Buy a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, and it’ll breathlessly tell you of the many hours of extra content you’re going to get. Use a streaming service and they’re usually omitted. Is that a cause for concern?
A week or so ago, I was discussing Blake’s 7 on Facebook, based around the fact that, once again, they’re apparently planning on remaking it. Maybe. We’ve been down that road before, but what was interesting was when one US-based friend of mine commented that they hadn’t watched the original in quite some time. I noted that it was pretty easy to score on DVD, and they couldn’t remember the last time they’d actually put a disc into a machine in order to play anything at all. That’s a sign of the slightly more mature US streaming market — although it’s not too hard to get services like Netflix working in Australia, you need a solid connection to do so.
I don’t sit behind a solid connection; anything but, in fact. Figures being widely reported today suggest that I’m not outside the norm, either, with Australian online connection figures sliding over the last twelve months, despite the painfully slow roll-out of NBN services. Still, I’ve got confidence that things will get better, albeit perhaps not as quickly as they might. That points to a future of streaming services, rather than ownership services. For many people, that’s a big plus; physical media is seen as clutter (as The Checkout covered in some detail last night), and there’s little desire to update formats for the sake of it.
It’s interesting, though. I recall when VHS was supplanted by DVD in Australia. At the time, VHS tape ownership wasn’t a huge factor the way it was, for example, in the UK (where I’ve also lived), and as such, there wasn’t much pressure on prices or even that much in the way of retail push for VHS. DVD, though, got lots of hype. It was digital! The quality was better! You didn’t have to rewind it! The boxes were smaller! They came packed with lots of extras to give extra value!
The shift from physical media to streaming media meets most of those expectations, as long as the data pipe is fast enough to deliver it. I recently had a seriously frustrating experience renting Hotel Transylvania for my kids via iTunes, largely because of the wait time involved in being able to actually start watching it. I not only could have hit the local rental place faster; I could have watched the movie several times over before I was able to watch it via iTunes at all. But, as I say, that’s a solvable problem. Where it gets interesting is in the one area that I’ve never seen streaming services actually address, and that’s in additional content. Commentary tracks, making of videos, blooper reels, trailer spots — all the stuff that you’d expect on a DVD or Blu-Ray disc that largely seems to be left behind when it comes to streaming services.
I’m torn on whether or not the extras actually matter. I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve got a couple of bookshelves full of DVDs and Blu-Rays behind me with untold thousands of unwatched hours of commentary and extras. I couldn’t possibly watch all of them, and in the case of some titles, the core content was all that I ever wanted. At the same time, there’s some excellent extras that I’ll happily watch over and over again. The commentary tracks on Futurama DVDs are great stuff. Classic Dr Who DVDs are stuffed with extras, and it’s rare that I’ll put a classic story on without the extra info text subtitles at the very least. In fact, I have to remember not to put them on when watching with my kids, because they haven’t seen some of the episodes yet!
Right now it probably doesn’t matter whether the extras are there or not, because physical discs are still a fairly vibrant market, and as such, there’s an incentive to keep producing them; you can sell to the streaming services if you just want the core content, and then again for those who want a more drilled down approach. Indeed, that’s what I’ll most likely do with the latest season of Game Of Thrones; I’m paying $3 an episode for the iTunes version (and that, at least I can queue up when it turns up overnight on Tuesdays) and may well buy the Blu-Ray with extras down the track. But that model only works as long as there’s a critical mass actually buying discs; as that shifts towards streaming services, there’s a strong financial incentive to omit the extras and just serve the core content up.
What do you think? Are extras on discs worthwhile or a distraction?