Is Physical Media Poised for a Big Comeback?

“Good grief.”

That was pretty much the universal response to the news that for the first time in 20 years ABC would not be airing the classic Peanuts cartoons we have all come to associate with the holiday season. It also means that for the first time in 65 years those specials will not be aired on network television at all, as Apply TV has apparently purchased their exclusive streaming rights.

My first response was fairly “meh,” as I haven’t watched network TV of any kind for probably a decade. Netflix and Amazon Prime cured me of the need for commercials, and beyond that I have an extensive movie collection that I long ago digitized for use with my Plex client. I can watch any of my movies or TV shows anywhere that has internet access by simply logging into my server.

Hang on… I’m going to watch The Great Pumpkin on my phone real quick. Wait here.

(….)

See how easy that was! I just logged into the Plex app on my phone and lost myself in the blissful nostalgia of my childhood for 22 minutes.

This does bring up a bigger point, however. A couple of my favorite shows have recently announced their departure from Netflix, with Cheers leaving to stream on something called Peacock and The West Wing heading over to some new HBO service. These are two of the shows I watch on the regular when I just need to unwind and turn my brain off. The dependable banter of Cheers is always soothing and watching the Utopian view of our political discourse as portrayed by President Bartlet’s White House restores my faith in democracy, if only for an hour or two.

I have had The West Wing boxed set of DVDs for years, but it is so much more convenient to just click the remote and let it stream without ever having to change discs. I once had Cheers VHS tapes, but when I found the show on Netflix years ago I jettisoned the bulky and crotchety tapes. So what’s a guy to do? Subscribe to yet another streaming service so I can watch one show? Do without my regular visits to the place where everybody knows my name?

Well, for around $130 I can just buy the entire Cheers series on DVD. Seems like a step back technologically, but then the past has been known to circle around and become the future on more than a few occasions. It makes me wonder if, like vinyl records has done with music, physical media is about to make a big comeback in the video industry.

Generally speaking, I’m not all that interested in new programming. An hour of TV at the time of Perry Mason (I have that entire series, too) was about 54 minutes of show with the other six minutes filled by commercials. You don’t get them on the discs, of course, but you can see the length of the shows. Fast forward to Star Trek: The Next Generation and your hour-long episodes are down to about 48 minutes. By the time we got to House, MD we were getting just 44 minutes of show for an hour of TV time, and now you’re lucky to get 38.

Current shows also seem to have this annoying habit of recapping the last minute or so that aired prior to the commercial break in case the four minutes of commercials made you forget what the show was about. By the time you get to the last 20 minutes of the show the commercials are just about all you get. This is especially true of the nightly news, where after the initial spiel you’re pretty much getting two minutes of commercials for every minute of show. New shows also seem to have to incorporate more violence and stupider content to cater to modern viewers.

Nah.

So what would it cost me to subscribe to Peacock, for example, and keep streaming Cheers? Well, it’s complicated. I can subscribe to Peacock for $4.99 a month, which isn’t a huge expense, but that requires me to watch commercials while I stream.

Hubba what?????

I can’t imagine a reality in which I would PAY to watch commercials.

If I want to watch Cheers without commercials on Peacock I have to pay for a higher level subscription that starts at $9.99 a month. I can also log onto Amazon and just buy the boxed set of DVDs and watch it for free and without commercials forever after. I can also digitize the series and stream it on Plex just like I do the vast majority of my other media.

So where is this headed? Are we really all going to spend a hundred dollars a month or more on various streaming services? I did add Disney+ last year because I’m a huge Star Wars fan and just had to see The Mandalorian. There are enough other cool things on the service that I have kept it, but I am extremely reluctant to add any more. I’m certainly not going to subscribe to something so I can watch one or two shows; that’s the scenario that led me to cut the cable in the first place. I was paying for 239 channels and watching three of them.

It might just be that physical media is about to make a huge comeback. I’d rather change a disc or encode a series than pay more people for the ability to watch the small handful of shows I love watching.

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