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Are DVDs the future? 

We’re coming out... in defence of DVDs...?

Do you ever miss the days of walking into a video rental store (rip Blockbuster), perusing the aisle for that perfect movie to watch after your tea, and renting it? Well, if so, you’re in luck! We may be about to witness the return of the DVD.

Last week, IndieWire confirmed that HBO Max had removed six Warner Bros films specifically made for HBO Max, and apparently, more cuts are on the horizon. Some of the most notable films removed from the streaming platform include Moonshot starring Cole Sprouse and Zach Braff, Superintelligence starring Melissa McCarthy, the 2020 remake of The Witches, An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen, Locked Down starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway, and Charm City Kings by Angel Manuel Soto.

Indiewire ominously reported that a “person with knowledge of the decision” informed them that the movies removed are part of a longer list of films and series being withdrawn from HBO Max and Discover+ as executives prepare to fold the two subscriber video-on-demand services into one. Apparently, the films and series being targeted for removal are the ones that aren’t performing well enough on the service.

Throughout Indiewire’s reporting of this debacle, they consistently refer to the vanishing films and series as ‘content’, which itself is a sign of the times. Today, when most people think of the term ‘content’ they think of influencers; the word is usually employed with a sense of judgement or derision, and even influencers themselves often express resentment at being called ‘content creators’. But why has this term infiltrated the film and TV worlds?

Legendary film director Martin Scorsese has spoken of his belief that “the art of cinema is being systematically devalued and reduced to ‘content’”, because cinema is now purely seen as a business. In his 2021 essay for Harper’s Magazine, he wrote: “The term ‘content’ has gradually become used more and more by the people who took over media companies, most of whom knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think they should. ‘Content’ became a business term for all moving images.” The contentification of film and TV is one of the main reasons streaming services find it so easy to remove, delete and erase these pieces of media without any thought or consideration.

Streaming services like HBO Max do not curate their services to inspire or move their audiences; everything is based on what performs; what makes money and keeps their companies afloat. No matter how much we cry and scream about the removal of our favourite shows and films, the algorithm trumps all. Algorithms, by description, are founded on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else. Your feelings and connections to these pieces of art are secondary. It’s just a numbers game.

So, where do we go from here? While streaming sites like Netflix, Disney+ and HBO continue to increase their prices, fire their marginalised staff and erase the content we love, what do we as unsatisfied consumers do? Well, many people on Twitter are advising us to turn to the past.

First released in late 1996, DVDs only enjoyed a fairly short-lived reign, dying a young and very brutal death in the early 2000s. First, Netflix significantly changed the business model for home movie viewing, charging monthly subscription fees for unlimited rentals rather than per movie. It then became an online streaming subscription, and laptops and PCs stopped having DVD drives. Poor little DVDs never stood a chance.

But now, DVDs (and illegal streaming services, lol) might be our only saving grace. Though it’s said that things on the internet last forever, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t the case. But DVDs, on the other hand, are reliable, lasting up to 30 years, depending on the type of environment they are stored in and how careful you are about not scratching them. They also don’t require any use of the internet, so if your internet is down or you don’t have WiFi, you can still watch your favourite films and series. The assurance that you will always have access to your favourite piece of media is simply higher with a DVD than with any streaming service.

With everything in the UK getting more costly, one of the best things about the demise of the DVD industry is how inexpensive they are now. Most local charity shops have a buy one, get one free deal with DVDs, and you can also get whole TV series from second-hand electronics stores like CEX for highly discounted prices along with DVD players, making them a smart, cost-efficient choice – especially in this economy.

Additionally, like vinyls, DVDs hold an aesthetic quality. The vintage technology can offer a more personal and nostalgic movie-watching experience, from the cover artwork to sleek discs. There’s something special about physically holding a piece of media you love, which can significantly add to your movie-watching experience. There’s also something fun about going to someone’s house and perusing their DVD collection. Not only does it teach you so much about that person, you also get to pass ruthless judgement on their taste in movies. You can also share the DVDs you love with your friends and family and come back together to discuss them.

The general urge to return things like vinyls, physical books and now DVDs can be seen as our longing for the past. Writer Rob Horning describes this commeralised nostalgia as a yearning for the “pre-capitalistic, pre-massified and pre-globalised world.” We long for the world we knew as children, when things felt romantically real and uncomplicated.

So with all this in mind, it might be time to revert back to life’s simple pleasures and embrace the DVD renaissance.