Following his article on the Cancellation of DC’s Batgirl film, Ed Farley delves deeper into the ramifications of losing digital content, and how these ramifications draw parallels to the history of film.
Streaming services. I’ve spoken about them a lot. The joys of having hundreds of titles at your fingertips, to a point where the biggest complaint amongst many – is that there’s such little time to digest it all. Just because we have something at our fingertips doesn’t necessarily mean we can use our fingertips to physically touch it.
The way we watch film and TV is often determined by relevant trends and technology. If we have smartphones and laptops, it’s only logical that we have media that conforms to our new viewing habits. The beauty of streaming is the diversity of viewing options. We can take a TV show or movie anywhere with us. It’s easier to open an app and watch content made specifically for our needs. Why would we lug an album of DVDs and transfer them to a bulky DVD player, if they were available on all of our devices to watch anywhere?
Because the content was tethered to one place only, films revered by audiences were often lost in fires, in archival mishaps, or incidents where film was damaged beyond recognition
It’s good for companies to profit from changing social and technological conditions, and it’s good for us as consumers because we feel seen when we have platforms that address our changing needs. However, we pay for a streaming service, meaning that we don’t own the content, but rather we pay for the thing that carries the film or television programme. If it’s exclusive to a studios service, it’s made clear that it belongs to Netflix, Disney+, or Amazon. Because of this, do we really own something? When it’s purely at the hands of a service, we don’t have the option of deciding if we can see it again or not, an essential part of traditionally owning media content.
The fear of losing content isn’t a new phenomenon. Examples of titles ceasing to exist happened over a century ago. Before the DVD or VHS, there was just the movie theatre. One would go to the cinema, watch the film, and afterwards, the physical ownership ceased after the single exchange of a ticket. The film would be rolled back up into its cannister and stored away and the relationship with the product would have ceased, as there were not technological movements that allowed film to be so easily accessible. Because the content was tethered to one place only, films revered by audiences were often lost in fires, in archival mishaps, or incidents where film was damaged beyond recognition.
The parallels that are a century apart are uncanny, considering the same threat is now looming on the digital space. One day we could be watching a show, and the next, the result of business deals falling through or a contract ending means that we are unable to do so anymore. Through no fault of our own, digital media can cease to exist. If we have no physical backups, being pulled from a server means its lost to us forever.
Just because we are moving into the future, doesn’t mean we have to disregard everything from the past
The digital space is much like the storage facility of a studio. In both ages, due to media responding to the technological demands of the time, the conditions that make the existence of certain media possible, can be seen as their biggest downfall. Even if some shows or films are seen of little cultural value to some, its fragility sets it in the same leagues as lost works because it has been lost in the (sometimes literal) flames of the times. It exhibits the legitimate argument that mass-produced physical media is essential to the life of a product. Just because we are moving into the future, doesn’t mean we have to disregard everything from the past. A physical release of that content could solidify this, a sentiment held by Netflix’s own creator Mike Flanagan, who actively talks about the importance of preserving physical media.
If something is kept in the hands of the people it’s made for, it’s going to be looked after. Streaming and digital releases are great, but the exclusivity factor that drives customers to their platforms can also shun them away. 1920s or 2020s, the notion of exclusivity means content is at the risk of ruin. The key to having a connection to anything, I would argue, is that it is tangible and reachable and owning physical media will ensure that the media we enjoy is available to us, and that the hard work of creators and studios alike will be available and celebrated for many years to come.
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