For quite some time now we’ve been hearing—or rather we’ve been told—that physical media is dying. People don’t want to buy and own actual music or movie discs any longer. Discs are passé and have outlived their cool and now all just waiting to take their reserved slots in the landfills, next to thousand-year-plastic-bags, disposable diapers, and unearthed copies of Atari E.T. cartridges.
What people really want is to stream content, where they don’t need to be weighed down and tied to plastic discs. Just give them a few million bits and bytes of data—never mind all the quality lopped off the top during compression to conserve space—that they can take anywhere or view/hear on-demand at any time.
Yep. That’s what people want.
But physical media seems to have the incredible, third-act staying power of a Rocky movie. Sure, it’s going to get beat to hell over 14 rounds, dragged about and battered in the mainstream, but at the end of the day, it’s gonna dig deep and manage one friggin’ hell of a left hook to come out on top right before the end credits start to roll.
And just as with the recent resurgence in vinyl, people time and again show that when it comes to something they truly love and want to consume—visually or aurally—over and over again, they turn to the physical medium for ownership.
For example, late last year, Adele’s third album, 25, became the fastest selling album of all-time, moving 3.38 million discs in its first week, becoming the first album to ever sell more than 3 million copies in a week, and only the second to break the 2-million mark.
And for a more recent example, we have the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Even though the movie was available for purchase as a digital download nearly a week prior to its physical media release—and typically at a lower price—this didn’t stop fans from waiting for the disc. And when it finally released on April 5, they bought with a force that would have done Yoda proud. In fact, so many people purchased The Force Awakens on Blu-ray, that weekly sales of the HD format surpassed DVD sales for the first time ever.
Yeah, physical media is dead. Totally.
During the week of April 3-9, Blu-ray sales accounted for 59 percent of packaged media revenue. And according to NPD Group data, 83 percent of people buying TFA purchased the Blu-ray version. The disc was so strong-with-Force that it outsold the other 19 titles in the NPD top 20 combined by a margin of 5 to 1, moving a blistering 1.189 million copies in its first seven days of sale. Also keep in mind that TFA wasn’t available for the first two of those days.
Not only that, but TFA awakened the desire in fans to add other Star Wars discs to their collections, launching both the original trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI in Star Wars speak) and prequel trilogy (I, II, and III) back into the top 20, and making them the number four and five best-selling Blu-rays of the week.
And this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, as TFA also became the United Kingdom’s fastest-selling Blu-ray in history, selling more than 530,000 discs in its first week with a combined 1.2 million Blu-ray and DVDs sold.
And this is despite the fact that we all know that this was just the first “soft” release of this title. It didn’t include a (pricier) 3D version, come replete with the vault of extras, feature 4K resolution or HDR, or include the Dolby Atmos soundtrack despite the fact that co-producer Ben Rosenblatt commented, “I really can’t imagine hearing the film in anything but [Atmos]. John Williams believes that that format really captures the orchestra, and I couldn’t agree more, and JJ [Abrams] feels the same way.” But if buying Star Wars films has told us anything over the years, it’s that there will always be a next, “must have” version…
Of course, this is a Star Wars movie and (arguably) the best one we’ve had in more than 30 years, so it was bound to sell a lot of titles.
But combined with this specific phenomenon, we’ve also witnessed the public’s ravenous interest in Samsung’s new Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Launching at sub-$400, demand for this player has far outstripped its supply. (I have had four players on order for our store for almost two months.) Sure, it remains one of the few ways to feed true 4K content to all of those millions of UHD sets, but it also shows that physical media still has a bit of fight left in it.
Doubtless, we are moving ever closer to a disc-less world; but for now, the disc remains the ultimate source for the best viewing experience. So maybe it’s less a case of people no longer wanting to purchase physical media, and more a case of them only wanting to spring for the good stuff.