Best Buy will Discontinue DVD and Blu-ray Sales: Is it End of Physical Media, Again?

When the story was originally showcased by The Digital Bits on October 12th, 2023, we all learned that Best Buy will discontinue DVD and Blu-ray sales after this 2023 holiday season. Like many times in the past, the ominous question reverberates throughout the high-end home theater community, is it the end of physical media? Before I weigh in and wildly speculate the answer to this potentially painful question, let’s first attempt to let this one marinate by delving into the facts.

Yes, it has been confirmed that Best Buy will discontinue DVD and Blu-ray sales by multiple sources including a spokesperson from Best Buy.

“To state the obvious, the way we watch movies and TV shows is much different today than it was decades ago. Making this change gives us more space and opportunity to bring customers new and innovative tech for them to explore, discover, and enjoy.”

Best Buy is certainly not wrong and this trend is well-documented through data by the Digital Entertainment Group.  In just the first half of 2023 alone, physical media revenue in the U.S. declined by 28% (1.05 billion to 754 million).  In the same 6 month period, digital streaming and video-on-demand revenue combined increased by 17% (16.8 billion to 19.7 billion). The data is also not novel, in 2019, CNBC weighed in on their thoughts naming the article, “The death of DVD.” They explained that the pinnacle of DVD sales was 16.3 million at its peak in 2005 and precipitously declined 86% to 2.2 billion in 2018.

Consequently, Best Buy’s announcement based on these numbers and Netflix’s announcement back in April of this year regarding ending their 25-year DVD rental service should not be a surprise. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos divulged their reasoning:

After an incredible 25 year run, we’ve decided to wind down DVD.com later this year. Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members but as the business continues to shrink that’s going to become increasingly difficult. So we want to go out on a high, and will be shipping our final discs on September 29, 2023.

And Then There Were 3.  Remaining Retailers who Sell Physical DVDs and Blu-ray Discs

Best Buy will end DVD and Blu Ray Disc Sales - DVD rack at Best Buy

Image Courtesy of Best Buy

Walmart, Target, and Amazon will continue selling physical discs. Based on Best Buy’s statement above, one would assume that of course, physical space is required to increase those lucrative computing and mobile phone as well as consumer electronics sales that collectively earned them approximately 38 billion dollars in revenue but they are discontinuing all sales of DVD and Blu-rays online and in-person.  Just when we thought consumers were relegated to 3 major disc-selling retailers, Media Play News reported in August that Walmart is reportedly in talks with Studio Distribution Services about aid in the management of parts of its physical media sales. Walmart already has reduced its physical media in-store footprint by 20% so this may be a potential sign that the future will include two major retailers and Target as the only in-person.

I’m not sure about your physical media movie hunting but in my humble opinion, Target is the bottom dweller for both selection and price. On top of that, no one knows what major businesses will do based on their numbers.  Usually, most businesses with physical stores perform significant analytics on floor usage, and if the space is not profiting, that coveted dollar-to-square-foot ratio has to squeeze out the most bucks possible or the shareholders are unhappy.

I’m disappointed that Best Buy will no longer carry specifically 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays which, until streaming services via my Apple TV 4K attain a new level without significant compression, are authoritatively superior in both audio and video quality.  My bimonthly Best Buy visits are comprised of a purposeful and repetitive shopping journey that includes the perusal of a commonly disorganized Blu-ray movie section where I hope to score a favorite 4K Blu-ray for discounted pricing.  I certainly can’t say the same about Target or Walmart so what else are alternatives other than online disc shopping? Of course for the high-end home theater folks, there is always Kaleidescape, but that comes with a heavy price tag.  With that said, most feel that Kaleidescape is worth the investment for high-end home theater enthusiasts.

Is this Announcement Another Nail in the Coffin of Physical Media?

Yes, I had to reach this point because the numbers don’t lie and as much as consumers drive the market, audiophiles and high-end home theater enthusiasts do not drive business decisions (for most of us, that’s clear on the lack of associates or emphasis in the high-end Magnolia section of many Best Buy stores).  Interestingly enough, we’ve witnessed a bit of turnaround in other forms of physical media before making this superlative claim of the “end of media.” Most outside of the audiophile world assumed that turntables and LPs were basically dead until the recent numbers last year showed that Vinyl surpassed CDs as the strongest selling physical media (both by revenue and units as of 2022).   While Vinyl still outsells CDs, the most recent report from the RIAA (September 2023) detailed that streaming accounts for 84% of music purchases (7.0 billion streaming to 1.4 billion physical media).  To put this into perspective with the physical media sales of DVDs and Blu-rays, our previous numbers portrayed that the first 6 months of 2023 were dominated by streaming at 19.7 billion to physical’s 754 million.  If you’re scoring at home, video streaming is 96% of the market share vs. only 4% for physical media.

4 reasons impacting the potential death of Blu-ray and DVDs:

  • Home bandwidth internet speed (most can make the argument that for most except the most discerning videophile, we’re there).
  • Providers like Netflix and Disney+ desist massively compressing video and increase their bitrate to match the quality of now 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays (again this may be more a hope of the high-end home theater folks vs. people watching the Avengers on an iPhone).
  • Retailers end the sales of Blu-rays and DVDs
  • Studios ultimately make the decision not to produce physical media (which we’ve already seen from the likes of Disney in some countries)

The last one is the true mark of whether we will see the end because the first two are arguably already happening and as per this article, clearly #3 is true for some as well.

Are Individual Physical Media Journeys the Answer to the Question?

I remember when I purged my media collections and yes, I regret it. First, it was my expansive VHS collection organized by genre and alphabetical name. After donating that collection, I slowly stocked up on DVDs, and by around 2008, I made the painfully incorrect decision of investing heavily in HD-DVD. Blu-ray won the high-resolution disc battle, and subsequently, I purged my diverse DVD collection and started to stockpile Blu-rays.  Yet, streaming was growing steadily at that point.  I clearly remember telling my parents to stop collecting physical media because it was going to be obsolete in 10 years.  When my partner and I made our next professional move in 2015, I donated my entire physical media collection.  Years later, after I dove deeply into building an amazing home theater experience, I excitedly returned to physical media via 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays for sound and video quality.  Many likely share in a similar journey of collecting copious physical media, purging, and returning to buy it all again. We already see this in the vinyl world with Record Store Day, which most again assumed vinyl died after the rise of the compact disc. I noticed the following meme floating around on Reddit and thought it aptly mirrors my physical media journey:

The evolution of how we listen to music

While I probably am not an amazing depiction of the entire market, there’s an ebb and flow in niche marketing and revolving trends in consumer practice. I mention this because based on current numbers it’s likely in the next 5-10 years that most studios and retailers will discontinue selling DVDs and Blu-rays but the rise of Vinyl provides prophetic hope for physical media aficionados.  If a significant consumer audience is willing to maintain turntables, purchase physical records, store those bulky 12×12 discs, and ultimately peel themselves sporadically off comfortable couches consistently to move the needle, physical media has a chance.

 

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