Get Ready for the New Dark Age of Movie Watching

Online only services just won't have as many movie offerings

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Get ready for the coming dark age of streaming-only movies. DVD delivery services are on the way out, and streaming is in. That's great for convenience but horrible for selection. DVDs are the new VHS, as Netflix's aggressive anti-disc strategy, with its price hikes and recent splintering of its delivery and streaming services, shows. The future is streaming, which in theory sounds kind of great, since as we've noted before, people like that kind of instant gratification. But, don't expect a digital renaissance quite yet. As DVDs phase out, we're going to be stuck with online-only services and they just won't have the same offerings.

Marrying DVD delivery with streaming provided a world of movie options, due to legal complications digital-only services just won't have that draw. One of the reasons Netflix won the movies-by-mail game was that it offered pretty much anything that had been put on a disc. And it also attracted a lot of watchers with its premium streaming offerings, many of which came from its contract with Starz. As DVD's become defunct, relationships with premium content providers will determine the movies you'll have access to on streaming services. But these types of relationships are complicated and don't last forever, as we've seen recently with Starz walking away from its contract with Netflix, meaning you won't have every movie you could possibly want at your fingertips.

Having a DVD component alongside streaming, meant you would never be disappointed, if you couldn't get a movie you wanted online, you could fall back on Netflix's physical library and wait for it to arrive on your doorstep. In the new age, get ready for lots of disappointment. There was a legal simplicity to physical copies that allowed services to offer giant libraries, and streaming doesn't work like that. It's about renewing contracts and maintaining relationships. And it's not just Netflix that will hit this roadblock. While iTunes may have spoiled us, the success of the service may have been unique to both Apple and the music industry. Even Apple might have a hard time figuring it out. As Gizmodo's Sam Biddle noted, Jobs "beat major record labels into $0.99 submission--dealing with every cable network under the sun will be even harder."

The dark times haven't arrived quite yet, since Netflix is still offering DVDs. But we're already seeing the beginning of the end. Netflix's streaming options are dwindling: No Starz or Disney means goodbye to a lot of favorites. And Netflix is already priming you for disappointment, as Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner points out, the new service Qwikster will "also lose some more granular functions, like if a movie is not available for streaming, you'll no longer be automatically updated on if it's available on DVD--you'll have to search Qwikster separately."

Of course there are other services besides Netflix, like Walmart's Vudu or Hulu, but that splintered future means you certainly won't find everything in one place. In the short run, it looks like content providers aren't flocking to one service, meaning you'll have to scour the Web for everything you want to watch or sign up for different subscriptions. But maybe there's a light at the end of this opaque tunnel, we all know what comes after a dark age. Consumers want everything at their fingertips, and this demand might, in the very long run, bring about a digital renaissance.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.