AV Avenger: Caught in the 'net

Don't let the internet destroy your beloved movie collection, warns AV evangelist Steve May

These days you can’t move for pundits proclaiming the death of physical media. Whatever your passion, be it DVDs and Blu-rays, CD and vinyl, or coffee table tomes, the connected mantra is largely the same: bin what you own and don’t buy anything that requires a bag to carry it in. This is shockingly bad advice. But I nearly fell for it.

The attraction is obvious, of course, and if you’re a long-suffering collector you’ll be particularly vulnerable. When you’re endangered by piles of stuff, with storage space lost, and boxes overflowing into sheds, garages and lofts, even the most irrational hoarder will begin to look for a solution.

I’d managed to resist any call for such a clearout largely because my predilection is for things borderline weird. Sure, it was hard to justify the space taken up by Adam Sandler discs, but the more treasured aspects of my movie collection were not so readily available. 1950s B movie fare, classic Universal horrors, British sixties fantasy flicks and so on. This is not the stuff Blinkbox is made of.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s plenty of streaming channels offering crap films. But they’re all on Roku and the image quality makes even CD Video look good.

Sony's secret stash

It was the Crackle service that almost did me in. I stumbled across it on a new Sony TV – and incredibly, a good deal of my tawdry film collection was there, on tap and looking refreshingly sweet.  The clincher was The Damned (listed under its US monicker These Are The Damned), an evocative slice of Hammer bunkum, starring Oliver Reed and a load of radioactive kids. The quality was excellent. Perhaps those message-board warriors were right after all. Mentally I began crating up my DVDs.

Then, without warning, Crackle was gone. On April 1 2014, all that was left was a terse post-it note declaring ‘Crackle's UK service will no longer be operating.’ It may have been April Fools but I wasn’t laughing. Not the merest hint of an apology. Elvis had left the building. Had I actually mustered the energy to dump my discs off at the local charity shop I would have been bereft. Even now that close call gives me the shivers.

Crackle carries on regardless elsewhere. Following a deal with NBC Universal, the Sony-owned streamer has become increasingly mainstream. The studio even debuted ill-fated North Korean cause célèbre The Interview on it. Which amplifies my point: just like Kim Jong-Un, streaming services can’t be trusted. They come, they go. They don’t sit reassuringly on your shelf, unopened cellophane wrapper gathering dust forever. And invariably they have bad hair.

This doesn’t mean VoD is bad, it’s just no alternative to actually owning the stuff you love.

Naturally, subscribing to Netflix, Sky, Amazon Prime and goodness knows what else will take its toll on any collector. I buy less today than I did yesterday, because I no longer have to own everything I just want to see. But while Netflix may try and dazzle with Daredevil and House of Cards, I know it’s constantly shunting stuff out the back door as licensing agreements expire. So I’ll never buy into the idea that physical media is past its sell by date. That way lies madness. Trust me on this. When you wake up one morning to find the internet has vanished, I’ll still have my Adam Sandler collection sitting on my shelf. Then we’ll see who’s laughing.