Opinion: The value of physical media in a world of streaming


Graphic by Alexander Cha

In a world where there is easy access to the internet and information, digitally-distributed media has seen a rise over the past two decades. With an increase of streaming and cloud services, people have turned to these means of distribution to consume their media of choice. That said, physically-distributed entertainment media such as DVDs and game discs still have value, and to brush them off as ‘relics’ of the past puts media preservation at risk.

First, something physical distribution will always have over digital distribution is personal ownership. With physical discs and cartridges, these shows, movies and games are safely stored as a person’s property. You own the media; therefore, you decide whether it’s disposed of or not. In contrast with digital distribution, you rely on the distributor in order to watch or play what you want. For example, HBO Max recently made the decision to merge with Discovery Plus, and due to legal issues, many animated series such as “OK K.O.! – Let’s Be Heroes” and “Uncle Grandpa” from Cartoon Network were removed from their service, essentially making multiple shows unwatchable for viewers.

Lag is also another issue when it comes to streaming services, given that it has to be played off the internet and with Wi-Fi, rather than natively through a disc. While streaming is more convenient in the sense of being able to have entertainment at your fingertips, there is always the nuisance of having the show you’re watching stutter and freeze, whether it be your own internet or the distributor’s servers failing. 

This is especially problematic with streamed video games, as the failure of Google Stadia cloud gaming service shows. Despite running off of Google’s powerful servers and computers, Google Stadia became a failure due to the inherent flaws of modern cloud gaming – issues that can’t be fixed unless technology progresses further. Games are an interactive medium often requiring quick and responsive inputs to be read. Due to the fact that your inputs need to be sent to a server before receiving feedback in the game, cloud streaming games often suffer from input lag, causing games to be incredibly unresponsive or outright unplayable.

Preservation is now becoming an issue. Like mentioned earlier, digital media can easily be deleted, and with this, become lost media. Though, in most cases, lost media is not the fate for most removed shows as piracy exists. While illegal, when no options to watch these shows exist, many will turn to piracy, watching illegal copies of these movies and series in order to get their fix. Eventually, streaming services will see their end. Nothing will continue on forever.

Digital distribution, while convenient, should not be a replacement for physical discs. Undoubtedly, digital media has its perks, but the simple irreplaceable benefits that come with physical distribution will always be there. Plus, nothing feels quite like popping open a new DVD case.