Editorials,  Movies/Entertainment

So What Will the Future of Home Media Look Like?

The inspiration for this post comes from Dan with his great post on The Grim Future of Video Rental Stores. Check it out, it’s a great read!

But his post got me thinking: If people continually stop going “out to get a rental“, or even purchase the film outright, what will happen to all present and future media, especially when the time comes for a new format war? Dan further asked a damn good question which was “will there be a need for a new format ten years from now?“. My answer is yes, and as a film fan I will take a guess at what the future of Home Media will look like…or one I’d be comfortable with anyway.

Sorry “Champ”, your days might be numbered…

With any media, the ability to store content is one of the deciding factors in its acceptance and resulting mainstay. It is true that BRD’s (vastly superior to DVDs) can hold a staggering 50GB but the more and more content/special features seem to be attractive yet intimidating. While I love Gladiator, I don’t really have a day and a half to invest and take it all in. The drawback to the new winner of the format war is that not very many films will use all that space. Sure it’ll be necessary for films like the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future trilogies, but how much extra content do you really need for a title like Sleepless in Seattle anyway? So there are a great many titles that are making the jump to Blu Ray but is really overkill.

Blu Ray is an amazing technological leap to the future of home media, there’s no two ways about that. Yet the way I see it is that it is more of an improvement to a familiar system rather than a revolution. A revolution would adapt and cater to the way people live and use media. Technology is so abundant and that causes people to be more and more impatient. Since streaming content has picked up so much steam and favorable opinion, it looks to be so much closer to leading the marketplace in the years ahead. However as streaming has its advantages, there are still plenty of people not content to simply go “one way” with their media. Media should be dynamic and diverse…even if there is championing and campaigning for one format.

Think of it this way: You walk up to any person who has a physical collection of media (DVD/BRD, CD, Video Games) and ask them would they trade their copies in for a purely digital version of their library. It can be accessed anytime anywhere and from any device (portable or not) and they have unlimited access. While this does sound incredibly intriguing (even to my self shockingly) I bet a higher than expected number would resist or flat out decline the offer. The reason there being “tangibility”. I am a HUGE fan of Netflix and their Instant feature but I would be hard pressed to  giving up my physical (and tenaciously acquired) library for a digital one. I mean, whats the point of owning every title in the world if you can’t actually grasp it?

And in this corner, the online challenger…

So while a purely streaming content based media (to me anyway) seems to stand in the way of people’s historically prone desire to own and posses tangible products would keep it from solely winning any future format war. So I started brainstorming about the future, the only thing I’ve thought to replace Blu Rays might be smaller discs (as joked about in Men in Black) or possibly some sort of preloaded (or refillable) flash drive that can be filled from something like Redbox or your computer via Amazon. The rentals will basically erase themselves like iTunes rentals and the ones you purchase are the ones you get to keep. You can then use it on your computer, your home Blu Ray player or whatever device can take a USB drive, making it very versatile.

Possible replacements in the future???

However, as attractive as these ideas might be, I also realize the drawbacks. Not long ago UMD movies were on retail shelves, but the small discs have not had staying power as evidenced by poor sales of UMDs on the PSP. So I bet that no manufacturer will want to go down that road again. As far as preloaded flash drives go, they are convenient but their size would lean to a higher tendency for them to be either lost or stolen. Also, if they are preloaded and read only with one title (and their special features) are people really going to want a library of USBs? The would end up being no sexier than cartridges for the NES…plus how do you store them? line up like dominos or on a giant USB key ring?

On the other hand I kind of like the idea of loading them yourself through an online or physical retailer. If you can buy an Ipod at an airport vending machine, how much of a stretch is it to imagine you could rent (like iTunes) or buy a title electronically and load it to your USB flash drive? But like my argument above, with the abundance of streaming media, you can cut out the middle man completely and get content right to your device via the also abundant WiFi connections.

Gone the way of the Dinosaur…

Technology (as it has been in the past) needs to be slick, attractive and enviable. BRDs are the hot technology and as the current standard for personal entertainment I think that’s where they’ll stay (unless they come up with something like Super HD at 2160p). But with humans being such a mobile species, everything now is quicker, faster and portable and we want our stuff work everywhere. From cellphones, to Ipods to Instant streaming of various content to portable devices, immediate gratification is almost expected as we are getting increasingly impatient. Due to that mentality, a large majority of physical and tangible products may become outmoded and archaic relics, no matter how slick, attractive enviable (even affordable) it may become.

No matter how abundant streaming is now and will become in the future, I bet people will still want something they can put their hands on. I predict that no “one format” will solely prevail but the exact percentage of how both will saturate and divide the public marketplace remains to be seen. It’ll be interesting I can tell you that much.

How about you at home (or anyone reading this on the go)? What do you imagine will the media of the future? Is it portable and steam oriented or home-based? Also, does anyone think we’ve peaked at Blu Ray?


  • Castor

    10 years from now, I think there will be no need to own a physical copy of a movie. Everything will be available online from where you can get it and download it into your TIVO/DVR box. Think Pay-per-view but without having to pay only the first time to “own” a movie. DVD/BRD will still be around but will slowly be phased out as more people get to enjoy digital online media.

    • Marc

      We’re already pretty much at the “everything online” level with CDs so it is a glimpse into the future of other media.

      But while I agree there won’t be a need to own a physical copy, there’ll still be a “want”. Streaming and On-Demand will be so ingrained in our culture by then however, as collectors go (and even the casual fans), people will still want a tangible commodity. I think a “purely” online stream of media will be a lot further out than 10 years…although the way technology is advancing it may happen sooner. But it’s still a paradigm change and that doesn’t happen overnight.

      • Castor

        You are right. There will always be people collecting but from a mainstream point of view, it will be a point of no return. I personally haven’t bought a DVD in the last 3 years. I sometime buy pay-per-view and just record those films on my TIVO. I expect something similar to be the (legal) way of the next decade.

        • Marc

          Again, iTunes is starting what might become the standard for rentals and purchases…all without leaving your home or taking up any more space than megabytes on your harddrive. Just like cell phones replaced the land line phone, I understand how even the current mighty Blu Ray will fall sooner than we’d thought possible. That’s why I’m not replacing my library (man, I’m so glad BR technology is backward compatible!!) I’m nearly complete with my collection. Only things I buy now are a select few Blu Ray upgrades of previous DVD titles and anything that impresses me in the theater which I find desirable to own in the future.

  • Heather

    Some of this is already evolving. I have movies and tv shows downloaded on my applebox that’s hooked up to my tv and I can watch them anytime I want. Home based is already happening.

    The scandisk thing is pretty bonkers. In fact the whole idea is. I remember when we changed from VHS to DVD. I still have VHS that I keep for nostalgia reasons only.

    I have problems with change and technology though!

    Very interesting post Marc!

    • Marc

      Thanks Heather! I agree that home based is the way of the future and I’d prefer it but only to an extent.

      I still can’t believe how some theatrical movies are hitting the home front a whole month before they are ever released in the theaters. Not sure I’ll ever give up my library but the idea of it all to be Instant or On-Demand is appealing. Still, I highly value the physical nature of any entertainment content. I guess I too have problems with change and technology:P

  • Steve

    As a compulsive collector that’s suddenly got a bunch of more “grown up” things to spend my money on, I’m pretty heavily invested in the idea of bluray and DVD holding off obsolescence for as long as possible. I guess I’m holding out for a complete revolution on the format change, one that leaves what we’ve got in place and also brings a new option to the table.

    Maybe movies on a chip fastened to something the size of a credit card. You could keep ’em in a rolodex. To be honest, I’m loving the concept of digital copy to complement the disc. I’ve always got a movie with me in my iPod wherever I go – right now it’s Sherlock Holmes.

    Whatever the case, companies have never had a problem overpackaging their merchandise. So even if the media is ultra-tiny, the case that holds it could still be DVD sized.

    • Marc

      Yeah the credit card system you write about has merit I think. Just go up to your TV and swipe or insert (like getting into your hotel room) or touch it to a sensor etc. All might be cool.
      Or I like the idea of tiny media in a large and standard sized case. Hell DVD (even VHS) boxes are similar to how much space books consumed on a shelf. And books have been around way longer than CDs and they’re still being printed:P I just can’t imagine a purely streaming/digital society.

      • Steve

        A purely streaming/digital society always leaves me the impression of someone locking their keys in the car.

        • Marc

          Good call (and nice imagery), though I like what Meredith said about someone sneezing and wiping out everything by accident.. Imagine that – all the world’s servers are gone and all that left are physical discs. Who’s laughing now:)

        • Baron

          Hell, no. We haven’t peaked at Blu-ray. Tons of other optical formats are under development, right now! :I

          Anyway, I’ll never support DD, unless I got no other choice. I will always prefer having something tangible over files and codes.

          DD will obviously be the mainstream in the future (5-15 years from now?), but I think optical media is here to stay for a looong time.

  • mcarteratthemovies

    I used to consider myself a Luddite (the only 28-year-old Luddite I know), but even I must admit there are certain benefits to all these technological advances. I love that I can stream Netflix movies, or watch them on my phone, but I’m with Marc on the issue of “tangibility” — I’m not giving up my DVD collection for nobody no-how! I like having the case and the DVD; I like having CDs and liner notes.

    Plus, there’s a teeny part of me that’s convinced someday someone will sneeze and crash the whole Internet, or create a virus that eats everything, and all that digital stuff will be lost.

    OK, so I have a few issues.

    • Marc

      I’m with you there Mer. One intern running across the server room floor, kicks out the power cord and WHAMO, no more News Radio streamed to my house:(

      Since I get a kick out of collecting, I’ll want tangible goods no matter how cool any digital streaming media will become. But when that happens I’ll probably be just like my grandma standing around asking my dad what to do with my old VHS library “So I can’t play my recorded tapes of Murder She Wrote on this new, what to you call it BVD? Like the underwear??”…”No Mom, not like the underwear”

  • Dreher Bear (...Where The Buffalo Roam)

    Awesome write-up and I feel honored that you were inspired by me to write this piece :). I feel both sides have strong arguments on what will happen in the future. It’s definitely going to be interesting how everything plays out. One thing that I thought of after my piece is the distributors (wal-mart, suncoast, etc) thoughts on digital distribution. If physical formats begin to fade out, a big portion of their business will be non-existent. Right now, these distributors have a lot of influences and I’m sure they will try and keep it alive in some form.

    • Marc

      Yeah there’s always going to be a physical product and the chain of distributors that markets them. Even if titles disappear from shelves, they’ll still have other physical elements like TV’s players and speakers etc, so it’s not like the entire AV section of a department store will vanish…it’ll just get a little smaller.

      But there’s the idea that it’s tough to sell merchandise that doesn’t physically exist. In the future, what would line the shelves might nothing but gift cards/vouchers. Fill up a card and take it home and activate all the streaming content. But then again, take out the middle man and go straight to home based on-line purchases. It’s fun to be a futurist and chaos theorist:P