Earlier this month, people panicked at the possibility that the beloved 1990s sitcom Friends might be leaving Netflix in the new year. The streaming-video service ultimately renewed its license for Friends through 2019. But it’s not the first time people were up in arms over an old TV show leaving a streaming platform. It happened with Futurama and 30 Rock and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which all moved from Netflix to Hulu in the US. And users on social media regularly threaten to depart Netflix if it ever removes The Office from its streaming library.
Streaming video is changing (paywall). Media companies like Disney and WarnerMedia are launching their own platforms and have less reason to license their classic TV shows to other services like Netflix. Netflix, in turn, is creating more original programming.
Netflix won’t always be there to play Friends for you. But your DVD box sets will.
If you truly love a show—buy it. I never have to worry about losing access to my go-to TV favorites—Buffy, The Office, Veronica Mars, and most seasons of Friends—because I have them on DVD. My disc copies will be there for me for as long as I have a DVD player. My well-worn copies of Buffy sit proudly on my bookshelf, steps from my couch. Yes, changing the disc every few episodes is mildly annoying. The interface on the 2000s-era box sets is archaic, and requires navigating through a virtual graveyard and at least three menus of options before I can press play on an episode. But it’s a small price to pay to watch my favorite shows whenever I want.
For popular series, companies like HBO still put out DVD and Blu-ray box sets with special features. A Game of Thrones one, to be released next year after the final season airs, will include a reunion interview with current and former cast members.
DVD players are pretty cheap nowadays. They sell for around $30 online. And game consoles, including Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation, double as DVD and Blu-ray players (and stream media as well).
What’s more, many modern DVD and Blu-ray discs come with digital copies that you can download and save to a computer for easy access. This is a good option if you’re worried about future access to DVD players, which is a completely reasonable concern in 2018. Platforms like Vudu’s disc-to-digital service also allow people to make digital copies of their DVDs for a few bucks apiece.
Companies like Apple and Amazon sell digital copies of old TV shows. You don’t actually own those digital copies, though. They’re part of a service. Amazon Prime Video’s terms, for instance, say that people purchase access to digital content for an indefinite amount of time. Amazon has in rare cases removed access to e-books that people purchased, though there has not been a major instance where it removed TV show access.
Some classic shows like Moonlighting, Bruce Willis’s first big starring role, haven’t made it to streaming video yet. But they’re still available to buy on DVD. There’s a burgeoning renaissance of Blu-ray discs among some video collectors and super fans, in part because of these gaps in online-video libraries, as Wired has reported.
Now, I’m not suggesting you abandon subscription services entirely and supplement your TV viewing with DVD box sets like its 2004. Just the same way there are some books you buy and other books you borrow from the library, there might a handful of shows that are valuable enough to you to buy outright—if only to give yourself peace of mind.