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Two Major Entertainment Companies Once Again Prove Why Physical Media Will Always Be Superior

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Consumers have been dealt a massive blow yet again. In a sadly unsurprising yet undeniably frustrating turn of events, PlayStation has announced that PlayStation Store customers will lose access to thousands of purchased Discovery titles in their video library.

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Usually, when you purchase a product, there’s an expectation that the product is yours for however long you want to keep it. When you purchase something digitally, though, there is always the risk that it will be taken away from you with little to no warning. In a brusque statement, PlayStation announced that “As of 31 December 2023, due to our content licensing arrangements with content providers, you will no longer be able to watch any of your previously purchased Discovery content and the content will be removed from your video library.”

Affected shows include reality TV offerings like American Chopper, Cake Boss, Deadliest Catch, Four Weddings, How It’s Made, and many more.

It’s been a tumultuous year for streaming, but especially for consumers who use those streaming platforms. Multiple streaming services have removed original content from their libraries, never to be seen again. Disney+ removed Willow, for instance, a mere six months after it first premiered on the platform. Warner Bros. Discovery, similarly, has removed multiple movies and shows, including a plethora of children’s and animated content, as well as heavy hitters like Westworld.

One could argue that, because those shows were available to stream only so long as someone had a subscription, the studios could do whatever they wanted with those productions, even if they removed them for a meager tax break. But in this instance, PlayStation and Discovery are forcibly removing thousands of titles that PlayStation Store customers fully purchased, albeit digitally. Not rented, purchased. We now live in an age where things you “buy” are not fully yours. Essentially, what you’re purchasing instead is a license to watch that title whenever you want—and a license can be revoked at any time, either by the service you’re using or the original producer of the content. This doesn’t just apply to movies and shows—books, games, music, and other digital media are suffering from the same fate.

It’s unclear whether this removal is because PlayStation no longer wanted to pay Warner Bros. Discovery for their library or perhaps because Warner Bros. revoked their agreement themselves—some of Warner Bros.’ recent decisions certainly make that plausible. In every case, it is the customer who loses out. There is currently no word as to whether consumers will be able to somehow download their purchases or if they’ll be afforded a refund. Given the current climate, both scenarios seem unlikely.

This is yet another pertinent example of why physical media is still so important, despite streaming companies and studios trying to convince you of the opposite. As Christopher Nolan recently said, (HBO) Max and its ilk can’t come into your home and steal a DVD or Blu-ray right off your shelf. That is yours to keep until you decide you don’t need it anymore. In recent years, dozens, perhaps even hundreds, or thousands of shows, movies, documentaries, and specials have never been granted a physical media release. Some box sets were simply never completed. And while we’ve had a few sprinklings of hope this past year, with Disney+, for instance, releasing WandaVision, Loki, and two seasons of The Mandalorian as limited edition Steelbook Blu-rays, that is just a drop in the ocean. Plenty of other productions are still at risk of disappearing forever, even if you’ve “bought” them digitally.

Digital Rights Management continues to be a divisive issue. When a piece of media is DRM-protected, it means that the producer or publisher can restrict how and where people view their content. Amazon e-books, for instance, can only be read via Kindle e-readers or the Kindle app on a phone or tablet, and Amazon can decide to remove that book from your library with no warning. When it comes to gaming, certain publishers can simply revoke a player’s license to play on any distribution platform—PC gamers, especially, have fallen victim to this trend. Discovery’s content being removed from the PlayStation Store represents a similar issue. One party decided that it was no longer worth it, and suddenly thousands of customers spent their hard-earned cash on nothing.

The argument for DRM-free content is that it would allow consumers to use their purchased digital games, movies, books, and shows through whatever platform they wish, simply because they purchased the right to enjoy that content. It’s a tricky subject and one that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon—piracy is certainly an issue, especially for smaller, independent creators—but this PlayStation and Discovery fiasco certainly makes it seem worthwhile. If anything, consumers should be given the option to transfer their purchased content somewhere they can still access it, but that seems unlikely to happen.

Streaming was supposed to mean that you could access everything you wanted, anywhere, any time—but it certainly doesn’t feel like that anymore.

(featured image: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

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El Kuiper
El (she/her) has been working as a freelance writer for various entertainment websites for over a year, ever since she completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including British TV and franchises like Marvel, but she is happy to pitch in with gaming content once in a while if it concerns one of the few video games she actually knows anything about. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.

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