Will 2023 be remembered as the year physical ownership mounted a comeback?

2023 might rightfully be remembered for a number of things. The 70th anniversary of Marantz, 30 years of The Nightmare Before Christmas, or the year that no one watched superhero movies anymore.

Equally, it could be remembered as the year the wheel fell off the digital bandwagon leading to a resurgence of physical media.

A wise man once said 'if you can't hold it you don't own it' and that certainly seemed to be the mantra for 2023. Even as the 4K Blu-ray of Oppenheimer [pictured] sold out across the US as fans clamoured to own the Christopher Nolan approved physical disc, Disney+ was purging Willow from existence.

And ending the year with a particularly controversial flourish, Sony informed PlayStation owners that titles they'd 'purchased' from the Discovery Channel on PlayStation Store were about to be removed, with no refunds given.

In effect, Sony had sold punters a licence to watch content, which apparently covered 1000s of hours of stuff, until they no longer said they could.

It's a salutary lesson for digital 'buyers' but should come as no surprise. In the world of video games, physical ownership seems destined to become an antiquated concept. A mid-2023 leak of the next Xbox Series X, apparently due October 2024 and code-named Brooklin, teased an all-digital console with no physical media capability whatsoever. You'll be able to play games on it – until you can't anymore, when game servers get turned off.

Physical fanfare
The good news is, despite this, old-fashioned physical media sales seem to have had a good run. Vinyl continues to be the poster boy of the physical music market, with sales up 13 per cent in the UK alone, while CD is holding ground. From my vantage point there definitely seems to have been a significant uptick in desirable disc activity.

Has physical media been thrown a lifeline as the various streamers begin to realise that a streaming service is a difficult beast to fund and grow?

Netflix was the first to introduce a Standard with Ads plan. If you're prepared to sacrifice 4K and Dolby Atmos, you can save yourself a tenner a month. Now Disney+ has followed suit in the UK, and soon Prime Video will begin including adverts in movie and TV streams – unless you pay extra.

Conversely, disc sales impressed over the past year. Paramount Pictures shifted 350,000 physical units of Top Gun: Maverick. The BBC reality games show Traitors sold like gangbusters. Even Disney has shown renewed interest in Blu-ray, launching a slew of high-profile editions, including a 4K release of the original animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as well as Marvel and Star Wars TV shows of more recent vintage.

As for Oppenheimer, its US disc sell-out may or may not be down to comments Nolan reportedly made at a Los Angeles screening of the movie for the crew. The director said he'd had been working on the physical release for months.

'We put a lot of care and attention into the Blu-ray version… a version you can buy and own at home and put on a shelf so no evil streaming service can come steal it from you.'

Warwick Davis must sympathise. Fantasy series Willow was the preeminent title in a batch of some 50 Disney+ properties pulled from its streaming service, apparently to reduce its tax liability. Wouldn't it be great if the House of Mouse now released it on disc?