The Current Format War

The last physical format war was HD-DVD versus Blu-Ray. HD-DVD met a rather quick defeat compared to the previous format wars, where you had more than one format existing side-by-side for different reasons. VHS vs. Betamax VS. Laserdisc was and interesting and long era, where only VHS and LD really had any place due to their nature of media. Way back in 2012 I had a post about what sort of role OVA had on the format war overall, and looking back at this post I should revise it a lot. Interestingly, history tends to rhyme and we’re seeing some of the same stuff taking place with the current format war, which isn’t between physical media, but between streaming services.

Unlike with physical media, digital streaming services are relatively easy to make. The standard for it is already there, embedded video that’s streamed to a device. Looking at the amount of streaming service there are, pretty much any larger company has one, from A&E to YouTube Red. Of course, Netflix is the most successful and well known of the bunch, and is expected to corner to market on the long run due to its overwhelming global popularity.

However, we are talking about a delivery method that does not require the purchase of a separate player and dedication to a form of media. The paradigm shift from television and prerecorded material to decentralised television and all-access services has transformed television as a concept altogether to something most traditional channels probably can’t handle without large shift in their business plans and structure. While physical media will not be phased out as fast as commentators and industry insiders have thought (we’ve been told the last fifteen years that in few years nobody will purchase physical media anymore), it has gone down progressively alongside abandoning the living room centric television. This has affected video games as well, as we’ve discussed, and is one of the major factors why the Switch is a successful console on its own right.  Everybody has a screen in their pocket, everyone has a television in their pocket.

Format wars have been won by having the most stuff on your format as well as capabilities that are not offered by your competition. Laserdisc was a great format for film enthusiast who wanted quality, but the sheer size of the discs and the costs over Beta and VHS later down the line were higher. BETA may have been better than VHS in quality, but it was more expensive and had Sony’s proprietary tech that cost more to license than VHS. VHS ultimately became cheapest option as mass manufacturing took root and home recording became accessible for the general audience like never before. The old tale of porn winning the format war for VHS is not exactly wrong, as it allowed so many small-sized studios and independents to release their products. YouTube and other similar sites that allow and partner with user-driven content creation would be the modern equivalent. However, this is a paradigm shift in itself, and user-created content, be it home mobvies, indies or recording stuff off the TV, ultimately has less to do with winning the format war this time around. It’s all about what professional content you have.

Shows like Star Trek Discovery, Devilman Crybaby, and Cobra Kai are all shows that were made to drive views and sales of a streaming service. CBS did not go and aim to make a great Star Trek show for CBS All-Access, they aimed to make a show that would drive subscriptions, and considering they’ve greenlight the second season and have boldly announced best results ever, it seems to have worked. World wide, Netflix was the one with STD under their belt, but unlike most other streaming services, they’ve been bringing original animation to the forefront more.

While a site like Crunchyroll streams and simulcasts cartoons from the far orient, Netflix has put more money into original creations, most of which have been largely popular. The aforementioned Devilman Crybaby raised quite a bit of buzz and gained some subs for Netflix, and the same thing can be said of their Castlevania adaptation. Netflix and Crunchyroll have a niche cornered. The only thing that can really affect the amount of money made is how much ads get blocked on free streaming sites and how well the consumer is treated. It’s not exactly rare to hear Crunchyroll shitting on their costumers or dropping the streaming quality for all users, including the paying subscribers, without earning. A site like them should know to keep the front and back of the counter completely separate, but with the advent of social media era, it’s seems to have become really hard not to try and piss people off of Twitter or Facebook.

While new and original content is the main tool in this war, nostalgia is also a grand factor. Something and something old usually work hand in hand. All examples here are really just nostalgia driven somehow. Star Trek is an entertainment institution on its won right, Devilman is one of the most important comic books created on the world wide scale, Castlevania pulls the NES kid out from you and Cobra Kai is YouTube Red’s weapon in this. Cobra Kai‘s a show that people would enjoy and Sony has been criticised for putting it to a platform with smaller consumer base rather than on something like Netflix, where the show could get its proper amount of views.

That is, of course, entirely the point.

Having just one provider for any service will easily lead into situation where the consumer has no other options to choose from and has to be satisfied to whatever products and services in whatever quality the provider gives in. The current format war won’t have one winning side, because there is no need for the consumer to dedicate himself to just one medium. What these providers now have to fight with is content, and the more content you have people want to watch and can’t be seen on other services, the more leverage you have. Disney of course will be an absolute juggernaut whenever they start their own services due to sheer size of their library, but we shouldn’t ignore the likes of Amazon Prime and their constant licensing of niche shows that aren’t available elsewhere in the West. While at face value it would seem beneficial for the consumer to have everything in one place, competition is always a driving force.

Of course, then there are digital luddites like me who just sit and wait for shows to come out on physical media.

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