The Streaming vs Physical Media Experiment

I was curious, and did a little experiment, and figured you might be interested in the results.

We film enthusiasts are living through a seismic change in how we watch the movies we love, as physical media – DVDs, blurays, and 4K discs – is phased out and online streaming services come to dominate. For general viewers, streamers seem a fantastic opportunity: a wide range of film and television programs available on demand for a discrete monthly fee. For the hard-core movie fan, however, the value of streamers comes not from the quantity of content but from the specific films available.

In the past few years I’ve found myself variously teased and mocked for maintaining a physical media collection; fair enough, since the zeitgeist have definitely shifted to streaming as the norm. At the same time I would often tease back by posting photographs of one of my DVDs in response to any friend complaining that a particular film wasn’t available on Netflix.

To assess the worth of streaming services to the film enthusiast, I tried to conduct a very basic experiment. I selected 30 science fiction films at random from my own physical media collection. I then used the website JustWatch to find out which of those 30 films were available to stream today in Australia. I also checked which films were available to either buy or rent online. For the purposes of this experiment I assumed no VPN would be used; if the film was not available via an Australian streamer, it was considered to be unavailable. Eight services offered at least one of the 30 films, and are listed with their basic subscription costs below. Two (the publicly-funded ABC iView and SBS Online) did not offer any.

Netflix, $10.99. Amazon Prime, $6.99. Stan, $10. Disney+, $11.99. Binge, $10.00. Tubi, free. Foxtel Now, $25.00. Apple TV, $7.99.

Here are the 30 films, selected by the very scientific method of me cutting and pasting 30 rows from a spreadsheet without looking at the titles. (A full list is appended to the end of this post.)

30films_130films_230films_330films_430films_5

So: what are the greatest proportion of the above films can you get from any single Australian streaming service? It breaks down like this: no individual service will get you more than four films from the list. The most widely available films are Minority Report and Escape from New York, each of which is available on three different services.

30filmschart

Ultimately, 17 out of 30 films are available to stream in Australia from at least one provider. To see those 17 films would require monthly subscriptions fees totaling AUD$82.96. Now obviously that is a false representation of value: a subscription to any given service provides access to hundreds if not thousands of feature films. What it proves, however, is that streamers are good value for those who don’t particularly mind what they watch. For a fan, who wants to see specific titles – often multiple times – it simply is not fit for purpose.

This isn’t news. This isn’t even surprising, but it does give at least a broad idea of the scale of what is unavailable and explains why so many film geeks continue to invest in physical media. Online rental is another option, of course, and provides access to 20 out of 30 titles – still only 67%. For the record, there are seven titles that are simply not available online at the time of writing: 20th Century Boys: The Beginning of the End, Casshern, Eden Log, Fish Story, The Invisible Woman, Sagrada Reset Part II, and – somewhat bizarrely – Alien Nation. Don’t rely on streaming if you like old or foreign movies.

So what is the point of all this? The simply answer is that, at present at any rate, streaming media is not the physical media replacement that it is regularly promoted to be. It is a television replacement, and an astonishingly good one. The advantage of buying an actual disc remains: once you buy it (and take care of it) you know you own it for long as the disc lasts, and no licensing shifts, rights expiries, or corporate buyouts is going to change that. The situation can change, of course, and this small experiment is just a tiny example, but for now I wouldn’t necessarily throw away your favourite DVDs.

The 30 randomly selected films:

  • 20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End
  • Adjustment Bureau, The
  • Alien Nation
  • Allegiant
  • Arrival
  • Back to the Future
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes
  • Before We Vanish
  • Box, The
  • Casshern
  • Chronicle
  • Cloverfield Paradox, The
  • Crumbs
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • District 13
  • Doom
  • Eden Log
  • Escape from New York
  • Existenz
  • Fish Story
  • Gaia
  • Gattaca
  • In Time
  • Invisible Woman, The
  • Logan’s Run
  • Minority Report
  • Parasyte Part II
  • Predator 2
  • Real Steel
  • Sagrada Reset Part II

One thought on “The Streaming vs Physical Media Experiment

  1. My belief in collecting films on physical media was vindicated last year when I saw someone complain that Peter Jackson’s HEAVENLY CREATURES was not available on any streaming service they could find AND the DVD was no longer in production and was only available second-hand.

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