The Decline of the Disc and Media in an Online 21st Century

Shapan: Fewer people look forward to release dates of their favorite music albums. Fewer people are excited when their favorite shows are released on DVD. Yes, the economy is facing tough times and people might not be spoiling themselves as much as they used to with life’s little luxuries. But an even bigger factor in the decline in anticipation may involve the availability of media elsewhere, on the ever-consuming all-powerful, Internet.

Napster made headlines a decade ago before it was shut down for copyright infringement, but it was only the beginning of music downloading. Not only is an album readily available after its release date, it’s often all over the Internet weeks before its release. Promotional copies of CDs spread around before an album is made available to the public, but these copies are generally dispersed through the Internet and through the public like wildfire. Technology has adapted to the wide availability of music with the iPod’s enormous storing capacity, which allows people to store their entire library of music in a tiny device. The idea of holding 40,000 songs in the palm of your hand would be uncommon years ago, but now that doesn’t even seem like enough to a rabid music collector. Why hold a CD that has a dozen or so songs when you can have an iPod with tens of thousands of them, right?

TV has also taken its lumps thanks to the Internet. The rise of web sites like YouTube has made clips of practically anything easily and readily available at the click of a button. Recently the popularity of Hulu, a website that offers many TV shows in their entirety as well as films, has opened the floodgates to the next step of Internet viewing.

Before Hulu, there were countless web sites illegally offering streaming shows and movies, often in poor quality, that were quickly shut down for copyright infringement. But Hulu is a joint product of Fox and NBC, and the quality is top-notch. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.

The Internet is a dominant presence now, and it’s hard to think that little time is needed to be so prevalent in American culture. Back in the ’90s, the World Wide Web just started out, and now it’s hard for most people to function without it. Now with all the blogs, gossip, shows, movies and other media all over the Internet, the entertainment world has realized the importance of the Internet.

The way entertainment is being presented is already changing in front of our eyes, and who knows how far it will go? The web has adjusted to entertainment ever since its incarnation, but within the next decade, entertainment might have to adjust to the web.

Go, Pat, go!

Pat: I don’t watch TV anymore, let alone purchase movies or even rent them at a brick-and-mortar for that matter.

Production values of television, for the most part, fall well below movies and it just doesn’t feel like TV is worth the investment of my time when it’s fundamentally an inferior product in almost every respect. I suspect that has to do with the vicious cycle of downloading, causing a subsequent cut in advertising dollars and thus a tendency for most TV shows to lose quality.

Still, I think that the wide availability of things like piracy, iTunes, Netflix, Blockbuster Online and Hulu really raises the bar for a product’s entertainment value relative to one’s willingness to invest. In other words, if I know that I can watch a show for free on Hulu, stream a movie on my Netflix account, or download the one-hit-wonder’s latest for $0.99, why would I sit through commercials, spend $20 on a DVD, or buy an album? I will only invest in the product if I think it truly deserves my dollars, if it struck that rare cord that makes me want to invest in the designers’ work.

As such, I bide my entertainment dollars rather conservatively, devoting TV time to Fox’s “24” exclusively, and buying DVDs only to keep a collection complete — Marvel films, for instance. Advertisers seem to notice the trend, and the stable of “consumable” products — that is, “good enough” to bother with — seems to keep shrinking. That is likely the result of advertising dollars becoming singularly concentrated in genuinely well-produced or popular entertainment than ever before, thus removing the lowest rung of the industry from market viability.

In that sense, downloading might be a blessing in disguise, but I think it certainly hurts incentive for the artists and talent that have yet to hit the heights of Fox and the popularity of “24.”

Some of those on the “lowest rung” might be up-and-coming, cutting their teeth on an obscure show, album, or film. In that case, if the investment is bound to fail, artists and producers at the bottom might be more hesitant to take the risk. Would something like Kevin Smith’s low-budget “Clerks,” the film that launched his career, be a viable investment today?

Maybe not, but today’s mass downloading, examined from another angle, might be just as good or better than yesterday’s low-budget independent film or underground record. The next Kevin Smith could easily make “Clerks” without investing as much, if anything at all, in the product, and reach an even wider audience much faster by using services like YouTube and iTunes.

The modes of consumption might change; this is happening already with the decline of newspapers and seems inevitable with cable TV providing streaming video and it’s really a matter of advertisers adapting to these new marketplaces.

It is important to keep money in the industry to provide incentive for new artists, and, with time, producers and advertisers will find a way to adapt the Internet to their products and vice-versa. In the meantime, however, current mediums are certainly due for an overhaul.