My Two Cents
Thursday, 12 October 2023 12:48

BREAKING/EXCLUSIVE on The Bits: Best Buy is exiting the physical media business for good in 2024 [UPDATED]

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[10/13/23 Update: Variety and Media Play News have now confirmed my reporting that Best Buy is phasing out physical media in the new year, following the 2023 holiday shopping season. The company will apparently still continue to sell videogames. A Best Buy spokesperson provided this statement to Variety: “To state the obvious, the way we watch movies and TV shows is much different today than it was decades ago. Making this change gives us more space and opportunity to bring customers new and innovative tech for them to explore, discover and enjoy.” So... there you have it. Longtime readers of The Digital Bits can rest assured of two things: First, no this does not spell the end of physical media. And second, I’ll have a great deal more to say on this topic here at The Bits on Monday and all next week. See you back here then.]

All right, folks... we’ve got a little bit of a whopper for you today. And so as not to bury the lede, let’s get right to it...

The Digital Bits has learned from industry sources—and we’ve confirmed it with multiple sources now—that Best Buy plans to exit the physical media business for good next year, possibly as soon as the end of Q1 2024.

This includes not just their in-store Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD sales, which the retailer has been gradually phasing out for a couple of years now in their many store locations nationwide, but online sales as well. This means no more Best Buy-exclusive Steelbook titles, and no more titles from Best Buy period.

The fact that Best Buy is discontinuing physical media sales in their retail locations should come as no surprise; anyone who’s visited a Best Buy store location on a Tuesday recently will be all too aware that the retailer’s disc sections keep getting moved around and have gotten smaller and smaller. Our own experience here at The Bits is that some store locations don’t even bother to stock new-release titles on the sales floor anymore—even their exclusive ones. More than once, in their Southern California locations, I’ve had to ask for the titles and wait while a clerk checks the storeroom.

But the idea that Best Buy would discontinue online sales too comes as a bit of a surprise... though perhaps it shouldn’t. We’ve noted in recent months that Paramount has quietly shifted their Blu-ray and 4K Steelbook exclusive titles—titles that would normally have been released at Best Buy—to Amazon instead. And it seems very likely that other studios will follow Paramount’s lead in the months ahead. [Read on here...]

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Some of you may recall a story that my old friend TK Arnold, over at Media Play News, shared back in August (click here for that), which suggested that Walmart was in talks with Studio Distribution Services (SDS) about having SDS manage parts of the retailer’s own physical media operation, including shipping and distribution.

Walmart is already the largest retail seller of Blu-ray, DVD and 4K titles—larger even than Amazon—with over 45% market share. With Best Buy throwing in the towel, that leaves only Target and Amazon as serious competition in the physical media space here in the States. Amazon is certainly staying in that space for the long-haul, but Target stores too have scaled back their physical media sales in recent years. So it seems logical that these two pieces of news—Best Buy bowing out of the business and Walmart looking to upgrade or make more efficient their own—are not unrelated.

In any case, this is certainly a significant development. But while it obviously isn’t good news, no one should rush to the conclusion that this spells the end of physical media. The disc business is definitely no longer what it was, even five or six years ago. And the Golden Age of DVD and Blu-ray that so many of us remember fondly (a period that runs from 1997 to 2012–13) is long gone.

Still, the indie studios and distributors have built a thriving business—though one with narrow profit margins—by catering to diehard fans and collectors. And virtually all of the major Hollywood studios now recognize—or have begun to—that the disc business can still be a reliable source of revenue, even as streaming profits remain elusive and the theatrical business appears to be in decline.

As I said a few years ago, and have said many times since, physical media will likely continue to be viable through the end of the decade. But there is no doubt that times have changed, and it has most definitely become a niche market for collectors, not unlike the LaserDisc era back in the 1990s.

So our advice to disc fans continues to be this: Buy the titles you want while you still can, because gone are the days when the studios are going to keep releasing these titles on disc forever. Support physical media in every way you can, knowing that 4K Ultra HD is likely to be the last physical media format that comes to market. And enjoy your favorite movies and TV series on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UHD for as long as they last.

Back with more tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Empty Blu-ray & DVD shelves at Best Buy (Image credit: Heisenberg333444 on Reddit r/4kbluray)

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