Despite being squeezed by the pandemic, the transactional business is still sturdy and is poised to take off once new releases in the pipeline grow from a trickle to a steady stream.
That’s according to Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, and Eddie Cunningham, the former Universal Pictures Home Entertainment president who now runs Studio Distribution Services, the Universal-Warner Bros. disc distribution joint venture. The two executives spoke on a virtual DEG Expo panel March 24 moderated by Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold.
As industry pundits have observed, content in the transactional arena, which includes physical disc and digital purchases and rentals, dwarfs what consumers can find via subscription or other streaming services. That content has helped the transactional business survive recent jolts, the executives said.
Even the Blu-ray Disc and DVD business, which has been steadily declining for the last decade, remains a viable business, Cunningham said.
“In 2020 despite a pandemic and despite all the pressure of retail closures around the world … and pretty much no new releases after the first couple of months of the year — there’s still a $7 billion retail market, globally,” Cunningham said of the disc business.
“Obviously the last few months, there haven’t been that many new releases. But as that starts to come back in the second half of this year I think you’re going to see a real resurgence,” Smith added, noting that Redbox, with kiosk rentals driven by new releases, is looking forward to a more consistent flow of new content.
Cunningham said he’s been getting a similar message from the big retailers.
“Everybody’s incredibly excited about the new releases starting to come back into this business,” he said. “And I think we feel good about the fact that the big retailers … seem very, very committed to this category. We’ve got new titles every single week. We spend marketing money. We drive people into stores. We introduce fun. We introduce theater into the stores. … So a lot of them are pretty excited about us getting back into the new-release business. … Maybe we could even find a way of sort of growing this [physical] business or certainly hugely flattening the decline over the next year or two after the numbers we made during the pandemic.”
In the meantime, Cunningham said catalog has been picking up the slack, with such series as “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Office” and even children’s stalwart “Curious George” selling well despite streaming availability.
“If content is available on subscription services, you can still sell a lot of content physically on those same franchises,” Cunningham noted.
“Then there’s a huge amount, about 40% of consumers, who’ve never ever until this day ever transacted digitally, so they’re a huge target for us,” he said, adding “I think physical’s going to be around for a long time to come.”
The disc rental business, which Redbox dominates with thousands of kiosks in the United States, is here to stay as well, added Smith.
“We obviously have a view that it’s going to be sustainable for the long term,” he said. “It’s a great value to consumers. It’s incredibly convenient. … The fact that we’ve got 41,000 kiosks around the U.S. really helps with that. I think what we’ve been able to do is augment that experience. We’ve got this massive loyalty program with over 37 million people in it, and so we’re rewarding them for behavior and then rewarding them with things like free content and so it gives up a great opportunity for us to reinforce that value ecosystem.”
Redbox marketing makes sure to let consumers know when new releases are available and doesn’t discriminate between the different ways a consumer might access content. The company offers consumers both physical and digital transaction options, letting them choose.
“We’re communicating with them on a regular basis in terms of what are those [new release] movies, and again, however you want to watch it, physically or digitally, we can be there to serve you with that,” he said.
Even though the company is offering a digital alternative, physical transactions aren’t suffering, Smith noted.
“Even when our customers started to transact digitally, it didn’t mean they stopped transacting physically,” he said. “They actually started transacting physically more. It reminded them again of all these great new movies that are available.”
As head of the disc distribution joint venture, Cunningham said he’s tasked with creating efficiencies and providing a focus on the physical business. The joint venture’s mantra is “two plus two equals five,” to make a bigger whole from the combined parts, he said.
“The coming together of Universal and Warner and other third-party distribution partners is going to enable us to do things like share boxes coming out of Technicolor, which in turn saves a lot of in-store labor, transport costs and so on,” he said. “I think we’re in a position to start maybe talking a bit more again about some front-of-store displays in some of these big retailers where we’ve lost that.”
Two plus two equals five also means finding ways to leverage the studios’ combined content.
“Over the next year or 18 months you’re going to see some amazing things coming out of [the joint venture],” Cunningham said. “There’s going to be huge opportunities on Middle Earth, DC, Bond, classic monsters. It’s actually the 90th anniversary of Dracula coming up, so we’ve got an opportunity around anniversaries. ‘Fast and Furious,’ ‘Jurassic,’ ‘Dune,’ ‘Halloween,’ there are huge opportunities to draft off these kinds of things.”
He also envisioned boxed sets of titles from different studios as an added bonus for consumers.
“We’re going to work incredibly hard to see how we can put the two studios’ content promotions together and make something bigger,” he said.
Redbox, too, is looking to combine the advantages of different businesses. In addition to its digital and physical transactional offerings, the company also has ad-supported streaming and even a content acquisition and production arm.
“In terms of Redbox Entertainment, we have a ton of data obviously about what actors work, what genres work, and so what we want to do is say, ‘OK, we’re seeing a little less product from the studios, let’s go ahead and buy it, acquire it, produce it ourselves,’” Smith said. “We’re basically making sure that we program to our consumers what we know they are going to want. And we’re agnostic so we’re releasing it across all the digital retailers and then we’re actually selling it to streamers as well on the backend. We just want to make sure there’s good content made for consumers.”
We issued a call through one of our favorite consumer sites, Bill Hunt’s The Digital Bits, for people who are sticking by the trusty DVD and Blu-ray Disc in a world gone streaming.
We wanted to hear their stories, their rationale, for maintaining — and still building — home disc libraries. Is it their love of new theatrical films that simply aren’t available on Netflix or the other subscription streaming services? Is it a quality issue? After all, everyone agrees that Blu-ray Disc, especially the new breed of 4K Ultra HD discs, remains the optimum way to watch movies in the home. Or is it, simply, a love of collecting, that inherent drive many of us have to own things — intensified by the belief that even a digital purchase lacks the permanence of owning something on physical media.
Boy, did we get an earful. Instead of a handful of responses, we received more than 100 replies — all of them with passionate and convincing stories to tell. We heard from collectors from across the country, as well as Canada, Australia and France. We even heard from a fellow who lives in a rural part of the country and says he prefers to rent physical discs from Redbox and Netflix.
Scott Carroll, a 53-year-old resident of upstate New York, has more than 8,000 DVDs and Blu-ray Discs in his collection and continues to buy discs on a weekly basis.
“I’ve been collecting movies since I was a boy, starting with small Super 8mm films — usually five to 15 minutes of a popular film,” says Carroll, who works for a Manhattan post-production company as in-house producer and project manager. “Owning a piece of Star Wars, even if it was silent and in black-and-white, was a big deal,” he says.
When the home video industry was birthed in the late 1970s, Carroll says, he began buying VHS tapes and recording movies from TV. “I then moved on to laserdiscs — mostly because they offered cool special features and commentaries that you couldn’t get on VHS cassettes — and, later, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and, now, 4K Ultra HD.”
Carroll says the “big joke around my house is my family asking me, ‘How many times are you going to buy Star Wars?’ I’ve owned it on pretty much every format and, yes, I’ll probably buy the 4K version next month.”
Another avid disc collector is Craig Andrews, 46, who lives in Adelaide, Australia, and works in a payroll department. He says he has a “modest” collection of around 1,000 titles, mostly movies.
“I’m a physical media diehard — my mantra is ‘physical media or death,’” he says. Andrews sent an email neatly summarizing why he prefers watching, and collecting, movies on disc:
“Nothing compares with a tactile object;
“Higher AV quality, not dependent on the currently available bandwidth in your area;
“Choice — my tastes don’t seem to be reflected on Netflix all that well; I prefer older cinema, certain auteurs and certain genres;
“Extras — some films are really worth studying, from the way they were once advertised with their old trailers, to interviews with people from both sides of the camera — not to mention deleted scenes, which are sometimes revelatory;
“Permanency — we all know discs decay, but if a disc lasts 30 years that’s better than something which disappears from Netflix after three years because it’s not ‘popular’ enough or they’ve lost the rights. Physical media will help us claw our way out of the memory hole which streaming is inflicting upon classic cinema.”
Andrews says his girlfriend subscribes to three streaming services, “and yet I was hard pressed to find too much on there to interest me. I mentioned to her that it seems like a lost opportunity of the technology — the whole history of cinema could be at our fingertips in a way I dreamt of as a child. Films I read about in well-thumbed books I borrowed from the library could be called up with just a remote control! But the choice, certainly in Australia, is pitiful.
“As an example, I recently watched a documentary on the great Toshiro Mifune on Netflix. It would have been the perfect opportunity for kids discovering classic Japanese cinema to then go watch some of the films shown in the doc — yet when I did a search on the master’s name, nothing. Good thing I have all those Criterions of his work to refer to, isn’t it? Otherwise we’re really in the same spot as I was when I was younger; hearing about films but unable to watch them. Although at least when I was younger I’d trawl the video stores all over the suburbs to find a rare VHS of Solaris or the like. Now, we don’t even have the video stores.”
Lest anyone think young people are snubbing their YouTube-infatuated noses at discs, consider yet another collector who responded to our call. Devin Mulligan is a community college student in Goodyear, Ariz., who is the proud owner of 1,639 DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, most of them movies.
“I have a huge passion for films,” he says.
Since this feature is appearing in our monthly print and digital edition, we have a limited amount of room and are unable to profile all of our collectors. So we culled a representative sample to show the wide range of reasons, and specializations, among the community of diehard disc collectors.
Bells and Whistles
Shant Istamboulian is a 39-year-old coordinator at Disney/ABC and lives in Burbank, Calif.
“To my wife’s chagrin, I have a huge DVD/Blu-ray collection that pretty much runs the gamut,” he wrote. “I have a huge collection of snapper-case DVDs, as well as store exclusives, boxed sets (TV and film), Steelbooks, Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-rays, as well as a ton of out-of-print discs I don’t have the heart to part ways with (including a ton of Anchor Bay DVDs).”
Having been a movie buff pretty much all his life, he was excited when DVDs came out in the late 1990s. He never owned a laserdisc player, though his VHS collection was pretty vast.
“I pretty much started collecting from the get-go; I was lucky enough to work in the media department at Best Buy during the height of DVD’s popularity and took advantage of the discount to broaden my collection,” he wrote. “I also remember going to Tower Records down the street every Tuesday after work to see what hard-to-find discs, such as ones released under the Criterion Collection, were released that Best Buy wouldn’t carry.
I definitely had a wish list of movies I wanted to have on DVD and would constantly visits sites to see the latest announcements. I loved all the bells and whistles that came with these discs, whether they were the comprehensive documentaries on the making of the films or rare trailers not seen since the film’s release. In the pre-digital age, it was great to have a one-stop shop where everything you ever wanted about one film was included on one shiny little disc.”
Later, he worked at a mom-and-pop video store in Studio City, and his love for movies and his collection grew even more as he was surrounded by film fans.
“I have tried to thin it out, but with the advent of Blu-ray around 2005, I found it to be pretty futile,” he wrote. “Instead, I am challenged to find multiple ways of storing these discs — shelves on top of shelves at first, now boxes.”
The digital streaming revolution hasn’t slowed his thirst for physical media.
“As the studios slowly throw in the towel on prioritizing discs over streaming services, I am grateful for boutique firms such as Criterion, Shout! Factory, Kino Lorber and Arrow for keeping the fire burning,” he wrote. “There is nothing more exciting than hearing the announcement of a classic film getting the Cadillac treatment from one of these companies.”
He’s ready to buy digital-first features on disc as well.
“The announcement that Criterion will be releasing such Netflix films such as Roma, The Irishman and Marriage Story on disc is an absolute miracle in this day in age,” he wrote. “Even though these films are available with the click of a button, I will still purchase them on disc to add to my Criterion collection.”
His current collection numbers more than 10,000 discs. He typically purchases 15 to 20 discs a month, depending on the release schedule, buying Blu-rays of films he’s loved seeing in theaters, but prioritizing older, classic films.
“I still do enjoy buying discs in stores, but it is very disheartening to see the shelf space keep shrinking,” he wrote.
“Other than a purchase or two in store, I usually order online. Of course, the anticipation factor of getting discs in the mail adds to the excitement.”
From Video Clerk to Collector
Like many a film fan, Matt Paprocki learned to love home entertainment while working at a video store.
Paprocki is a 39-year-old freelance writer and started going all-in with DVD upon its debut at the video store.
“DVD blew my mind,” he wrote. “I started buying everything I could afford.”
Currently, he has 1,300 discs (not including legacy media like laserdisc), including DVD, Blu-ray and 4K, all stored on a 12-foot wall in his media room, with a secondary shelf holding larger box/gift sets.
Paprocki buys used discs often.
Northern Ohio has no less than nine used-media stores, and a slew of Family Videos to choose from, he noted. If he doesn’t buy there, then he goes to Amazon or Best Buy usually, with Walmart, Target and Disney Movie Club also go-tos.
As a home theater enthusiast, video and audio quality matters to Paprocki. He has a number of discs (for instance, the “Transformers” series) he uses to demo his audio-video system.
“Digital cannot provide that quality or consistency,” he wrote.
As for digital versus physical collecting, the value of digital can’t compare.
“With few exceptions, I can get a physical copy cheaper than any digital sale when considering possible resale value, the secondary market, borrowing, trading, etc.,” he wrote. “Digital affords no such rights to the consumer in its current state. Other than convenience, the benefits lie entirely with the studios, and I’ve been a victim of losing digital content when providers went under. Plus, I always have my movies — I don’t need to worry about Netflix pulling a certain movie because of rights issues.”
As far as titles, he’s into the classics.
“I’m big on Godzilla so the recent Criterion collection set was incredible to see,” he wrote. “Silent films don’t get enough due, so Cohen’s Buster Keaton collection discs deserve acknowledgment.
“Warner is the boxed set king, so their deluxe sets like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Iron Giant will never leave my shelves.”
It Began With Laserdisc
Kevin Fox is a 55-year-old systems administrator in Northern California who started collecting in the days of laserdisc.
“I started getting into home theater and physical media back in the late ’80s, early ’90s when I first saw letterboxed laserdiscs that finally allowed me to see all of picture of the movies that VHS wasn’t showing me,” he wrote. “That was probably the biggest factor for me: seeing the movies I loved whenever I wanted, the way they were meant to be seen.
“I had a few hundred laserdiscs collected by the time DVD rolled around in ’96, but as soon as I saw the quality of that format and the improvements it brought over laserdisc, I went all in.”
Fox has amassed a collection of several hundred DVDs and eventually got rid of his laserdiscs when his player died.
“When the HD DVD/Blu-ray format war hit, I went with the loser, but was lucky in that I hadn’t yet invested heavily in a lot of HD DVD discs,” he wrote. “Ever since I’ve been building my collection further and once again replacing DVDs with Blu-rays.”
His collection includes 700 to 800 titles across a swath of film genres and television shows. He typically buys two to five titles per month, mostly catalog and deep catalog as newer films aren’t what he typically seeks.
“More and more these days I am replacing still more of my DVDs and also picking up a lot of special-edition titles from Shout! Factory/Scream Factory, Kino Lorber, Arrow Video, Criterion and other smaller companies that are bringing out classics that will never see HD release from the big studios,” he wrote. “And even though I don’t yet have a 4K TV or player, I have been picking up new discs on UHD rather than just Blu-ray in anticipation of moving to 4K in upcoming years.”
He purchases online, primarily from Amazon due to the convenience, selection, price and low shipping costs.
“I live in an area that isn’t well-serviced by brick-and-mortar due to it being rural and remote,” he wrote.
Despite the digital copy and streaming explosion, Fox still prefers physical media for several reasons:
“Any movie I own I can watch anytime I want without fear it’s been dropped from a streaming service.
“The visual quality of physical discs is superior to streaming, and doesn’t suffer from buffering issues or an Internet outage.
“So far, the amount of special features and the ease of accessing them is better on physical
media, though I see signs of the studios leveraging this to try and move people to digital by making certain features digital-only. This makes those small, specialty houses all the more important for their focus on making superior releases on physical media.
“I own the movies I buy, and I can’t suddenly have them stripped from me on a whim.
“There’s a more intangible part, where holding your own property in your own hands brings a feeling that streaming will never give you. It’s hard for me to quantify and explain, but part of it is that I have something that can be passed on to others over time, and my collection can tell my children something about me in a way they maybe aren’t expecting.”
He knows he may be fighting a losing battle against digital.
“I see the direction things are moving and am under no illusions that studios want to see physical media go the way of the dodo, and they will likely succeed in this,” he wrote.
He fears, however, it is limiting consumers’ experience of our film heritage.
“The vast majority of our film heritage will eventually never be seen by the majority of people,” he wrote. “Physical media ever since the days of VHS has allowed for people to experience a rich history of the medium that might never have experienced it.”
A World Record?
Don’t be surprised if Adam Malik shows up in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest home library of movies — if there will ever be such a category.
The 39-year-old resident of Winnipeg, Canada, is the proud owner of more than 23,000 movies across all physical media formats — from VHS to DVD, from Blu-ray Disc (more than 10,000) to 4K Ultra HD.
Malik, a tech support provider and property manager who once worked in a pawn shop, keeps his collection in his basement, on 34 shelves taking up around 300 square feet of floor space.
His movies are filed alphabetically — mixing formats and genres. “I find it a lot easier to find them that way,” he says. “And I think they look better that way as well.”
Malik continues to add to his collection each week on new-release date, and every month catalogs his new buys into a database. “In January I got 177, and in December I bought 274 movies,” he says.
He tries to watch a movie a day, “but sometimes family obligations get in the way — I think we all have that,” he says. On the weekends, though, he typically engages in movie marathons, sometimes with family but more often than alone.
“If we can find something to watch together, we’ll do that,” he says.
Malik says his favorite movie of all time is Jurassic Park. “I saw it when I was 13, and it left quite an impression,” he says. “But I have a lot of favorites — Seven Samurai, Gone With the Wind, JFK, A Streetcar Named Desire, Fight Club. It’s pretty eclectic, from Saving Private Ryan to Metropolis.”
Malik’s girlfriend subscribes to Netflix, “so occasionally we’ll watch that, but if the movie is available on disc I will watch it on Blu-ray. The picture quality is so much better, especially if there’s a 4K available, and streaming just isn’t reliable. Plus, they have a limited selection of movies, and you get no directors commentaries, deleted scenes or other extras — the stuff I really enjoy watching.”
Malik says he’s been collecting films for 25 years.
“It’s disappointing to see how little effort some studios put into their releases,” he says. “I can’t remember the last time a compilation boxed set came out that actually included all content previously released, along with new material.
“The recent Marvel boxed set was a real missed opportunity. I have every original release since Iron Man in 2008 — Blu-ray Disc, 3D and 4K, with their slipcovers — and my set is more comprehensive than theirs!”
TV DVD Forever
The TV DVD phenomenon peaked in the early 2000s, and at one point brought in some $4 billion a year in consumer spending. The catalyst, of course, was the advent of DVD, with its far greater capacity, and small size, than VHS.
A whole season of a popular TV series could be housed on just an inch of shelf space, instead of the entire shelf — and consumers began buying their favorite shows and binge-watching episodes, on demand.
Binge-watching has now migrated over to Netflix, but not for Brenden Stockwell, a 32-year-old resident of Bellingham, Wash., who sells movies and games on Amazon and eBay.
Stockwell never abandoned TV DVD, and today has a huge collection that consists of exactly 1,388 TV seasons on Blu-ray Disc and DVD. Most of his discs were bought season by season, as they were released — but he has “quite a few” complete-series boxed sets as well.
“I buy titles very frequently, usually a few every month — whenever a good deal shows up,” he says. “I watch them almost every day. I got into collecting because I enjoy watching TV shows over and over and I care strongly about having continued access without needing to rely on any studios or providers.
“I also feel it is important that everything remains available to everyone and that is only possible with physical media because the studios can’t take anything away or hinder redistribution via the used market.”
Stockwell’s five favorite series: “Arrested Development,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Futurama,” “30 Rock” and “Dexter.”
“And just in case anyone from the studios is reading this,” he says, “here are a few shows that have stopped having physical releases, that I’d love to see more of: ‘Jessica Jones,’ ‘Grace and Frankie,’ ‘Cougar Town,’ ‘Casual’ and ‘Halt and Catch Fire.’”
Stockwell stores his collection in a dedicated “library” room, in boxes that pull out like drawers. He typically upgrades a TV season when the Blu-ray Disc version comes out and then sells the DVD set.
The most recent series he’s watching is “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” a superhero TV series that debuted in January 2016 on the CW network. He’s currently in the middle of season four.
Unlike many disc diehards, Stockwell doesn’t subscribe to any streaming services, not even Netflix.
“I haven’t watched anything but discs for 12 years,” he says.
“All of my watching, of both movies and TV shows, is on physical media. I never stream or watch cable TV. I therefore buy every show that looks interesting and watch it for the first time on physical media.
“I also have over a thousand movies, but I’m more interested and passionate about TV shows. I am also more concerned about the future of TV shows on physical media so I feel it is very important to support them as much as possible.”
Film Noir Fanatic
“With my brains and your looks we could go places.”
Film noir is a term for stylish Hollywood crime dramas, generally from the 1940s and ’50s, with a low-key, black-and-white visual style with strong ties to German Expressionist
Matthew Cashdollar, a 46-year-old resident of Oakland, Calif., is a passionate collector of classic movies on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, with a special emphasis on film noir. He rattles off his list of favorites: 1949’s Criss Cross, a hardboiled crime drama starring Burt Lancaster as a man who seals his doom when he moves back to Los Angeles to find his ex-wife, played by Yvonne DeCarlo, who is now married to a mobster (Dan Duryea); Murder, My Sweet, from 1944, based on the novel Farewell, My Lovely, by famed hardboiled mystery writer Raymond Chandler; and 1956’s The Killing, directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Kubrick and Jim Thompson, the pulp fiction writer known for such crime stories as The Grifters and The Getaway, both also made into movies.
Cashdollar, who works as a project manager at an engineering firm, only has a few hundred movies, but they are carefully selected and generally available only from smaller niche DVD and Blu-ray Disc suppliers such as Shout! Factory, Kino Lorber, Criterion and Warner Archive. Appropriately enough, he keeps his cinematic treasures in custom-built cabinets in a room he refers to as “The Library.”
“I got into collecting from my love, my passion, for classic films from the Golden Age — from the 1930s to the early ’60s — especially film noir, mystery/suspense, drama and crime,” Cashdollar says. “At community college I took a film class and was introduced to Double Indemnity. I was hooked on the genre from there. It was a beautiful masterpiece of human desire and high art.”
Cashdollar says that during his formative years, his father always had the newest home video technology, “so I grew up with Betamax, laserdiscs, and then DVD. So I always had a bug for the best possible presentations. Classic films are becoming more and more just a niche, taking a back seat to current Hollywood fair. Streaming services have little to no classic films, so the only way to get these films is from boutique labels.”
Cashdollar says he’s so intent on buying the movies he loves that he will purchase discs “made in any region because rights issues sometimes hold up releases in North America.”
While it’s hard to find film noir on streaming services, watching the classic 3D movies from the early 1950s is downright impossible, Cashdollar says.
“On a projector or a passive flat-screen television these films shine,” he says. “Unfortunately, getting these films to Blu-ray is difficult, at best. There are usually only two to three films that make it out a year, with most coming from the efforts of the folks at 3D film Archive (www.3dfilmarchive.com). The way these early 3D films shine on a 4K television is simply breathtaking. I have all 18 of the Golden Age 3D feature films that have been released on disc, but that is still less than half of all the films that were created.”
Movies, Music and ‘Married With Children’
Andy Scott Marvel is a studio musician and songwriter in Holtsville, New York. But music is only one of his passions. The other: movies and TV shows.
Marvel’s got a grand total of 3,455 DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, neatly shelved in his basement by genre and, in many cases, performer. “I’ve got a Judy Garland section, a Jerry Lewis section, even a Hanna-Barbera section — I’ve got hundreds of those cartoons,” he says. “And I’ve got a whole wall of TV DVD, mostly complete series, maybe 1,000 of them — ‘Land of the Giants,’ ‘Married With Children,’ ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ ‘The X-Files,’ ‘Hazel,’ ‘The Honeymooners.’”
Marvel used to buy most of his discs at Best Buy, but lately he’s been finding better prices on Amazon.com. “I grab a lot of things when they lower them for two hours — I catch them that way,” he says.
Marvel recalls the arrival of DVD as a “revelation,” particularly for TV DVD. It didn’t take his collection long to balloon to more than 3,000 titles — a milestone he hit right about the time when Blu-ray Disc was launched in 2006.
Marvel began replacing DVDs with Blu-ray Discs — and unlike some collectors, he doesn’t bemoan the fact that he’s had to buy most of his movies a second time. “I’ve got five different versions of my favorite movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz, going back to VHS,” he says. “I’ve pretty much replaced everything by now — although I still pull movies out from time to time and say, ‘This is out on Blu-ray now, so I need to buy it again.’”
Marvel says he was an early fan of home video, intrigued at the concept of being able to rent movies and watch them when he wanted to. “If I could get back the gas money I spent traveling to Blockbuster each week, that would be great,” he says. “I was there all the time, renting whatever was popular that week.”
When laserdisc came out, Marvel says, he began buying movies, as well. “I would rent the movie and if I really loved it, I would get it on laserdisc, if it was out,” he says. “I started going to Tower Records, and before long I had about 1,000 discs.”
Marvel says he’s always planned to really enjoy his collection after he retires, but lately he’s not so sure. “I always say that, but I hope I have enough time left in my life because there are so many new series that I binge watch that I may never get the chance to go back,” he says.
Accordingly, Marvel says, the most recent program he watched was season two of Netflix’s “Lost in Space” remake.
The last discs he watched were the five seasons of the 1966-71 sitcom “That Girl,” and that was back in December.
Schooled in Physical Media
Ontario, Canada, resident James McKinlay, a 45-year-old university professor, researcher and manager, has a collection that numbers close to 2,500.
“I have never downloaded or streamed a release,” he wrote. “If it is not available for physical sale, I have no interest.
“I have never bought digital music or streamed digital music. I have never bought, downloaded or streamed a movie. In fact, all the books I buy are also physical books, nothing digital. It is how I am wired. I prefer the tactile element of media. Opening a recording album is a type of ritual. Watching a movie is the same. Going to the shelf, deciding what to what, pulling it out and putting it in the player. This is part of the process.”
He buys an average of five discs a month, mostly from Amazon.
“It is becoming harder and harder to find physical media,” he wrote. “I used to buy a lot at Best Buy Canada and before that Future Shop Canada, but Future Shop was bought by Best Buy and Best Buy no longer has physical media, at least not in Canada. We don’t have Target and only recently has Target USA started shipping to Canada.”
McKinlay has a DVD player that is open region and plays PAL, which allows him to buy out of region releases. He has a lot of U.K. and Asian releases that were not released in North America.
In addition to DVDs and Blu-rays, he’s also begun collecting 4K UHD releases.
“I occasionally will seek out Steelbooks (depends on the release), and I love Criterion releases,” he wrote. “I have plenty of TV shows on DVD as well.”
He began collecting with music.
“I have always preferred physical products,” he wrote. “My music collection is all cassettes, CDs and vinyl. The mentality of collecting physical media began with music because home video was not a thing then. Early VHS tapes were far too expensive. But as the 1980s progressed home video became a reality as the prices dropped. I started collected movies I really, really liked so that I could watch them over and over. At my peak, I probably had about 500 VHS movies. When the option of DVD became affordable, that is when things really took off. And to me, mathematically, it made sense. Sure, you can go to a movie and see it once, but if you bought a movie on DVD and that DVD was seen three times during its lifetime, it made its money back.”
McKinlay is so devoted to his favorite films that he collects multiple versions of them.
“My favorite all-time movies are Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner, so I have purchased every release of these since they started,” he wrote. “For example, I own 22 different releases of Blade Runner 2049 from around the world because there were a lot of unique releases, from a Steelbook in the U.K. to a different one in Germany to an Italian box with shot glasses to a French box with a replica blaster.”
Brian Dobbs is a 38-year-old Edgewater, Maryland, resident who handles web and multimedia for a non-profit scholarly journal.
He got into collecting movies by following in his dad’s footsteps.
“Dad was a big movie fan and musician, always surrounded by speakers, big sound, big picture, collected baseball cards and comics when I was younger,” he wrote. “The idea of watching and re-watching something has always been appealing. I used to record hours and hours of MTV and SNL to re-watch later. There was no Internet, Netflix or YouTube growing up, thus came the importance of having one’s own library.”
Dobbs started collecting on his around 1999. He usually saves all his purchases for Black Friday.
“I’ll purchase between 35 and 40 titles to watch over the course of the following year,” he wrote. “Full-price new titles are just too expensive. Occasionally, I buy a handful of titles throughout the year for special occasions like if I’m treating myself on my birthday or Father’s Day.”
He buys his discs at Best Buy, Amazon or Target, looking for big studio tentpoles, Dolby Atmos standouts, bargain bin titles he’s never bought before (Backdraft, Coneheads, for example, he bought recently), proven high-quality shows, the occasional Oscar winner, high-quality documentaries about the universe and nature, and titles suggested to him. He’s even starting to look for high frame rate titles.
“I make a list throughout the year, then execute on Black Friday,” he wrote.
He keeps his collection in the basement, “but only after they’ve been thoroughly watched, movie plus bonus features,” he wrote.
Disc beat streaming on both quality and accessibility, he wrote.
“I don’t have to worry about Internet connection, and thus streaming artifacts, buffering, under which service I can find a title,” he wrote.
Streaming services periodically remove titles, he noted, and they don’t always offer what he wants, such as Voyage of Time from Terrence Malick.
“I had to get the import version of that on Blu-ray because I missed it in the Imax theaters,” he wrote.
(Brian Dobbs is a member of Home Theater Forum and does a podcast for the website. Last year, he did a podcast about this subject.)