Sony has announced that it is removing hundreds of TV shows that users have purchased through PlayStation. In this case, licensing arrangements between Sony and Discovery TV have caused this removal. However, the losses of digital content users have bought signals a more concerning message; physical copy enthusiasts are practically going in a rightful direction that is beneficial and quite literally more solid.
The convenience and promise that digital content, such as games and movies, brings to its users seems to be where the future lies. Digital media has a lot of benefits ranging from not relying on physical media to use the content to even playing a game without having to get up from your couch. In contrast, digital media also brings its fair share of concerns, and one of the biggest concerns is occurring right now on PlayStation.
In a legal update notice posted on their website, Sony has stated that: “As of 31 December 2023, due to our content licensing arrangements with content providers, you will no longer be able to watch any of our previously purchased Discovery content and the content will be removed from your video library.” The list of Discovery content that will soon be removed includes hundreds of TV shows with notable entries such as ‘Say Yes to the Dress’, ‘MythBusters’, ‘Naked and Afraid’, ‘Shark Week’ and a lot more.
This latest hurdle in the entertainment industry’s hopes for an all-digital future was orchestrated at the behest of Warner Bros. On April 8, 2022, AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit and Discovery Inc. announced that the two firms have completed a merger. The result of the merger gave birth to a new company, Warner Bros. Discovery. What followed resulted in Warner Bros. removing a significant amount of content from its services such as HBO Max and deleting finished projects to save on residual payments and receive tax breaks. As part of this scheme, it seems PlayStation has also been muddied with having to remove content players have paid for without any compensation or refunds.
It is common knowledge at this point that you do not ‘own’ the digital content you purchase, whether it is PlayStation or Amazon. The terms and conditions, which almost everyone skips before purchasing a digital game or movie, state that the buyer does not technically own any of the content. This digital content can be removed from the store and even your library whenever the company deems it so and there is not much you can do about it. Sony has been hard at work recently to push its users towards digital content. Last month, the PS5 Slim was released with an optional optical disc drive. Similarly, Sony also released the new PlayStation Portal which is a handheld portable remote play device.
In the past, Sony has removed the ability to purchase and rent movies and TV shows from the PlayStation Store. However, today’s surprising announcement sets a much more concerning precedent: all your games and other content that you have purchased on any storefront, whether it is Steam, PlayStation, Microsoft etc., can be removed from your libraries at any time. Of course, the likelihood of that happening is low, but it’s not out of the question. Some good examples of this are the popular PS Plus and Xbox Game Pass subscriptions. Every month, games are added to the catalogue you are given access to as part of your subscriptions and that same month several games are also removed.
On October 5, 2023, Sony announced on its PS blog that PlayStation Premium/Deluxe subscribers will receive up to 100 movies as part of its new Sony Pictures Core app. It should be clear at this point that some or all those movies can be changed or removed entirely at any time at the discretion of Sony. Earlier this year, popular games such as the BioShock series, Marvel’s Avengers, and Stray were also removed from PS Plus Extra and Premium. Similarly, as part of the PS Plus Essential subscription players receive three games every month which, if they redeem, they can keep as long as they have an active PlayStation subscription. But as seen by today’s announcement, just like the Discovery TV shows, these games can be removed from your library if Sony deems the need to do so. The licensing issues PlayStation encountered with Warner Bros. can also happen with any of the third-party developers Sony works with to bring you games. In October, PS Plus offered Gotham Knights (owned by Warner Bros.) as part of its subscription. It should be fairly assumed that the same scenario could happen with any games owned by Warner Bros. whether you own them through purchases or subscriptions.
For years, physical media enthusiasts have argued for the superiority physical holds over digital media on social media. They seem to have a point. As witnessed today, unless you own something which you can physically hold and use however you want, you do not own it. Physical media, especially when it comes to games and movies/TV shows, comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages. You can share, resell, use, and own forever any physical copy that you have purchased. Consequently, you must allocate physical space to safely store it and a lot of modern games require digital updates to allow you to experience the complete bug-free version of the game. The digital version of that game also can’t be damaged or experience manufacturing defects. However, the advantages of physical media far outweigh its disadvantages.
Physical copies of games and other media can go on sale anytime at the discretion of their respective retailers. For digital, the price of those games will always be controlled by the digital storefront, and you are essentially tied to their pricing models. There has been debate online about whether digital games should be cheaper as there are no manufacturing costs associated with their production. Most importantly, physical copies are not restricted by DRM (Digital Rights Management) which allows the publisher and developer to control and manage access to content. There are digital distribution platforms such as GOG.com (Good Old Games) that allow you to download DRM-free copies of any digital games you buy. But many games, such as PlayStation versions of games, are available at the PlayStation Store exclusively. Until that changes, all your PlayStation content that you own digitally is at the mercy of Sony and is only rented to you as long as it is deemed appropriate.
The fears and concerns of physical media purists are proving to be right all along.