Physical Media ain't dead yet...

Discussion in 'General' started by baggio, Dec 13, 2018.

  1. baggio

    baggio Well-Known Member

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    Interesting read on the state of Blu-ray with consumers.(collectors) Like how Vinegar Syndrome getting highlighted too.

    https://www.wired.com/story/blu-ray-resurgence-collectors/


    Wired:

    "Late last month, while most Black Friday shoppers were looking for deals on high-definition televisions or new computers, Zach Killebrew was searching for Ingmar Bergman. Killebrew, a 24-year-old software developer, is the creator and moderator of Boutique Blu-Ray, a subreddit for obsessive collectors of high-end (and often pricey) movies. They’re the sort of fans who post photos of their latest Blu-ray scores, document their growing collections, and eagerly share updates on new “boutique” releases, which range from obscure ’80s horror flicks like Maniac to the 30-disc Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema collection.

    It was that hefty Bergman box (which lists for nearly $300) that had Killebrew up late the night before its release scouring websites, calling local stores, and even contemplating driving to a mall about an hour away from his home in Smithton, Illinois, just to secure his copy. He eventually landed one right before the collection’s first printing sold out.

    For dedicated Blu-ray hunters, such victories are hard-won. To most others, though, the notion of agonizing over physical media in 2018 is completely baffling. “My friends are always are always kind of puzzled when I say, ‘I went Blu-ray shopping,’” says Killebrew. “They usually say, ‘Why don’t you stream it?’”

    Within the small but thriving community of Blu-ray enthusiasts, the answers to that question tend to vary. Some are drawn to Blu-ray because of the unsatisfying video quality of streaming films; for others, it’s the sheer joy of tactile pop-culture paraphernalia, as some small-label discs come with elaborate packaging and hours of extras. “Customers want to see these movies on their shelves,” says Jesse Nelson, owner of Diabolik, an online store that’s been trafficking in rare and specialty movies since 2003. “They want to post pictures of them on Instagram sorted by director or label: ‘Look at all these great titles I have.’”

    But one of the main driving forces behind the Blu-ray renaissance is the simple fact that the mainstreamers—which include everyone from Netflix to Amazon Prime to Apple—all have sizable gaps in their movie libraries. Those limitations have become painfully clear in the last year, as some film lovers looked around and noticed that many of their favorite movies, whether vintage releases or even semi-recent blockbusters like True Lies, were nearly impossible to find in digital form.

    That point was reinforced by the sudden closure of the ambitious and well-curated FilmStruck, which featured Warner Bros. classics and arthouse flicks from Criterion Collection. FilmStruck’s demise made clear just how ephemeral streaming is: If your favorites aren’t on your shelves, there’s a chance they could disappear on short notice. “There are movies that I want to watch, or share with others, and increasingly they’re not there when I try to find them on Amazon Prime or Hulu,” says Killebrew. “Having a physical copy is my back-up.”

    Killebrew’s video collection, which he estimates includes about 300 titles, features everything from arthouse entries to more out-there genre films—evidence of just how expansive the so-called “boutique Blu-ray” market has become. Its biggest players include outfits like Scream Factory, which focuses on classic and next-wave horror; the decades-spanning Kino Lorber, which has released everything from a six-disc box set on early female filmmakers to vintage dumb-fun Burt Reynolds flicks; and Twilight Time, which specializes in out-of-print studio entries, such as Robert Redford’s ace 1972 heist film The Hot Rock.

    Then there’s Vinegar Syndrome, a Connecticut-based supplier of impossibly hard-to-find (and sometimes hard to describe) cult films. The company has become a bit of a cult fixation in itself: Its annual Black Friday sales are so popular that its eight-person staff actually shuts down its website for days beforehand, in order to prepare for customers looking for deals on movies like the evil-clown romp Blood Harvest and the 1989 Brad Pitt slasher flick Cutting Class (or, perhaps, some of the label's restored adult-film titles from the ’70s and ’80s). Many of Vinegar Syndrome's titles are low-budget genre horror, sci-fi, and sleaze flicks from the grindhouse and VHS eras, and were in danger of being lost or forgotten altogether.

    “We're a film-first company,” says cofounder Ryan Emerson, who became interested in archival film work in the early ’00s. “We think of ourselves not as historians, because that would be a little weird, but as preservationists. When we look at a film, we say, ‘Would this stand a chance of coming out on Blu-ray if Vinegar Syndrome didn’t exist?’ And if the answer is no, we'll dive right in. We want to make sure these films maintain an audience, if not build one.”

    Vinegar Syndrome, which operates its own scanning and restoration facilities, has digitally archived nearly 500 titles since launching in 2012. Its catalog includes seminal midnight movies such as the 1982 downtown-sci-fi epic Liquid Sky, as well as outré oddities like the wonderfully out-there 1978 nature-thriller The Bees. The latter is the kind of film that most fans likely never expected to find on Blu-ray, much less one that was digitally scanned from an original 35mm negative. “We get that lot: People saying they can’t believe that we’re doing these films,” Emerson says. “They also can’t believe that they’re actually selling.”

    The company recently shipped its 100,000th order, driven in part by the annual Black Friday sale. (Emerson says that the event, which also includes the unveiling of surprise new releases, is so crucial to Vinegar Syndrome that staffers are already planning next year’s holiday.) Some of its customers engage in “blind buying”–essentially picking up a movie without having seen it, based solely on its title, its reputation, or a sense of curiosity. It’s a practice that captures the thrill of the hunt for collectors.

    But it also speaks to a key facets of boutique Blu-ray culture: The sense that these films—no matter small or forgotten—are worth keeping alive, and within the conversation, at a time when streaming services are pushing a smaller, far more mainstream movie canon. Diabolik’s Nelson, a cult-film connoisseur, notes that the recent Blu-ray of Maniac, released by Blue Underground, has been a favorite among customers–including himself. “It’s a notorious movie,” he says of the famously gnarly 1980 flick, “but for some reason, I’d never watched it. I needed to have that in my collection.” It's a sentiment to which countless movie maniacs could no doubt relate."
     
  2. X-human

    X-human I ate my keys

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    Wow... Zach Killebrew owns over 300 movies? I'm impressed... ;)

    I remember even before DVD's I had friends ask me why I'd buy VHSs when you can just go down to the local rental store. When I dabbled in film school I even had a fellow student or two question why I'd watch an "old movie" that was more than 10 years old. It's not that uncommon of a mindset. And this is true through the 80's and 90's. And before that you'd have to buy digest films in 8mm or 16mm. If not collect and trade true 35mm prints. So movie collecting has almost always been a niche. It was just that brief window of time that DVDs took on a larger fascination with the public. It was probably a combination of their compact size, unique bonus features and the higher quality digital could bring. After awhile the novelty wore off and the recession killed sales suddenly instead of tapering. Then Netflix came and shifted the mindset to online first as a portal to a mail service then almost entirely a cloud service. And YouTube could fill in a lot of those bonus blanks. So it took a dramatic downturn.

    We're back to where we were before the DVD boom and I don't think physical media is going to go away. If sellers were able to find a market with 8mm and 16mm for decades after decades then they'll find a market in the digital age. It may be small but it'll be there. Studios are always looking for ways to catch a few more pennies and since they have to do digital transfers for streaming and broadcast anyways there will always be the additional physical media outlet so long as people like us are still around.

    I was surprised when I read Jared from Mondo Macabro say that 4k was not likely the future of physical media. I wouldn't underestimate physical in 4k, 8k, 16k, etc., etc., etc. Technology isn't going to stop. 4k transfers are becoming more and more routine. 4k TVs are becoming more and more common. We're already seeing the fan favorites being released in UHD like TCM, Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Evil Dead, Suspiria. It'll take a forward thinking company like Vinegar Syndrome to do it but someone like Twilight Time may have the best motivation for it. I wouldn't be surprised if Criterion were confident enough to go that route as they have the most consistent fan base who have to buy anything and everything they put out.
     
    russweiss and Workshed like this.
  3. baggio

    baggio Well-Known Member

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  4. KGBRadioMoskow

    KGBRadioMoskow Well-Known Member

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    Recent behavior by streaming services has given customers pause on turning off the physical media tap. It has provided concrete evidence of what most of us cynics knew was the planned move - put everything on streaming, get customers used to the convenience, then slash the catalogs to exclusive content and funnel everything else to mainstream titles you want to peddle. Final outcome, customers actually paying more than before to multiple exclusive rights holding providers, with their overall choices limited and unreliable. All while eliminating the costs of producing physical media. Studios view this as the ultimate win scenario, total control of content access at all times, captive markets for the content they want to emphasize, and slashed production costs with minimal waste from overproduction.

    The problem for studios trying to kill off physical media completely could well be that they showed their streaming service hand too soon. Physical media was dying, but it wasn't dead yet. There is still a chance enough customers will look at what has actually happened, the no longer deniable might happen, and start switching some of their buying habits rather than be burned again with having their purchased content yanked.

    My personal view is had the recent streaming service catalog shenanigans happened 5 or 10 years down the road instead of now, the imminent death of physical media outside of niche vendors would have been all but certain. But not enough of the customer base had migrated over yet, not enough had crossed the burning bridge and found it too late to turn back.

    Doesn't mean physical media death isn't still likely. There is nothing to stop studios from fracturing into multiple services that all expect customers to open their wallets wide to see everything, studios that turn individual ownership into limited rights licenses, and the only things readily available are mass market blockbusters. Its just that now, because they pulled the trigger too early, their customers are more likely to refuse to play that game at all (even if it means missing out on things), and that means less revenue than could have been had.
     

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