What happens if the streaming company you “own” a movie or TV show from goes out of business? Yes, you lose it

I’d never heard of Jet, but they sell DVDs … no Blu-rays which I found to be strange (see: Walmart closing jet.com – They sell DVD format movies only?)

Common sense here, I know, but yet I read some crazy things online.

Some come from conspiracy theorists on Twitter. and not going to link specific people or commentary here, because that just feeds the trolls, but will describe the circumstances.

Twitter can be a cesspool of negativity, so I try not to get too deeply involved in that site. Facebook? Yeah, I know that site has issues too, so many now that there is an ad boycott campaign.

Sure, I’m biased, but we’re better off spending our free time watching movies, reading reviews and following new movies coming out.

But one of the recent dustups I read about involves Vudu deleting movies you “own” without explanation or reason. I double-checked our library of movies we “own” and yes, they are all there.

Drama averted.

As I read through the tweet comments and replies it sounds like since Vudu was purchased from Walmart by Fandango (see: Fandango Buys Vudu from Walmart – What Does This Mean For Both Services?) they are matching up email addresses to owned titles and those that don’t match are being removed from user libraries. Presumably this is some sort of license validation process. Probably the studios require this sort of validation. Legal stuff.

Guess this means get one email and keep it as long as you possibly can. If it’s tied to a domain, better hope it’s one of the major players (Google, Microsoft). Better if you have your own domain that you plan to keep for as long as you live. Whatever your strategy, moral of this story, use the same email address for your movie purchases.

This raised another subtopic of interest: which is better, digital library or physical media? I remember touching briefly on this topic briefly here: Where Do You MOST Watch Movies? (Theater, TV, Computer, Tablet, Phone)

My vote as of this writing and subject to change is both digital and physical media. If you want to truly own a movie, then buy the physical media. This still requires needing some way to play said media (DVD, Blu-ray, etc) and formats can/do/will become obsoleted (Betamax, VHS!). If you don’t have a player that plays the media type, then you don’t own a movie, you own a coaster.

We buy movies through three services: Amazon, Google Play and Vudu. I used to prefer Vudu, but that was because I didn’t think Walmart would sell them. Wrong. The last few movies we’ve purchased through Google Play. Amazon is probably the safest of the three, because Google does tend to cancel out services, but I don’t see financially Google or Amazon going anywhere any time soon. That’s the concern with movies you buy to “own” — will the company go out of business in your lifetime?

I’d wager that both Google and Amazon are pretty safe bets for longevity. Walmart, too, although they no longer own Vudu. Fandango? I’m not so sure about them long term. as they seem way too tied to movie theaters (and look at the current state of movie theaters, sadly), which means I have to hope that somebody buys Vudu from them if they do go under someday. That’s the only way the movies we “own” will remain accessible.

Some of these digital sites allow you to download the movie so you can play it locally, but again there is some sort of Digital Rights Management (DRM) that ties these movies to the website that authorizes the DRM. Without the website, the DRM will fail and your ability to play the movie may cease. If they removed the DRM then you could copy and redistribute the movie to anybody.

But physical copies have issues too. A major one is physical storage space. For a digital library you don’t need any physical space, it’s all in the cloud, all virtual. You can “own” tens of thousands of movies and don’t need a warehouse in your basement or backyard to store the media. Also, there’s convenience. The more titles you physically own, how the heck do you keep them organized? Library in your home, alphabetically is probably easiest but the more you own, the bigger the library, the bigger the dust, the upkeep, the work to maintain them. Digital? No physical upkeep.

And there are real world hazards to be concerned about with physical media.

What happens to your movies on DVD and Blu-ray if you have a fire? If you have insurance, you make a claim and then you receive money, less your homeowner or renters insurance deductible. You don’t ever just get your movies back. You get the money they are worth at the time of loss. This means you have to rebuy them, if you can rebuy them.

A fire won’t destroy your digital goods, but what if the company that you paid to “own” the movie digitally goes out of business? It’s the cyber version of a fire, only there isn’t any insurance — at least that I’m aware of.

For streaming purchases, the unfortunate fate of one’s collection is pretty straightforward: “Let’s imagine Amazon goes out of business,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia. “In the case of streaming videos, yeah, you just lose it. It’s just not stored locally.”

What Happens to Your Movies If Amazon Goes Out of Business? – The Atlantic

So, do you ever really “own” any movie? Digital, physical, the answer is essentially the same.

No.

You possess the ability to watch it based on a set of unknown future conditions. You can transfer the ownership through sale if you own the physical media, which increases the value.

Think I’ve laid out the many pros and cons.

We were huge collectors of movies and TV show seasons once upon a time. We still own hundreds, but we sold, gave away or donated the rest. We don’t need to own a bunch of “stuff” any more. Now the movies we really love to rewatch, we’ll either buy digitally (preferred) or in some cases the physical media (3D movies, for example which are very specialized format and not as widely represented online) or hopefully can subscribe to a service that shows. I’ve never owned Jaws, but right now have access to HBO Max which has Jaws available to stream. Gone With The Wind? Same thing. Star Wars? I have owned that in a couple different formats. We can watch it whenever we want on Disney+ — as long as we stay subscribed.

Conditions, conditions. There is no right answer to this. What do you do? Buy the physical copies? Buy digital? Both like us? Or none of the above, just subscribe to streaming services and watch/rewatch what you’re most interested in at the moment?

6 thoughts on “What happens if the streaming company you “own” a movie or TV show from goes out of business? Yes, you lose it

  1. This is precisely why I don’t buy digital. I’m a big proponent of physical media. It ensures you have the best quality of whatever you’re playing. More importantly, there are just some movies that are impossible to watch outside of owning them. Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession is one of my favorite movies of all time but is almost impossible to find online (basically need to live in the UK). If I didn’t own a copy I couldn’t watch it.

    That being said I do appreciate streaming services. There are a lot of movies I enjoy but don’t love – so being able to tune in to them on a streaming service is nice. However, if I find myself genuinely vibing with something, I usually try and get it because losing access to media sucks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cloud loss of art is something I didn’t cover, but glad you raised that point. There are a huge number of movies that aren’t available digitally that have been put on DVD and in some cases Blu-ray. Heck, you can go into convenience stores and find DVDs — and usually at a very inexpensive price.

      The TV show Las Vegas is out of print for some reason right now, despite NBC owning the IP. Why that isn’t on Peacock is beyond me, but hoping it shows up on July 15 when it launches for everybody, not just existing customers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You covered the topic better than I would have, and treated me to this line, for a laugh: “If you don’t have a player that plays the media type, then you don’t own a movie, you own a coaster.” My coaster collection is vast.

    (1) I’m quite adamant about ownership and control; I have a NAS on my network rather than put all my data, photos, and videos in the cloud. I store a backup off-site. (2) I keep things, even when there’s not a good reason to do so; I’m still in the process of converting VCR tapes to DVD discs, and maybe I’ll get to the audio cassette tapes. 🙂 (3) You are correct that managing and organizing the physical content is an issue, one I have not solved. Sometimes I cannot find things I “think” I own.

    Despite acknowledging the creature I am, I will be very judicous about owning movies going forward. Like commenter The Critic above, I would own something to preserve access. I would own it digitally if I could (it’s hard to get that download, as you said). We should also recognize that “owning” can merely be a price decision, i.e. three rentals may exceed the price of ownership for something one would repeatedly watch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Preserving access is a much better, more practical way to look at this than ownership. After all, we didn’t create these movies, we just keep them to rewatch and be entertained.

      Let me know if you figure out a good system for archival and retrieval of movies from a library. Once we got over a couple hundred movies and TV series seasons, it got messy. We used to use a program, I’d have to go back through my tech blog archives to find it, that kept track of everything you own: books, movies, etc and where/how they were stored as well as marking the current disposition (loaned to who/where, for example). Wish I could remember the name of that program. Alas, it’s been a good 10+ years since we used the program. We don’t even have a Mac computer running at the moment.

      Street Survivors is the type of movie I’m going to just buy (probably this morning, in fact), even if I only watch it once. $3.99 to rent it, $7.99 to”own” it. Four bucks doesn’t seem like that much more if it turns out to be a movie I really like enough to want to rewatch it. And I’ve been fascinated by the details of that plane crash that killed members of a band in their rock and roll prime.

      The question remaining is *where* to buy it? Tried to cover that above, but guess it’s got to be Google or Amazon, as I’m just not sure what’s up with Fandango.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Once I started hitting the mid 100’s in terms of physical collection, I realized I needed to make a competent spreadsheet of movies,editions,locations,studios, etc. Took a while but I made a nice Excel sheet with all the relevant info in it. Wrote a script to more easily access that list and query it/add to it so my library has become way more functional. That being said this is obviously a custom fit solution, but until some kind of common app comes out that lets you do something similar this is the only thing that can be done.

        I’m sad that digital media isn’t as easy to “own” as in be able to watch the same in a more permanent measure. A more stable market place would be nice but with the way franchise rights are handled that feels more of a pipe dream than anything else.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sounds like you have a good working solution. Well done!

        Yes, a custom program probably answers the most questions. That’s kind of where I end up going whenever I think about these things. Try to find other solutions, but they are never quite right, so end up hacking my own. As we’ve pretty stopped collecting, whatever we “own” now, is almost disposable in our minds. Not sure it makes sense to buy anything under those circumstances, but when rationalize it by buying a ticket at the theater — that money is gone once the movie is over. In the case of buying movies digitally, maybe we can rewatch them here and there without buying another ticket. That could offset the cost over time.

        The program we used on the Mac, you scanned the UPC with the camera and it preloaded all the info from the IMDB or some kind of movie database (there are several).

        Liked by 2 people

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