Disney Announces Permanent Halt to Australian DVD & Blu-Ray Releases in Era-Ending Physical Media Shakeup

Jonathan D

Disney Announces Permanent Halt to Australian DVD & Blu-Ray Releases in Era-Ending Physical Media Shakeup

After August 2023, Disney will no longer be producing or releasing DVDs and Blu-Ray discs for Australia.

No More DVDs or Blu-Rays

discs

Seven News (also known as 7NEWS), the most widely-viewed television news service in Australia, shared more details on what will happen moving forward.

The Walt Disney Company confirmed it is pulling out of Australia’s physical media market, and the limited number of Australian and New Zealand stockists will no longer receive DVDs after Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3.

guardians of the galaxy
Source: IMDb

This means the halt to physical media releases will extend to nearby New Zealand (Aotearoa), too. The release of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” this August will be the final time collectors or those who still primarily use optical discs for their entertainment can get their hands on a physical copy of Walt Disney Company media. After that, older titles will be available while supplies last, though there may be a rush to grab what’s left before it’s too late.

Enthusiasts, critics, and experts all believe this decision may spark a chain reaction across the world, as other major distributors might follow suit and give up on a rapidly-shrinking industry.

Dave Lee, a certified Rotten Tomatoes critic from Australia who operates a widely-viewed YouTube pop culture channel offered his own perspective:

Almost no one I know in real life buys physical, the physical “collectors” online are a very, very small bubble. It’s been dire straits out here for a while. This has been a long time coming…doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

An Era Ends

The decision is not necessarily surprising, as most consumers now solely depend on digital copies of media or streaming services for their film and television access — though it does mark the beginning of the end for a home media era that has been with us for decades.

vhs betamax

The 1976 unveiling of the VHS cassette tape by JVC marked a true beginning for home video as a cheap and accessible form of entertainment for everyone. Before, lack of quality, small amounts of product, or prohibitively expensive costs essentially relegated most regular consumers to live television or the cinema.

Betamax — a competing format from Sony — also had high hopes for market superiority at the time, with the pair sharing about 50% of the industry apiece in the late 70s. Betamax tapes actually offered higher visual quality, though this was eventually compromised to compete with the standard two-hour play VHS tapes enjoyed. By 1981, Betamax only had 25% of the home video market, dropping again to less than 10% by 1986.

Walt Disney Home Video gold text logo

The image above probably ignites sentimental feelings for countless Disney fans, many of whom were first introduced to countless classics on a video cassette. While this era brought fond memories to audiences, it also proved itself extremely lucrative, as the “Disney Vault” policy started in later VHS (and disc) years allowed movies to be sold at greater prices with higher demand.

Through moratoriums on sales Disney inflicted on itself, the company would create a sense of scarcity by limiting the amount of time in which certain titles were available for purchase, bringing them back for another limited time only after several years had passed.

While 95 million Americans still owned a VCR in 2005, this was also around the time most major distributors were discontinuing video releases in favor of discs. Japanese electronics company Funai was the last organization to continue producing VHS equipment, until it relented and ceased production in 2016 after a lack of sales and components shortage.

Bob Chapek speaking into microphone

Former CEO Bob Chapek worked in the Buena Vista Home Entertainment arm of Disney at the time, being responsible not only for the Disney Vault’s inception, but also for pushes he made to transition home video into the digital age.

The Walt Disney Company (and North America at-large) began its interest with DVDs in 1997, before public support truly ballooned around 2000, and especially in 2002. LaserDisc was an earlier pioneer for optical discs receiving wider use and attention, though it paled in comparison to the phenomenon DVD would become due to its associated high costs and unreliability.

dvds 2

The DVD peaked in 2005, when revenue was well above $16 billion and 64% of the American home video market was dominated by it. Between 2004 and 2008, revenue stayed above the $16 billion mark, marking the relative golden age of the Digital Video Disc.

Starting in 2009, sales plummeted, and they’ve never looked back. At first, a sharp decline was attributed to the Great Recession, though the rise of Netflix and other streaming services essentially eliminated any chance of a comeback. Physical media sales simply aren’t what they used to be, and have fallen dramatically in recent years. Between 2008 and 2018, DVD sales plummeted 86% while streaming platform revenue grew over 1,000%.

Blu-Ray, the extremely short-lived HD DVD, and Ultra HD Blu-Ray did revive interest, and various forms of Blu-Ray continue to grow more popular than DVD, though this is all relative. Even if Blu-Ray takes the place of the DVD, all optical discs are fading into obscurity. None have been able to shake off dwindling financial returns compared with non-physical options.

playstation xbox

While movies and series are mostly streamed, discs are still widely used in the video game market. The Nintendo Switch utilizes a technology similar to SD cards as the physical format for its games, though the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox One Series X/S all still produce games on discs, especially major AAA titles.

That being said, even in this industry, IGN speculates digital downloads of games may soon be dominant. Physical discs are being overtaken in gaming due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, but more notably the push from major corporations to monetize more elements of gameplay beyond the initial point of purchase. Most PlayStation and Xbox revenue now comes from these in-game purchases and downloadable content, as opposed to hard copies.

Capcom Logo
Source: Capcom

Micro-transactions, “pay-to-win” practices, the notion of live games as a service, and game subscriptions in general have contributed to the dramatic and sudden shift. Before 2018, the majority of PlayStation content came from discs — not anymore. Entities such as Capcom have even begun to report more than 80% of their 2022 annual sales coming from digital downloads.

Another physical format is disappearing from shelves, though if there’s any parallel to be drawn with CDs and vinyl, there’s no telling if the future may be kinder to optical discs.

Do you still collect DVDs or Blu-Rays? How about VHS, Betamax, or LaserDisc? Will North America be the next market to end physical media? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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