According to the latest study, sales in physical video (DVD, Blu-ray, 4K, or UHD) have collapsed by nearly 50 percent since 2014.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reports that disc sales in the U.S. since 2014 plummeted from $10.3 billion to just $5.8 billion.
International sales have dropped by more than 50 percent, from $14.9 billion in 2014 to just $7.3 billion in 2018.
This means that worldwide sales have taken a deep dive from $25.2 billion to just $13.1 billion.
The MPAA pretends this is not a big deal because “digital sales” have increased by much more than 50 percent over those same four years, but the “digital sale” number is misleading because those “digital sales” do not represent digital movie or television purchases.
Rather, the MPAA’s “digital sales” represent streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and HBOGo, and that tells us nothing about whether or not people are still buying as many copies of movies/TV as they once did.
Digging around a bit, I found this report that shows digital movie/TV purchases are nowhere near making up for the losses in physical disc sales.
While disc sales have plummeted by nearly $5 billion in the U.S. since 2014, what is known as “electronic sell-through” or EST (the digital purchase of a movie or TV show) — totaled just $2.46 billion, which does not come close to making up for that $5 billion. (Video-on-demand or VOD is a digital rental, not a purchase.)
So what does this tell us?
Well, the first thing it tells us is that Blu-ray (or high-definition) is not the savior the industry expected. The hope was that everyone would replace their DVDs with higher quality Blu-rays in the same way everyone replaced their VHS tapes with DVD discs 20 years ago. This hasn’t happened. Even today, even with Blu-ray pricing way down, DVD sales still account for 58 percent of disc sales.
Also going nowhere is 4K or Ultra HD, which accounts for just 5.3 percent of physical video sales.
The other thing these numbers tell us is that the MPAA is masking a breathtaking drop in home movie/TV sales by pretending Amazon and Netflix subscriptions are somehow making up for that collapse, a ridiculous conceit. All that “digital sale” money goes to Amazon and Netflix, etc., and not to the studios who only license content to these companies in the same way they have licensed content for decades to television networks and outlets like HBO.
DVD sales are down, but HBO subscriptions are up! is meaningless. The bottom line is that people are nowhere near as interested in owning a movie/TV show as they once were.
Something else to keep in mind…
While we compare today’s home video sales to 2014’s home video sales, 2014 does not represent the good ole’ days — Far from it. The home video business was already in crisis in 2014, which tells you just how bad things are today.
In fact, the industry has been freaking out over the collapse of home video sales for more than a decade.
Here’s some anecdotal evidence of how drastically things have changed:
In 2006, the top four home video sellers moved nearly 50 million DVD units and grossed almost an additional billion dollars — with a “B” — in revenue for the studios. Keep in mind that is DVD sales only from just four titles.
In 2018, the top four home video titles moved only 17 million units and generated just $317 million in additional revenue, and we are talking about iconic titles such as Black Panther and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Not to belabor the point, but Black Panther and Last Jedi respectively grossed $94 million and $87.5 million in combined DVD/Blu-ray sales. Compare that to 2006 when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Chronicles of Narnia respectively grossed $325 million and $448 million in DVD sales.
Obviously, Black Panther and Last Jedi made up for some of that with EST sales, but with overall EST sales at about 50 percent of overall DVD/Blu-ray sales, let’s generously assume both of those 2018 titles grossed (EST plus physical) $150 million in sales, and it is still breathtakingly short of those 2006 figures.
Now the question becomes why?
Well, Hollywood being Hollywood and the media being the media, all you are going to hear are lame excuses: piracy, the Internet, Netflix, video games, etc.
I’m not buying it.
Think about it — No one purchased a copy of a movie or TV show because there was nothing better to do or because we lacked entertainment options.
The fierce competition for your home video dollar has been fierce since home video started to take off in the late 1980s.
Come on, the late ’80s were not the dark ages. Video games were popular, especially Nintendo, video rental was popular, and cable TV was booming.
Riddle me this: How is streaming TV any different than cable TV? Other than being about 80 percent cheaper, it’s not. So we should have more money to buy movies with, no?
Home video began its dramatic collapse long before the rise of Netflix and streaming.
The collapse in home video sales comes down to one very simple question:
Why do people want to own a movie or TV show?
The answer is this: We purchase a copy of a movie or TV show that means something to us, that delivers an experience we want to ensure we can recapture again and again. And the only way to ensure that is to own our own personal copy.
There is no other reason.
The desire to own is an emotional desire, an emotional connection, and that has been the reason since 1985 when I was a cashier at a chain video store in a Florida mall.
So the reason people are no longer purchasing movies at anywhere near the numbers they once did is because movies today mostly suck.
Now you’re going to argue how 2018’s record box office proves we are more in love with movies than ever before.
Sure, overall box office revenue increased but even with the population increase over the last 20 years, attendance is decreasing. More people went to the movies in 1998 than in 2018.
The big problem is that movies today are seen as disposable, as junk, as a roller coaster ride, a trip to Six Flags. Who needs to own a copy of Black Panther when 20 more movies that give you the exact same thrills will be released over the next 20 weekends?
Movies are not special anymore. There are no stars, no faces, no otherworldly actors oozing charisma to fall in love with because movies are no longer people, about the human condition or anything that moves or touches or enlightens us. Instead, movies today are generic and filled with generic actors, all of them interchangeable (tell me the difference between James Marsden and James McAvoy) and the movies themselves are every bit as predictable as the curves and loops on a roller coaster ride — which is fun, but only once.
Movies used to be magical, used to be about you and I, about us — and that includes the mainstream blockbusters. Who couldn’t relate to deep, humanist themes in Back to the Future or E.T., Tootsie, Titanic, True Lies, or even The Matrix?
Now it’s all CGI and snark and cheap scares and ironic distance and whoo-hoo and yee-haw, which is great for a one-nighter but one-nighters are one-nighters, forgotten by the time you hit the parking lot with no thought of a serious relationship.
Yes, there are exceptions, but they are exceptions.
Mainstream movies used to stick to our ribs, used to demand another look, used to have something to say we wanted to hear again and again; movies used to star living/breathing/walking gods and goddesses whom we very much wanted to take home.
Movies used to be art.