Samsung will stop making Blu-ray players.
I’m indebted to Paul Schrodt of The Wall Street Journal for reminding me that physical media are on life support. The culprit, if that is the right word, is streaming, as in “streaming media.”
In retrospect, the demise of physical seems obvious. But was it always so apparent?
The videotape machines were heavy. The early models were clunky, with gears. Quality tapes could cost as much as $30 at their high point — perhaps $100 in today’s dollars. Machines jammed. Tapes were stuck, or could unravel. And owners might have their machines “repaired” – just as televisions in the old days were serviced regularly and repaired, rather than discarded. Explain to kids today that in the 1960s some Americans paid $200 annually for a service contract for a $1000 color television set that was often “on the blink” and had awful, unreliable color. Think of a defective television, at most 25 inches, offering in many markets only a half dozen stations, that in today’s dollars cost perhaps $5,000, or more and $1000 or more a year for service. A substandard remote control back then would, in today’s dollars, cost more than what we now pay for a superior television requiring no service.
And in the 1970s and even 1980s, and maybe 1990s, cameras — even consumer models, were costly, often as much as $3000 or more at their high point, perhaps $10,000 in today’s dollars. And professional videographers or television news crews might have videocameras that were $80,000, or even much more, in some cases — again in old-dollars, not current dollars.
Now, we have much better and more compact videocameras. And the cost, even in today’s dollars is less. And what about doing a credible video from a mobile phone?
Back to the subject at hand. Streaming. We went from the VHS “machines” and the even more clunky Betamax to all sorts of compact formats — “less is more” — mini-cassette for VHS or mini-BETA. But the handwriting was on the wall when we ushered in DVDs and then Blu-rays. And, as in so many consumer goods, the free market and competition made the new formats increasingly affordable.
Now, who cares?
Schrodt points out that niche companies still produce Blu-rays. But young people who never knew VHS or Beta, or knew the “camcorders” will be succeeded by younger people who did not know DVDs or blue ray.
I was a pioneer a generation ago in the overall conversion of analog to digital. Immersed in the music industry, I saw the potential early. Yet, I was clear early on how a generation later the “downloading and streaming” phenomenon would make physical media, if not obsolete or antique, then rare. However was always upset to see how poorly online and mobile operators deal with copyrights. Especially in our digital tech world, it is so easy to identify copyrights and distribute royalties.
We have Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney and more in streaming media. Their effect is especially on the most physical of physical media — brick and mortar theaters. Attendance is down, and they — like Sears and J. C. Penny struggled –try to reinvent themselves.
But consider — movie chains are selling $20 monthly memberships, so that you can go to any theater in that chain an unlimited amount of time per month. Quite a deal when an adult ticket one-time can be anywhere from $8 to $16. And it it still great entertainment, but how will they survive?