The first DVD I ever bought was The Matrix. It was a previously viewed copy found at my local Blockbuster Video for about $10. Five years later, I was a university student and my home video collection took up two of the four walls in my room. My friends and I would often exchange DVDs as a way of discovering new titles from each other. Once I spent close to $400 worth of DVDs in Tower Records (am I showing my age yet?). I love collecting movies as much as I love watching them.
One of the main reasons I collect home videos is the bonus content. Commentaries, making-of documentaries, and interviews with the cast, crew, or original creator were as exciting to me as the films themselves. My all-time favourite DVD is the 3-disc Special Edition of David Fincher’s Panic Room, which took you through the entire filmmaking journey: concept, pre-production, production, post-production, and marketing strategy. This DVD was how I learned how to make a film.
There’s no doubt that the various platforms of YouTube, Video On Demand, and subscription based streaming have enjoyed rapid growth in the past four years while the home video market isn’t thriving like it once did. It’s not a horrible thing. Digital home viewing platforms are convenient, low cost, and can potentially rival any theatre-going experience if you have the right projection screen coupled with surround sound.
Since 2014, my Blu-Ray buying has steadily decreased to maybe two purchases a year. I’ve noticed a trend by most major studios to hastily patch together their Blu-Ray releases and dump them into stores void of any extra features or interesting cover designs. Perhaps this could be a their way of cutting costs, but if I’m going to spend $24 on a Blu-Ray that just has the movie, I might as well instead spend $4 on renting the movie on YouTube or finding it on one of the platforms to which I subscribe.
There’s an opportunity here for streaming platforms like Netflix to capitalize on the demands for cinephiles like myself. Many of us are still willing to spend money on physical media as long as there’s value in it. So far, the streaming giant has occasionally put a few of their original series’ on video (absent of bonus content), like House of Cards, Stranger Things, or Daredevil. However, no original film has been released on a physical media platform to date.
I understand why this could be the case. Collector’s Edition Blu-Rays are costly because Netflix would have to spend extra money on hiring people to work on bonus features as well as acquiring behind the scenes footage and scheduling interviews with cast and crew members. Furthermore, the question of whether consumers would subscribe to the network if they can get the physical media still exists without a research-based answer. However, neither of these reasons seem at least to me to make much logical or even economical sense.
For one, Netflix’s 2018 net income was reported by MarketWatch to be at $1.21 billion, an astonishing four year growth from $266.8 million in 2014. They also have a ridiculous amount of original content, releasing 37 Netflix exclusives in 2018 alone, more than any major Hollywood studio. Furthermore, for every Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, or Quentin Tarantino that criticizes the platform as inferior to theatrical exhibition, unworthy of Oscar recognition, or lacking in quality, there’s a Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuaron, Paul Greengrass, Jeremy Saulnier, Bong Joon-ho, Noah Baumbach, Timo Tjahjanto, or Coen Brother who embrace the service’s possibilities for creative control and mass distribution. In other words, Netflix has the money, the user base, and the filmmaking talent to resurrect home video collecting to where it was fifteen years ago.
Companies like The Criterion Collection and Arrow Films have been extremely popular among cinephiles and Blu-Ray collectors. These companies restore films in pristine 4K quality, packaged with hoards of extras, brand new cover art, and even a booklet that contains essays written specifically for this video release. Arrow’s library is over 700 titles strong and The Criterion Collection has 18 releases scheduled for the next three months.
While the general public may be unaware of these companies, Netflix could certainly pioneer a “Premium Collection” of their own and market them to their 137 million subscribers. I’ve rarely bought a film on Blu-Ray or DVD that I haven’t previously seen because owning a hard copy of a film means that I established a special connection with said film, which would then inspire multiple viewings and deeper, personal reflection. I would argue that the majority of audiences share this same sentiment and thus, I can’t see how the production of physical media would significantly contribute to any potential decrease in Netflix’s monthly subscriptions.
If anything, the production of physical media in a “Collector’s Edition” format could only help Netflix’s image in the cinema landscape. Netflix’s critics are loud. A recent statement by AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas stated that all of 2019’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees will be theatrically exhibited with the exception of Netflix original Roma. Their argument is that Netflix did not adhere to the 90-day theatrical release window, which is a tradition that films will run in theatres for 90 days before being released in a home video or on-demand format. Cannes has simply banned Netflix films from its film festival, stating that putting a movie online first is an immediate threat to theatrical exhibition.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has vocally criticized the theatre industry as well, and even though it is slowly starting to adhere to the established rules to garner awards for specific films, the platform is still largely committed to day-and-date releases for the majority of its content. However, “Collector’s Edition” home media releases could earn the company praise among the cinema community. Netflix may not be committed to theatrical release, but it could show that it is committed to curating and preserving films that they feel make important contributions to cinema as a whole. That commitment may also inspire the other streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime to follow in similar footsteps.
Every selection on Netflix is currently little more than a collection of 1s and 0s. It could be there one minute and gone the next. While Netflix originals create a sense of reliability that those titles will remain on the platform indefinitely, audiences are still at the mercy of the service, their internet connections, and Netflix’s ability to retain a distribution license. If Netflix were to suddenly disappear, we would instantly lose Beasts Of No Nation, Roma, Okja, Gerald’s Game, Wheelman, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and The Other Side of the Wind, all films I argue deserve a permanent place in my video collection. Without a physical copy that I can see, hold, touch, and revisit whenever I want, I can only have a temporary personal connection to the film. In other words, I’m willing to give you money, Netflix. Sell me a Blu-Ray.