Viral Tweet Sparks Panic Over the Future of Physical Media

UPDATED on April 26, 2021 at 7 p.m. ET - A new report emerged on social media yesterday, claiming [...]


UPDATED on April 26, 2021 at 7 p.m. ET - A new report emerged on social media yesterday, claiming that Warner Bros. Home Entertainment intended to phase physical media out, beginning in earnest in 2022. The comments, from animation historian Jerry Beck, singled out Warner's print-on-demand service, Warner Archive, but went one step further and suggested that changes are coming to Warner's home entertainment options line-wide. Beck's comments specifically addressed Looney Tunes and other animation projects, which he sometimes advises the studio on, but suggested a larger change at the corporate level, which seems to be how most of the people reading the comments on Twitter are taking it.

While Beck is not a representative of WarnerMedia, fans are taking his word pretty seriously, since he claimed to have inside information on the Warner Archive site, where collections like a recent anthology of Tex Avery cartoons that he referenced in his initial comments.

Gary Miereanu, a publicist who works with Warner Home Entertainment (you'll recognize him from the dozens of panels he has moderated over the years), pointed out on social media that Warner Bros. and Universal inked a deal last year that will keep DVD and Blu-ray releases coming. At the time, the joint venture was expected to be set up by Q1 of this year, meaning that there will be physical releases of big movies from Warner and Universal until at least 2031.

Beck has since removed the initial post, sharing an alternative version that reiterates that he is not an employee of Warner Bros., and that he has no real inside information as to how the future of physical media will take shape at the company. He had previously characterized the end of Warner Archive, the company's print-on-demand video service, as imminent, and suggested that the studio had no plans to celebrate upcoming anniversaries of some animated characters' first appearances. He has since softened that stance to saying that he hopes to see physical releases of animated shorts.

Per market conditions at the start of 2020, streaming content accounted for nearly 2/3 of the home entertainment market, but DVD, Blu-ray, and related disc formats still generated around $6 billion in annual revenue.

The shift toward digital is very real, of course, but there is still a large market for DVD and Blu-ray, especially in parts of the world where high speed internet is not as realiable or as universally used. Warner's animation divisions sell hundreds of thousands of DVDs a year to Walmart alone, who regularly features Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes, DC animation, and The Flintstones as part of their static home entertainment display in stores across the coutnry.