This is why, no matter what, digital online distribution is taking over. It may not be any more effective, but it can be cheaper.

Which means that the effective life span of the DVD is numbered. In lieu of flowers, it has been requested that you send your donations to the Kickstarter campaign of any digital production of your choosing.