The once-great musicians Queen stated that “video killed the radio star” in their 1984 classic ‘Radio Ga Ga’: an upbeat post-mortem of the radio industry, sadly deemed irrelevant with the advantageous rise of physical media and home video. Having your movies or music available at any time without ceaseless adverts padded throughout, be it on a VCR or a Walkman (ask your parents), was simply the better option.
Yet today we are seeing a distinctive fall in the popularity of these physical mediums. As recent as 2013, the video rental chain Blockbusters (again, ask your parents) was forced to close all its’ 528 stores in the UK due to a lack of business. We are seeing a similar situation with High-street retailer HMV who reported a fall in profit of £41 million in 2016, and have since shut 37 of their stores.
So, what is this disease slowly killing off physical media? The answer should be obvious to all you millennials: streaming.
Like a digital phoenix rising from the cold ashes of its’ disc-based brethren, streaming services have seemingly replaced physical media as the go-to source for news or entertainment. In 2011, we saw the first signs, with streaming sites like ITunes and Amazon accounting for 50.3% of total music sales in the U.S (a figure that has since surpassed 65%) and in January of 2017, the number of movies and TV shows downloaded from streaming sites surpassed global DVD sales for the first time.
It’s clear that in the last decade people have widely embraced the digital age when it comes to entertainment, and why shouldn’t they? Sure, the introduction of streaming services may have rendered physical retailers obsolete, from whose perspective streaming must seem to be a digital homicide of biblical proportions destroying everything they hold dear, but the truth is that it’s not the end of the world.
There are many factors that make streaming the more attractive option. Netflix for example, the most popular streaming service available, has a multitude of original content exclusive to the platform; ‘House of Cards’, ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘13 Reasons Why’, not to mention Marvel’s collaborative works, being amongst the greatest of modern TV. Not to say that every Netflix exclusive is great (let us not forget they consciously chose to release ‘Ridiculous Six’), but when they hit they certainly make an impact.
But it is with music that the greatest impact can be seen. It is incredibly rare nowadays that you will see anyone listening to music on-the-go with anything over than their own phones outside of a hipster convention or Star-Lord cosplayers. With services like Spotify or Deezer (a B-tech version of the former) providing a near-unlimited collection of music to download, it’s simply more practical to not carry around an ulterior device just to listen to tunes.
However, while a much better option for us the consumer, streaming services have one distinct downfall for themselves: their inability to actually make money.
By the end of 2016, Spotify’s revenue may have topped $3.3 billion, but they also had a net loss of $597 million. The simple truth of streaming sites such as this spend more money acquiring the music they provide than they can hope to gain through subscriptions. Even Netflix only made a profit of $187 million compared to their whopping $8 billion revenue, largely thanks to their international audience.
If all this business-speak is going over your head (as honestly without the help of google it would me) let me explain this in ordinary speak: Revenue is the amount of money earned by a company, whilst the net gain / loss is the total amount actually made when accounting for costs. Streaming services as such must surpass a very high bar in order to become a sustainable business.
But despite this, streaming services only continue to grow. As of July 2017, Netflix has over 103 million subscribers worldwide and shows no signs of stopping any time soon, though the renewal of their deal with Adam Sandler to produce countless more original “comedies” as of April would make you assume otherwise.
It is a depressing inevitability that one day physical media will be lost, but what I see as all the more depressing is the resultant alienation of personal connections with said media.
In my parent’s loft (or ‘attic’ for my colonial compadres) they keep a box of every record they’ve ever owned, not to play, but as they each hold a personal memory. The by-product of this modern ideology of convenience is the severing of said connections, and furthermore the increased improbability of new similar connections being formed.
The sad reality is that these connections don’t matter to artists, nor the wider industry. Sure, musicians talk of the love they feel from their fans, and the movie studios profit massively from this nostalgia, but the truth is neither cares how you consume their work, as long as you consume, spending as much money along the way as possible.
The more money that streaming makes, the more these big companies will put into the streaming industry, and the less they will put towards promoting DVD and CD releases. Over time the wheel will continue to turn, each rotation flattening the physical media beneath it even more till it becomes an unprofitable black hole, abandoned completely.
And that is how streaming will kill the video star.
Written by: Mitchell Jenkins – @JhjMitchell on Twitter