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?