Big gains in streaming doesn't mean the end of optical media

So did you hear all the hub-bub coming out as a result of a report from IHS Screen Digest? Apparently (I have to admit I didn't pay for access to the report itself) they're saying that more movies will be streamed than watched on disk in 2012.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg both reported this story, as well as a few tech blogs, such as TechCrunch, where John Biggs called this new statistic "an inflection point that can only mean the relatively quick demise of high-density optical media."

That's a bold prediction but if I was a betting man I wouldn't put my money on Biggs. Even though I personally have totally embraced a digital lifestyle, I acknowledge that I'm still the minority. And even I still watch DVDs and Blu-rays. I don't buy as many of them as I used to, but I watch them.

So my first issue with the report is to ask how they measure how many movies are viewed on optical disk. There's no way to track those numbers (remember, we're talking about viewings, not purchases) so they must have relied on surveys. But who did they survey? Raise your hand if you're a parent with young kids who're happy to watch the same DVD loop over and over and over again. Now raise your hand if the IHS surveyed you.

But let's just talk about purchases. It's really easy for those of us who read and write tech blogs to assume we're typical consumers, but I don't believe we are. There are still plenty of people out there using dial-up and slow DSL internet connections. There are people with bandwidth caps. There are people who have second homes (or even primary homes) with no internet connection at all. None of these people are going to be streaming movies as a regular practice any time soon.

And even among people who have fast internet with a generous (or non-existent) bandwidth cap, there's a contingent who still wants to own physical media. And in case you think I'm talking about the older generation, I'm not. There's a segment of the younger generation who looks askance at this idea of "owning" media that only exists in the cloud where some corporation both controls and tracks it. These people don't want their viewing habits monitored and don't trust the companies to not change their terms, so they prefer physical media.

My point isn't really even about streaming movies versus optical media. My point is that we're all so quick to accept and embrace reports like the one the IHS has put together because they reinforce our own world view. Like I said, I'm on-board with the digital lifestyle and I want streaming movie services to continue to thrive. But that doesn't mean I believe we're going to see the demise of optical media any time soon.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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