Because Not Everything Will Stream

With a number of new major streaming services launching or about to launch, on top of the established Amazon and Netflix platforms already in people’s homes (and on their phones), as a niche-market distributor I can’t help thinking this is cable TV all over again. Except that with cable, VHS was always there as a side-by-side alternative. And later, DVD, but there was still an either/or way to watch movies in your home.

This isn’t a rant or mega-complaint about streaming. It’s a battle-cry for DVDs and Blu-rays, and the little machines with a few moving parts that play them. I don’t know why, but a slogan from the mythical studio in Robert Altman’s The Player seems appropriate for appropriation and lightly paraphrasing at this moment:

“Physical Media — now more than ever.”

Cable TV brought an exponential increase in the number of channels of programming, but in the end the variety of programming wasn’t exponentially wider or diverse. It’s been around thirty years, and there still isn’t a  channel that just shows silent movies. But there are several with cooking programs, home decorating and makeover shows, and loads of reality TV. I‘m assuming that this is because of economics, ratings, advertising revenue etc.

As fans of classic film we’ve always had access to these films, but we’ve had to go to Tower Records and buy VHS tapes and then gradually go to Amazon et al and buy DVDs. Niche-market film hasn’t really had a seat at the table with cable television, and I don’t see it happening with streaming. Some big-name titles will available on a couple services, I’m sure. TCM does include silents they’ve aired on their streaming or app platform. Which is great. So is what is available on Criterion’s streaming service.

But some titles will rotate in and out of being viewable. As I read somewhere in the last year or so, “If you can’t hold it, you don’t own it.”

Undercrank Productions DVDs
None of these films could ever have reached silent and classic film fans other than via DVD release, precisely the kind of content (if I may use that word on television) that will never make its way to the major streaming services. Even if they did, what algorithm in its right mind would recommend any of this über-obscure film to anyone?

I’m preparing to release my 22nd DVD on my Undercrank Productions label, with number 23 coming at the beginning of 2020. My releases are what niche-market thinks of as being niche-market. These titles, along with many others from smaller labels like mine or independent producer-distributors all the way up through Flicker Alley and Kino Lorber, are going to only be available to fans on little round plastic discs that spin inside a PlayStation-sized box with a wire that connects to a TV.

Maybe a subscription streaming platform or two will be developed and take hold that will serve as outlets for this kind of programming. Gosh I hope so. I know someone who’s been trying to make this happen for a few years. 

At some point a couple years ago, it got a lot easier to make your podcast available than it was when I started my podcast in 2013. It would be great if that happened for streaming video, but I don’t think there are enough people watching silent movies while they’re jogging or driving to push this.

In the meantime, maybe ask Santa for a Blu-ray player (ideally an all-region unit) even if you’ve already got one. As a backup. In case the one you own stops working, in case they stop being made. Because DVDs and Blu-rays will be the only way you’ll be able to truly self-curate watching what you want, outside of what’s placed on the streaming platforms. 

Physical media — now more than ever.

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Michael Schlesinger

“If you can’t hold it, you don’t own it.”

That was coined by yours truly some years ago when people started waving Netflix in my face.