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Why Is Sentai Filmworks Phasing Out DVDs?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asked:

I was reading a recent article that stated Sentai Filmworks was essentially phasing out their DVD releases by 2019 and are primarily going to release Blu-ray only with a few exceptions. I know you have got this question in the past on who buys DVD's Vs. Blu-rays which seems to be 50/50 for the last decade. Why is Sentai now shutting down their DVD releases? Is it a overhead cost related or consumer demand for DVD's are just not that high anymore for newer series?

2019 is still a ways away, and Sentai Filmworks was a little vague about the phasing out of their DVD production. The announcement this week was made to coincide with a DVD blow-out sale, and was careful to point out that DVDs would still be coming of some shows -- namely older shows that don't have HD materials, and shows with some DVDs already having been released. But the fact remains that Sentai is the first anime company (and perhaps the first decent sized home video company) to make a clear declaration that the era of the DVD may be drawing to a close. That's significant.

EDIT: Right Stuf/Nozomi announced that they were phasing out DVD at Anime Expo this year. Guess Sentai wasn't the first!

While sales between DVD and Blu-ray releases have been split in varying amounts since Blu-ray launched, the last couple of years has seen a marked decline in DVD sales across the board. Everybody I've talked to in the business has noticed it: Blu-rays still sell very well, but DVD is tanking.

The reasons are fairly obvious on the face of it. In 2017, nearly everyone in major English speaking anime markets have access to always-on broadband and more high-definition streaming anime than they can eat. Fans still love buying physical media, but they're buying it of shows that they've mostly already seen, and are their favorites. On rare occasion, fans will blindly buy something, but in those cases they know enough about the show to predict that they'll love it, and are betting their hard-earned money that the disc will find a permanent home in their collection.

But if you love a show that much, and you're buying a permanent copy to keep forever, chances are you want it in its best possible quality, and you want it in the format it was originally produced in. And nearly all anime made in the last several years has been in HD. Standard-definition downscales CAN look good, but they'll never look AS good as they were originally intended to.

For years, many fans stuck buy DVD for compatibility reasons, or because buying a Blu-ray player meant less money to spend on other stuff. But these days Blu-ray players can be found on sale for as little as $40. Both current major video game consoles can play Blu-rays, as can at least 84 million Playstation 3's that are still out there. Laptops with DVD-only optical drives and old TVs without HDMI ports are slowly dying off and being replaced. DVDs that looked fine on a CRT from 2003 often look terrible on a TV made today. There are still a few fans who steadfastly refuse to upgrade to Blu-ray, but as time goes on they're becoming fewer and fewer.

It's gotten to the point where even re-releases of classic shows that were made in standard definition won't sell well on DVD, because the fans who buy discs have stopped paying attention to anything that isn't a Blu-ray. An upscale, even one of questionable quality, will sell better than a DVD made from the same master.

DVDs are still cheaper and easier to make than Blu-rays, but that doesn't mean they're cheap or easy. Video still has to be encoded, menus still have to be designed, subtitles still have to be rendered. Packaging still has to be printed. The disc still has to be QC'ed. The discs still have to be replicated, assembled and packaged. Inventory still has to be ordered and tracked. It's a big task, and while things have gotten A BIT easier, the process has been unchanged for at least a decade. Just because we've been doing it for 20 years doesn't mean it's something that can be done easily. In fact, some essential software we use to make DVDs has been discontinued, and much of it isn't even compatible with current operating systems. I personally keep my old 2008 Mac Pro tower around for DVD production, among a few other things. (it's running macOS 10.6 Snow Leopard.)

There are plenty of anime out there for which Blu-ray releases don't make a lot of sense, for either business or video quality reasons. Virtually anything made before 2002 or so that hasn't been extensively remastered is fairly pointless to put on Blu-ray. Very niche titles that will move less than 1500 units or so might not even be worth the expense of replicating. But if a mediocre upscaled Blu-ray will substantially outsell a DVD, is there even a point in making the DVD anymore? And, of course, long SD shows can be put on SD-BDs, which can fit 50-ish episodes of good quality SD video on a single disc, saving everyone money.

Sentai may be the first, but they definitely will not be the last anime publisher to turn away from DVDs. After 20 years, the venerable format is showing its age. We'll certainly still see it around for many years to come, but it will not be nearly as ubiquitous as it once was.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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