Home Entertainment The DVD turns 25: How the disc got started and why it’s...

The DVD turns 25: How the disc got started and why it’s still popular | Entertainment

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“Titanic” was the first DVD to sell one million copies.




The “DVD” acronym originally stood for “Digital Versatile Disc.” The first DVD to ship more than 1 million units was “Titanic.”

And when Disney released “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on DVD in October 2001, it sold 1 million copies. In one day.

These are just a few of the fun facts Southern California journalist Thomas K. Arnold unearthed for the two-part series on the 25th anniversary of the DVD that he wrote for the March and April editions of Media Play News, a publication devoted to the home-entertainment industry.

But the most stunning thing about the series is not the reminder that when Netflix founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph offered to sell the company to Blockbuster for $50 million, Blockbuster turned them down.

It is the fact that in this age of endless streaming entertainment, the DVD is still around and still worth celebrating.

An unbreakable connection

“The connection has to be drawn. DVDs shaped our present entertainment habits. Seventy-eight percent of all the money spent on home entertainment is spent on streaming, and streaming wouldn’t have happened if not for the DVD,” said Arnold, Media Play News’ publisher and editor.

“The DVD is not nearly dead. It is still a huge business.”

There is no question that DVDs do not rule the home-entertainment landscape the way they did in, say, the banner year of 2000, when DVD players were in 13 million homes, consumers snapped up more than 182 million discs, and “Gladiator” and “X-Men” had first-week DVD sales of $60 million. Each.

According to the Digital Entertainment Group, sales of DVDs (including Blu-ray and other formats) dropped by 19.5% in 2021, for nearly $2 billion in sales. Meanwhile, Grand View Research reported that in 2020, the global streaming market was valued at $50 billion.

Massive impact

But for an item roughly the size of a coaster, the 25-year-old DVD has had a massive impact on the way we entertain ourselves right now.

Arnold began covering the home-entertainment business when he joined Video Store Magazine in 1991, which gave him a front-row (recliner) seat for the DVD revolution. And while it might be hard for stream-addicted viewers to imagine, his series reminds us that a revolution is exactly what it was.

Before Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb spearheaded the development of a CD-inspired video disc to distribute movies, our home-entertainment lives were ruled by clunky VHS cassettes, chunky VHS players, and picky video-store rules. The quality wasn’t great, the format wasn’t user-friendly, and late fees were a pain.

The player

Did you remember to rewind? Did anybody?

When DVD players were rolled out at the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 1997, home-viewing was about to change in a seismic way. The digitized images were sharper, and the sound was richer. The discs were smaller and easier to store. Cheaper, too.

And as an incentive for consumers to buy the discs instead of renting them, studios began adding deleted scenes, blooper-reels and other extras.

The DVD helped make us the masters of our entertainment universe.

We watched what we wanted to watch, when we wanted to watch it, as many times as we wanted to watch it. We bought bigger and bigger screens and invested in better sound systems. And the studios were more than happy to give us more of that on-demand thing.

Netflix movie rental

Speaking of in-demand, Arnold’s story recounts the origins of Netflix, which started because Hastings reportedly had to spend $40 in video-store late fees for an overdue copy of “Apollo 13.”Netflix began renting movies to customers by mail in 1998, postage-paid return envelope included. According to Business Insider, Netflix mailed DVDs to about 2 million people in 2019.

“The DVD shifted everyone from renting to buying. When the studios realized that consumers were buying everything, that made them digitize their libraries. And that enabled streaming,” Arnold said. “You could never rent videocassettes by mail. They were too big and bulky and heavy. Keep in mind that for 10 years, Netflix only rented discs by mail. DVD gave all of digital entertainment its start.”

Lasting legacy

Those small discs also introduced us to the bottomless rabbit-hole that is binge-watching.

When studios began putting entire seasons of TV shows on DVD, you could pop in one episode of “Friends,” and not leave your couch for an entire weekend. Long before we were binging on “Bridgerton,” the DVD craze got us hooked on devouring TV in one greedy gulp.

“At one point in 2001, DVD TV shows accounted for $4 billion in consumer spending,” Arnold said. “I remember a good friend of mine told his family he had to work while they went on vacation, and he stayed home and watched all six seasons of ‘The Sopranos.’ I think that paved the way for people to sit down and watch multiple seasons in one session, which laid the groundwork for streaming.”

Since Media Play News covers all aspects of home entertainment, Arnold is fully steeped in the comforting conveniences of streaming. But when he notices that everyone in his house is glued to a different screen, each person in their own separate room having their own solitary experience, he knows that convenience comes with caveats.

The disc itself might be celebrating its silver anniversary, but that experience of firing up the living-room TV and sharing a new movie or TV show with the fellow fans in your life? That is pure entertainment gold.

“A lot of stuff generates buzz, but with streaming, it is more of an individual experience now. And it never lasts long,” Arnold said.

Here’s a roundup of notable releases coming out — in theaters and in your living room — between now and the end of the August:

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