Are DVD Players the Next Turntables?

As each year winds down, I’ve found myself squinting into a magic eight-ball of media and distribution, wondering, “Will next year be the end of DVDs?”. The response has been either “Don’t count on it” or “Reply hazy try again”. This year, with 2017’s push toward streaming, I thought for sure I’d get “Signs point to yes”, but companies like Kino Lorber, Flicker Alley and Criterion (even my Undercrank Prods.) have a number of physical-media releases on their 2018 docket, and you can still buy DVD players on Best Buy and Amazon. It’s a good thing, too, as the classic film choices for major streaming platforms are a tad limited.

It’s too easy to pick on the “classics”category on Netflix. (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation…really?). And it’s really great that we now have outfits like Fandor and Filmstruck and Watch TCM to access arthouse and classics titles. Residents in certain areas can access streaming content on Kanopy through their library’s website.

But there are still many titles that have been released on disc that are not available for streaming. And they won’t be. These titles will continue to be released, and will not be findable or available to folks with smart TVs and laptops that no longer are made with optical drives.

“Findable” is the key word.

I’ve made a few of my releases available for streaming on Amazon, and have sold maybe a half dozen streams over the last few years, as opposed to those titles’ disc counterparts. Clearly, the issue is a matter of who the heck on Amazon video is going to be looking for a Monty Banks or William S. Hart feature, and — more importantly, much more — what are the odds that Amazon’s algorithm would recommend niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche titles like these to them?

I know a couple people with laserdisc collections, people who’ve recently gotten into the format. Believe it or not, there are titles that were released on laser that have still not been brought out on DVD or Blu-ray. The film studies department at Wesleyan University, where I teach a silent film course, has laserdiscs and has working players in their screening rooms’ booths. That’s how I’m able to show King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928) to my students at the end of the semester.

Who knows? We hear that DVDs and Blu-rays have a shelf life of a certain number of years. Maybe they won’t last another 10 years. On the other hand, there are lots of laserdiscs that are still playable. Maybe the flea market hunt that will occur in the coming decade or two will be for playable copies of certain titles, as well as DVD and Blu-ray players from certain brands that are more resilient than others. Maybe, like 16mm projectors, there will be parts machines out there and people who know how to repair them.

It’s not quite the same thing as the resurgence of vinyl, but maybe the DVD player is the turntable of the future.

In the meantime, I will be putting out a Volume 2 of The Marcel Perez Collection in February, and a DVD of Edison Kinetophone sound films from 1913 restored by the Library of Congress later in the spring. And, in case you haven’t collected all of them yet, the 15 DVDs I’ve released since 2013 are all available on Amazon, and Kino Lorber will be releasing a restored Blu-ray of W.C. Fields’ It’s the Old Army Game on March 13 with my new theatre organ score.

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