(Another) Sign o’ the Times

I’m beginning to think I’m living on some other planet to most folks, and that the title of this blog is getting more pertinent than ever. I read on the news today that Avengers: Endgame has broken UK records for digital downloads. In its first week it has totalled 335,400 downloads.

Who are these people buying digital downloads? Who are these people who have abandoned physical formats and jumped onto this digital train to God only knows where? I don’t get it. I don’t think I ever will. Ever since I ‘lost’ my digital purchase of Robotron on my old Xbox 360, a few dozen digital albums I bought on Virgin Music several years ago and my digital copy of Blade Runner that mysteriously vanished from my Flixster account, I’ve sworn off digital anything. I don’t trust it. Far as I can see, nobody ‘owns’ anything when they buy something digitally, its instead just a license and I can trust any vendor about as much as I can trust Rancors are vegan.

But digital is certainly popular with someone. Me, I can easily wait an extra week or two to buy a copy on 4K disc if its a film I really want to see at its best, or on blu-ray or wait a few months longer to see it on streaming via Prime or Netflix or maybe Sky. But I’ve got shelves of discs behind me that most folks are just not interested in, home video collections going as out of fashion as decent Star Wars movies.

The BBC news report also states that as far as Avengers: Endgame is concerned, its widely expected that it won’t appear on other platforms such as Sky, Netflix or Amazon and will instead other than digital sales will only appear on Disney’s own Disney+ platform for streaming. As long as physical disc formats are still in the mix and I have that choice, then I’m reluctantly fine with the situation (to a point) but I am sure we can all see where the future is eventually heading.  Sign o’ the times indeed. I’m feeling old enough these days without this nonsense.


5 thoughts on “(Another) Sign o’ the Times

  1. Every few months, someone somewhere turns to social media to bemoan their loss of access to something they’d bought digitally, and everyone goes wild with “stick with physical media! Why won’t you people listen to us?!” And yet it seems people aren’t listening, and on the madness goes. Actually, maybe Disney’s renowned possessiveness will serve us all here. I can foresee a future where they’ll sell you a digital copy of something… only to yank access 12 months later when it comes to Disney+. Maybe that would make people sit up and realise the hellscape they’re signing up for.

    Also, a pertinent point I happened to see on Twitter today (among the latest “we need physical media” furore)… We’ve finally reached a point, with Blu-ray and 4K especially, where theatrical quality is replicated or even bettered at home… and people are instantly ditching it for heavily-compresses streams! But when there are people who own 4K TVs but use them to play DVDs or lowest-tier Netflix subscriptions (does that even have HD, never mind UHD?), it goes to show how much the common person actually knows or cares. So long as the screen is as big as they can afford, they’ll watch anything with motion smoothing on full and “vibrant” PQ and probably believe they’re seeing things in maximum quality. Ugh.

    1. My brother has his LCD set up with everything looking like a tv soap opera, all bright, high-contrast and motion-smoothing enabled. Its horrible and hard to watch. With such great displays (I remember the bad old square CRT boxes of my youth its ironic that most everyone is watching them all wrong. No wonder they don’t care about even Blu-ray, nevermind UHD, when as long as its big and bright all is well. Compression artifacts etc don’t seem to bother them and I’ve seen people streaming dodgy torrents that just give me a headache.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    ‘These people’ are basically ‘most people’.

    A lot of people I know ditched all their CDs a few years after iTunes and downloads became a thing. I mean literally, boxed them all up and sold them for peanuts.
    I only know two other people who still buy CDs. It’s not just a question of space – though it is definitely that as well – it’s more that a lot of people aren’t that interested: music is just a thing in the background, or something you were interested in when you were young but have lost interest in as an adult.

    As for films, it’s the same only more so. People will buy something to watch maybe once when it’s popular and then most won’t even notice if it quietly disappears from the cloud a couple of years later because it’ll have disappeared from their minds long before.

    Then you factor pirating into things, which means you can – apparently – get hold of a copy of any film at the same quality as a download instantly: why own it then, or worry about whether it’ll disappear if you do?

    I don’t agree with any of the above – except perhaps the space issue, as the boxes in my loft will attest – but I do not know anyone else in person who has a physical collection of movies. Literally no-one.

    1. It really does get me down, how things are changing now, and me feeling left behind or simply thought of as irrelevant to the Powers That Be. A lot of the things that mean a lot to me, whether it having my favourite films on disc in the best quality possible (hence my inevitable adoption of 4K UHD), or my book collection, or my music collection (all those Intrada/FSM/La La Land expansions!), all of that is so Old-School and just not important anymore, apparently. Whereas I always figured they rather represented me, which I guess they still do, but it feels like I’m in some societal/cultural cul de sac. And at the End of Times, maybe that’s the worst of it. Film Music forums bemoan the closure of disc replication plants, the increasing difficulty of licensing scores and the cost of shipping, Video forums bemoan the closure of disc replication plants and physical shops and the increasing lack of special features/due care on them and the increasing move to streaming and digital downloads.

      Last weekend at a family BBQ, my brother just got Alexa to play whatever he could think of, the world catalogue of music just at his whim, and he said he need never buy a CD ever again, and that just depressed me. Whatever happened to buying/owning/collecting vinyl or CD and reading liner notes etc and treasuring the artwork, the package?

      Considering my love of Blade Runners dystopian future, its somewhat ironic that I find myself living in one of my own. I won’t go into world politics (or national politics, which is even more depressing) or the terrible rise of celebrity adoration just for celebrities sake, ignorant of talent or ability. I listened to a few podcasts a few weeks ago and was horrified to hear uninformed people who think their views qualify as being worthy. There was one podcast in which a guy referred to Blade Runner 2049 as “Blade Runner 2039” repeatedly, it wasn’t a slip of the tongue, he kept on repeating the title wrong. Many is the time I write a post and delete it before putting it up, feeling its uninformed or amateur or not worth anyone’s time. Quality Control I like to call it. Seems like its an old-fashioned thing these days.

      The world is so fast, so ignorant of considered opinion or pausing to take stock of what is happening. Maybe it’s part of our evolution in the Information Age of the Internet and 200-channel television and VOD etc. I do think the move to streaming etc is destroying the long-term worth of movies, making them almost transient, disposable commodities to a widely indifferent and attention-deficit public. Where will we be in ten years time, even?

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        Best make a cup of tea, this is going to be a long one…

        Well, I think things changing have gotten every single generation down since time immemorial. It’s just how things are. Every generation complains about what the latest generation is doing. I think smartphones have wrecked attention-spans, including my own, but then previous generations were always on at us about TV and then video games [though I share that last prejudice].
        And the generation before that hated comics, and so on.

        But I’m not sure we’re irrelevant, exactly: if anything, in some ways we’re the generation that’s curated itself a comfortable little nest over the years. You mentioned all those Intrada/FSM etc CDs – I mean, they exist! You own them! Compare that to the 1980s and 1990s when the best you could hope for was an edited album soundtrack on vinyl or tape.

        And with music more generally, the digital age has opened so many doors and made so many things available that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Having graduated from 70s Ambient music into 70s and 80s New Age over the last six years or so, I’m overjoyed that setups like Bandcamp are allowing back-catalogue and obscure releases to be made available again in high quality, where previously the production and distribution of a physical version would have been prohibitively expensive, and denied you access to the music itself. And the number of old techno 12″s that are now available on Juno as AIFFs has been a godsend.

        Add to that all the special editions of movies that still flood out, and I feel I’m actually being catered to pretty comfortably. There are two editions of The Thing on my shelves, two of Videodrome, Criterion have just brought out Klute in a wonderful pristine transfer, I have Alien and Blade Runner and Close Encounters on 4K, the original assembly of Exorcist III plus a new transfer of the theatrical version, the list goes on and on.

        It’s not perfect: it still puzzles me that a lot of smaller films come out on DVD only, somehow assuming that anyone who wants to watch it in decent quality HD will just get a download – surely it’s the other way round? Anyone who wants to watch it in shit SD quality wouldn’t be likely to want a physical copy, would they?

        When downloads eventually reach the point where you can buy a copy at the same quality as a blu-ray or 4K disc, then I’ll be fine with it. Again, it’s like music – there are a lot of singles and EPs these days that I’m happy to buy as a full-res download rather than CD, because it saves space. I have no room in the house for any of my CDs whatsoever, and I can’t remember the last time I actually put a CD on and listened to it… maybe 2013? I still buy them and rip them at high quality, but they have to live in crates in the loft. Which begs a good question: why buy them as physical products?

        As regards celebrities and celebrity adoration: wasn’t this always a thing? Aren’t movie stars mostly that as well, even if they do good work? I mean, the digital age has democratised that as much as anything, but weren’t there people famous for being famous even in ‘our’ day? Crap pop stars and the like?

        I share your disdain for the general jibber-jabber out there. I never listen to podcasts [even the big ones are so boring and so filled with guff] and I read very few blogs, but as I’ve just started recording movie podcasts with a friend, I’m not about to start throwing too many stones in that regard. I have no explanation for it: I don’t expect my views to be of any interest to anyone, and I was initially very reluctant to put them out there, because why? So what if I think this or that? But I figure better to do something than not to do it, so there you go.

        I don’t know… at the end of this ramble, I think the glass is half full. But when I think back to how it was a couple of decades ago, I do think our generation of nerds has made things better for ourselves than it would otherwise be. Except in terms of my bank balance.

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