Image courtesy of Pixels

Saving physical media: Why streaming is killing media preservation

By Allison Larrimore, Apr. 9, 2024

Physical media has been a constant in my life from the day I got my first CD, “A Year Without Rain” by Selena Gomez, at 7 years old; I didn’t know my own music collection would grow to more than 150 CDs in the last 13 years.   

As a visual and kinetic learner, I’ve always loved seeing the art printed on the disc and booklet insert of a new album. Spiritbox’s “Eternal Blue” and My Chemical Romance’s “Life on the Murder Scene” come to mind when thinking about physical editions that stood out to me.   

Since 2019, however, I’ve noticed the physical media sections of stores are lacking or phased out completely. For example, Best Buy announced in October 2023 its stores will no longer sell DVDs in the new year after axing their CD section in 2018. It’s disheartening to see a major media retailer shift away from physical format, knowing there’s people who may not experience the excitement of unexpectedly finding one of their favorite movies or albums at a store have fond memories of visiting Target and perusing their wall of CDs for anything I didn’t have yet, but now they only have a small shelf and maybe an end cap for both CDs and vinyl, all of which I’m rarely interested in or looking for.   

More movies and TV shows are exclusively on streaming platforms and music successes are based on the number of digital listens rather than physical copies sold. Despite its convenience, the streaming era is killing media preservation.   

The use of streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix have dominated media consumption in the past decade. They are convenient and high-quality without ad interruptions,, and users can access just about any song or movie through an app subscription rather than having to pay for each one individually.   

One limitation of this, though, is what happens when a product is discontinued and becomes unavailable? In a world that’s shifted to online content from physical, once we lose access to a certain album or TV show on streaming platforms, we seem to lose it forever.  

One of my favorite artists, Japanese visual kei group MALICE MIZER, never had their music on streaming platforms due to copyright issues from being on multiple record labels over their nine-year career. If it weren’t for people who purchased their CDs when the band was active from 1992-2001 and uploaded their music to YouTube, MALICE MIZER would have essentially become unknown to anyone outside of those fans with physical copies. If streaming music continues to be as prominent as it is, and physical copies become obsolete, lesser-known artists whose work isn’t on those services will hardly have a chance of exposure. 

Another example is when a show I am a longtime fan of and take comfort in, the anime “Soul Eater”, was taken off Netflix in November 2021. Since it left Netflix, I haven’t been able to watch it because it moved to Hulu, which I don’t have a subscription to. It bothers me that content is constantly switching between platforms, making people pay for multiple services just to access something that is ultimately only temporarily available since it can be removed at any time. 

As services merge and constantly change their catalogs, it’s becoming increasingly important to have physical copies of our favorite music and movies to prevent irreversible loss. We saw this in August 2022 with HBO Max when multiple Cartoon Network shows were removed with little notice, even some made for and exclusive to the platform. Multiple animators took to Twitter – now X – to express their disappointment with their works now inaccessible.  

“We worked for five years to make 100 episodes of animation,” tweeted Julia Pott, whose animated show “Summer Camp Island” was one of the many affected by the removal. “We worked late into the night, we let ourselves go, we were a family of hardworking artists who wanted to make something beautiful, and HBO Max just pulled them all like we were nothing. Animation is not nothing!”   

One of Pott’s replies to a comment under the post said she was given only a day’s notice that her work would be removed from the streaming platform.  

Other creators who made shows for different streaming services and channels also shared a critical perspective on HBO Max’s actions in solidarity with their industry peers.   

“What’s happening at HBO Max is so scary from a creator perspective,” tweeted Hamish Steele, creator of “Dead End: Paranormal Park” on Netflix. “Like making a show for a streamer, you rarely get a chance for a physical release, or for it to air anywhere else, and being reminded they can just delete it from existence, all your work, your portfolio, awful!”  

Despite the convenience of streaming platforms for entertainment, they do not guarantee we’ll have access to our favorite media forever. Music and films have a finite lifespan when it comes to their digital formats, so it’s vital we keep physical copies from becoming obsolete lest we become unable to interact with them ever again.  

Feature image courtesy of Pexels

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