The End of Movie Extras?

Yesterday, I watched Hanna on a DVD I had rented from Netflix.

[Speaking of Netflix, I was pleased to see that Netflix has abandoned its planned shift to Qwikster for DVD rentals. This was a move I previously severely criticized. Now back to our story…] 

The first thing that greeted me upon loading Hanna in my DVD Player was the following message:

“This disc is intended for rental purposes and only includes the feature film.”

Rental-specific DVDs are not especially new. In particular, I had noticed for several months that many of the DVDs I received from Netflix seemed to have expected extras missing altogether (a finding I subsequently confirmed online). But this was the first time a DVD had specifically alerted me to such an omission, advising me to purchase the movie if I wanted the extras. The option to select the extras was still present on the disc (such as for an alternate ending of Hanna). However, if I tried to access them, the message I just cited re-appeared. Any doubts I might have had about what was going on were swept away.

Of course, it has always been the case that renting a DVD from Netflix (unlike from a retail store such as the now-bankrupt Blockbuster) meant that you did not get any of the extras that might have come on a second disc. But this recent policy took it a step further. Now the extras were gone even from the primary DVD. In other words, the movie studios have bothered to create a special limited version of their DVDs, just for Netflix (and, I assume, other similar rental services).

I assume this is a move imposed on Netflix by Hollywood, not something that Netflix wanted. My reaction to this move is “How completely stupid!”

Do the movie studios really think I am going to shell out more bucks for a copy of Hanna, after having watched the Netflix rental disc? Just so I can see the film’s “alternate ending”? If so, they don’t have a clue about my buying habits (which I am guessing are similar to most Netflix subscribers).

Is this Hollywood’s master plan for preserving the sales of physical discs while the world moves increasingly towards streaming of movies? If so, they need to go back to the drawing board. All they are succeeding in doing is making their customers more annoyed. Just as with the DRM restrictions they’ve forced into HDMI, this works more to annoy legitimate users than to prevent piracy. The same goes for policies that require users to pay full price for a Blu-ray disc of a movie, even if they’ve already paid for both the DVD and VHS versions in years past.

The movie industry continues to put its head in the sand and their fingers in their ears (and yes, it’s difficult to do both things simultaneously, but they manage). Ignoring the lessons of the music industry, they continue to risk wrecking their entire business model rather than working to accommodate the changes that come with new technology. Rather than making movie watching more pleasant for their customers, they keep finding new ways to make it more of a pain.

The larger picture

A larger question looms: What does all of this mean for the future of “extras” included with DVD and Blu-ray discs? My Magic 8-Ball comes up: “Outlook not so good.”

If the future of watching movies at home is all about streaming and clouds, then extras may well go away entirely. As far as I know, no online service provides any extras with their rented or streamed movies. Even the iTunes Store, which offers “iTunes Extras” with some movie purchases, clearly states: “”iTunes Extras is not available with rented movies.”

Personally, I would not be upset by the loss of these extras. I rarely view these bonus features anyway. And when I do, it is even rarer that I am glad I bothered. I believe I am in the majority here. However, I am aware that a significant minority strongly disagrees with me. For many, the quality and quantity of the extras determine the value of a DVD or Blu-ray purchase as much as the movie itself. To appease such users, we may eventually see something like “iTunes Extras” become available even for rented/streamed movies. However, I do see kinks here. For starters, if you have only 24 hours to watch a rented movie, this won’t be sufficient to examine all the extras that come with many movies.

Maybe this can all be worked out. Maybe. A lot depends upon if and when Hollywood ever takes their collective heads out of the sand and unplugs their ears. That’s an alternate ending I’m not expecting any time soon.

[Personal note: This is my first column for TMO since the death of Steve Jobs. Like all of us, I was tremendously saddened by this loss. While I did not post a column on the subject here at TMO, I did offer reflections both at my personal blog and in a Macworld article.]