The death of DVD comes one step closer to Australia

The death of the DVD – and the physical reality of holding a film in your hand – has come one step closer.

Wheeler Winston Dixon has just published his “Flow” article entitled “Some Notes on Streaming”, in which he writes that:

After killing off all the brick and mortar stores for DVDs, CDs and books, Amazon and Netflix seem poised to do away with all vestiges of the real, and enter the digital-only domain.

He expressed particular concern that:

Those of us who love the medium of film, it’s rather alarming to realize that, in effect, vast sections of film history will now simply cease to exist for the viewer. Adventurous and difficult films will now find it that much harder to find an audience, and mainstream product will dominate the marketplace that much more.

By contrast, Cynthia Meyers, in her comment writes in response to his article that:

You might want to read Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail” or check out Mike Masnick at the Techdirt blog for alternative perspectives on the effects of digital networking on access to cultural goods. I’m surprised that in 2011 the sky is still falling for some folks (e.g., classic films will “cease to exist”). Once an artifact is digitized, the costs of distributing by networking are lower than putting it on a plastic disc and sending it through the mail. Streaming costs are diving. Netflix (and Amazon) have been pursuing the long tail strategy for years–that is the opposite of “top ten” or blockbuster strategy. The long tail is about exploiting the value of niche goods–goods that small audiences are interested in. Classic films have just as much a chance to find audiences today, if not more so. Their licensing costs are far lower, by the way, than more recent Hollywood fare.

What Wheeler is (in part) responding to is the November 2010 announcement by Netflix that it had introduced its first “streaming only” plan and had raised the price of its DVD plans.

Big debates, but all accept that the DVD is a struggling medium.  Australia has not gone online to nearly the same extent as the USA in terms of streaming films – as most of the American streaming is not available in Australia, and our market is simply too small to produce too many of its own.

Screen Australia reports (from data compiled by GfK Retail and Technology Australia) that 2009 was the first year in Australia that the sale of DVDs actually went down since the format was first introduced in that (this) country in 1999.  The drop from 2008 to 2009 was 4% (70.6 million to 67.7 million, as well as a $ value drop of 2%).  The only thing that kept “video” unit sales slightly increasing was the sale of Blu-Ray disks: .7 milli0n to 1.7 million units and a $ increase from 2008 to 2009 of $26.0 million to $59.3 million.

The same conclusion can be drawn from a more up to date and different set of figures, provided by the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association: the $ amount of “all formats combined” (DVD, BLU RAY, HD, UMD & VHS) dropped 6% – from $1,377,211,497 in 2009 to $1,288,432,622 in 2010.  The “net units” dropped even more – 13% – from 87,765,882 units in 2009 to 76,148,013 units in 2010.

Okay, the DVD is not dead yet (that’s a whole lot of units still), but it sure is fading (a declining market is not exactly what the sellers want to see).  How soon until we are all online and how big will our hard disks be to absorb all of this – or how big will our “pipes” be to carry of all this?  National Broadband Network, anyone?

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