By Guest Blogger David Russell, Gulf Coast State College
The 92nd Academy Awards was a notable event in many ways: it was the second year presented without a host (or were there two?), the first year where the top prize went to a non-English-language film, and the first time Eminem performed “Lose Yourself” for elite Hollywood attendees. The 2020 Oscars were also notable in that it was the first year where Netflix earned more nominations than other media companies. With 24 nominations, including 2 for best picture, Netflix has made it clear that the streaming service is serious about making good content. Kudos to them, but if this trend of award-winning electronic media continues, it may have serious implications for collections librarians.
“The Streaming Era has finally arrived,” and it may mean the end of the DVD collection in libraries. While Netflix has struck up a deal with The Criterion Collection to release three Oscar-nominated films later in 2020 (The Irishman, Marriage Story, and the documentary American Factory), no plans have been announced for a physical release of The Two Popes, which was nominated for best actor (Jonathan Pryce), best supporting actor (Anthony Hopkins), and best adapted screenplay. If it is the case that Netflix is keeping their award-winning content exclusive to their streaming service then it is highly unlikely that their recent, extremely popular, original television series will make it to a physical release. Stranger Things has a laundry list of award nominations and wins and has been frequently requested by GCSC library patrons to be added to our collection. Unfortunately, if they want to see it, they have to subscribe to Netflix, have access to a device capable of streaming video, and have access to an internet or mobile data service with decent bandwidth. And that’s just Stranger Things: While Hulu has done a good job releasing DVDs of their exclusive content like Handmaid’s Tale, Amazon keeps its original programming like The Boys and Transparent exclusive to Prime subscriptions.
There has been some online discussion from film critics calling for physical releases of streaming-exclusive content, particularly for the sake of high-resolution director’s cut editions with audio commentary and the usual DVD extras. The Criterion Collection releases are good news to cinephiles, however: Amazon has recently released a 4k version of their media device and Disney+ is leading the way by providing all of the bonus features you’d ever want alongside feature films. For the casual consumer more interested in the experience of viewing a film rather than owning and maintaining a collection of discs, these features might just be the icing on the on-demand cake.
For an academic library, these developments pose an additional snafu: how can instructors incorporate these films into their curriculum without requiring that students subscribe to multiple streaming services? In an ideal world, Hulu, Netflix, and HBO will develop academic-use licenses or special educational performance events for films, especially for exclusive documentaries. Or, academic streaming services like SWANK Digital Campus will collaborate with major platforms to provide academic licenses. At Gulf Coast State College, we’ve already begun to incorporate SWANK into our collection development plan: faculty are able to request streaming licenses for films that they’ll use for their curriculum, many of which might be well-suited for their class but would not circulate otherwise. The library doesn’t have to purchase physical copies of films that might only be viewed for one semester, and we can keep our expensive theft-proof cases for more popular titles.
DVDs aren’t going anywhere. Collectors, as mentioned, still exist and are unlikely to convert streaming services, instead upconverting to the latest format. Redbox still exists (!), DVDs rent for $1 a day and they make no suggestion of stopping, although they have thrown their hat into the streaming service ring. DVDs are also the most egalitarian of video formats: any library patron can easily get a DVD player for $30 and watch as many DVDs as they want (local circulation restrictions apply) without having to subscribe to multiple streaming services. This was the case when I wanted to rewatch the Star Wars films in preparation for the latest installments. Before Disney+, the only option for streaming them was to purchase a $19.99 digital copy of each film. Instead, I acquired a cheap DVD player and rented each film from the library. Problem solved!
Maybe the DVD isn’t going anywhere after all. The recent trends are, however, providing a good opportunity to reexamine collection development policies and explore ways of hybridizing a film collection.