Why the Disc Format Has Yet to Die for Some TV Series

DVD as a crystal ball
Illustration: VIP+; Adobe Stock

As the Digital Entertainment Group, the trade association for home entertainment, tells it, business is better than ever: The U.S. consumer spend on home entertainment grew 11.4% year over year in 2022, totaling nearly $37 billion.

Of course, success depends on how you define “home entertainment”: Essentially none of that growth came courtesy of anything other than streaming, let alone DVD sales of any kind.

When you remove SVOD from the equation, the truth is tough but unsurprising — outside of theaters, people are increasingly losing the urge to pay for individual films or TV series, with all rentals and physical sales continuing to decline on an annual basis.

One apparent exception to this is digital sales made across platforms like Amazon, Apple TV and Vudu. Digital sell-through commands the largest share of home entertainment spend after streaming and increased ever so slightly in 2022. That said, it’s important to remember that the scaling back of COVID restrictions throughout 2021 meant 2022 was the first (relatively) normal year at the box office since the pandemic started.

As a result, more films from major studios were released in theaters and subsequently hit their digital windows sooner, per a bevy of deals Hollywood has worked out with exhibitors.

But the key word there is films. TV is a different situation.

Between February of last year and May 2023, just over 100 TV releases from the major studios alongside AMC Networks and Lionsgate will have received Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD releases in the U.S. market.

From a studio-by-studio standpoint, there is little to no consistency as to the strategy behind these physical releases.

The most staggering factor is how Paramount alone accounts for well over a third of these releases. Blu-ray discs for the multiple series comprising “Star Trek” and “Yellowstone” are understandable, as these are currently the biggest TV franchises attracting consumers to Paramount+ and could theoretically catch the eye of anyone still venturing inside of a Best Buy.

The primary “Yellowstone” series that airs on Paramount Network is also streaming on Peacock exclusively, so putting out physical releases for that show especially enables Paramount to make extra money on the side on top of what it charges NBCUniversal to license the series.

What’s strange is Paramount’s sheer commitment to physical releases for its more obscure series spread across the TV landscape. Just about everything originating from Paramount Pictures has at least a Blu-ray release. This includes “The Lost Symbol” (Peacock), “Joe Pickett” (Spectrum Originals), the CW’s “Charmed” reboot and “Nancy Drew,” plus Showtime series “The Good Lord Bird” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

Most curious is “Station Eleven,” a miniseries made for HBO Max. The critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic drama received not only a Blu-ray release but also a 4K physical edition Tuesday, following a discontinued Blu-ray release in 2022. While this level of output for smaller series already available digitally seems like overkill, some home entertainment divisions manufacture less popular shows on an on-demand basis, meaning the discs aren’t made until orders have been received, allowing a more economical way to commit to physical media.

As far as 4K Ultra HD releases go, they’re uncommon for TV, due in part to the many streaming services offering 4K versions of their programming on compatible devices as well as the video formats in which select series are shot.

The 4K releases Paramount has committed to on the TV side are “Halo” on Paramount+, Prime Video originals “Reacher” and the first two seasons of “Jack Ryan,” as well as Showtime’s “Ray Donovan: The Movie.” “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” also has a 4K release for its first season due in May. Like Paramount’s other 4K physical TV releases, the “Star Trek: Discovery” spinoff was originally shot in 4K HDR, as opposed to “Discovery” and “Picard.”

Other than those Paramount releases, the only TV series that got 4K physical editions over the last 12 months are “House of the Dragon” and the final season of “Westworld,” per Warner Bros. “Westworld” belongs to a crop of HBO and HBO Max series that Warner Bros. Discovery has removed from streaming in favor of licensing them out to third-party FAST services before the company unveils a newer service that combines its programming libraries with Discovery+.

By contrast, Disney has practically parted ways with physical TV releases altogether. While it initially put out Blu-rays for some of its Marvel series made for Netflix, such as “Daredevil,” the company’s MCU series on Disney+ have never received physical releases, nor have any of the streamer's “Star Wars” series. To date, the only Disney+ series that has received a Blu-ray release is Peter Jackson’s “The Beatles: Get Back” docuseries.

As for Hulu, the same is true. Blu-ray releases for “The Handmaid’s Tale” were capped after the third season in 2019, the same year Disney acquired 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.

However, if you’re looking to check out the first two seasons of Hulu’s “The Great” on Blu-ray, Paramount’s got you covered.