First the vinyl revival, now DVDs? Why physical media is making a comeback (2024)


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By Garry Maddox



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Ever since he skipped rugby training at his Irish high school to go to the cinema, Leslie Haworth has loved movies.

But as most people’s home viewing habits switched to streaming services, the photographer from Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs kept buying DVDs. He shopped for ex-rental copies when DVD stores closed down, scoured op shops and snapped up hard-to-find titles online, both locally and overseas.

First the vinyl revival, now DVDs? Why physical media is making a comeback (1)

Haworth reckons he has 4500 DVDs, Blu-rays and higher quality 4K Ultra High Definition discs filed alphabetically in custom-built floor-to-ceiling shelves in his apartment, easily reachable with a library-style ladder. (The only exception to his meticulous filing is that classics from the Criterion Collection are ordered by spine number.)

“A lot of them are not on streaming services,” he says. “In Australia, we get the raw end of the deal as far as a lot of licensing agreements go.”

Haworth agrees with the theory that owning a physical copy of a film, a TV series or even a vinyl record is a deeper emotional connection to the content than just watching or listening on a streaming service. Music lovers have been showing this for years, driving a strong resurgence in vinyl sales.


But there is another attraction to owning a physical copy of a favourite film.


Haworth avoids what’s been dubbed “streaming anxiety” - the fear of losing movies, TV shows and music you’ve bought that are stored in the cloud.


“There are certain movies that it brings me some level of comfort knowing that I have it,” he says. “But with licensing agreements being what they are, the idea that something could be lost to time worries me.”

Whenever there is a report about someone’s expensive collection being wiped out by a change of format or the end of a rights deal, it adds to streaming anxiety.

This month, it was Telstra TV Box Office customers being told they would lose access to films and TV shows they have bought when it shuts down next month unless they switch to another service, Fetch.

After the success of Oppenheimer in cinemas, director Christopher Nolan had a playful dig at this sense of impermanence when he urged fans to buy a physical copy rather than waiting for it to stream, saying: “We put a lot of care and attention into the Blu-ray version [which you can] put on a shelf so no evil streaming service can come steal it from you”.

The executive director of the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association, Chris Chard, says that while DVD sales are nowhere near spending on streaming services, there has been a surge in the popularity of 4K versions.

“People enjoy the ‘I’ve got it, I can see it, it’s sitting in my collection, it’s not in the cloud, there’s no mystery around it’,” he says. “The standout has been Oppenheimer, where Chris Nolan spent a lot of time preparing the film for its 4K physical release. He really wanted to make sure it was as close as it could possibly be to the cinematic experience.”

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Chard says 4K releases have led to a rise in what the industry calls back catalogue - classics and fan favourites from past years such as The Departed, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Lawrence of Arabia, The Guns of Navarone and The Bridge On The River Kwai.

Even though there are signs of a boost in physical media sales, the rise of streaming services and websites that rent and sell digital movies has seen Australian spending on DVD and Blu-ray fall from more than $800 million in 2016 to just $111 million last year.

Even JB Hi-Fi, the dominant retailer now that the likes of Big W, Target and Kmart have scaled back, has reported that combined movies, music and games software accounted for just 4.2 per cent of total sales in the first six months of this financial year – down from 16.1 per cent in 2014-15.

Haworth, who watches an average of 220 films a year, is so keen on physical copies that he needs a battery of machines to play overseas and superseded formats.

“I’ve got a multi-regional Blu-ray player which will handle any Blu-ray,” he says. “Then I’ve got a 4K Blu-ray player; luckily 4K Blu-rays are not region coded ...

“Then I’ve got a VCR, for stuff that never made it off VHS, that will also play US tapes. I’ve got a laser disc player for those random times when I can find something that’s on laser disc. And we’ve got a rooftop cinema set-up so we can watch things up there as well.”

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.



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