We talk a lot, at least when it comes to music, about how artists are being short changed by the world of streaming. But I think there’s also a forgotten victim of the rise in popularity of Spotify, Netflix et al: the Christmas gift-giver.
Last night I streamed the very-good-and-you-should-totally-watch-it Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson as a super-hot, super-creepy alien. It was on Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service, available free alongside thousands of other movies to Prime subscribers, or for £5.99 a month without the online retailer’s next-day delivery bells and whistles.
Once the credits rolled, I immediately thought, “Yep, that’s going on the list for my younger brother’s Christmas presents.” And then I remembered: he’s signed up to Amazon Prime Instant Video, too, and can watch it right now if he wanted. Bugger. So I moved on to the next film on my list for him, the excellent Dallas Buyers Club with Matthew McConaughey. Guess what? It’s already on Netflix, and he’s signed up for that, too.
These are films that would have once been spot-on gifts for my brother, now rendered pointless by the streaming services.
It’s not just limited to films, either — my traditional Christmas shopping plans have been scuppered by Spotify and the many app stores. too. The Scott Walker and Sunn O))) albums for my older brother will have to remain on HMV’s shelf as he can already play it on Spotify. The Run the Jewels album for my other older brother suffers the same fate, while picking up the Shadow of Mordor video game for my teenage cousin seems a futile exercise seeing as it’ll almost certainly be knocked down to a pocket-change price by the Steam Christmas sale.
You can argue that DVDs are an impersonal gift to begin with — they’re not the same as little hand-carved wooden toys, or a knitted jumper at any rate. But for my personal gang of gift receivers, they really are special. As a collective of film and music buffs, we used to sweat over what records or box sets to buy each other — it would be an embarrassment to recommend, through the act of gift-giving, an album my sonically snooty brothers had already dismissed as passé. Having vast movie and music catalogues just a glance of a smartphone app away takes all the challenge out of handpicking an item to personal tastes.
I’ve my own incredibly fond memories of receiving physical media back in its days of relevance. Seeing Blade Runner on DVD the year we got a PlayStation 2 as the player was a revelation, and I used to listen to my 15th anniversary edition of the Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible album back to back.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Instant Video and all the other online store fronts for the other 11 months of the year. Their convenience and value can’t be argued against. It’s just in December when it hammers home how personally disruptive they’ve become. How can you possibly justify spending £60 on a dozen CDs when, for the same price, you can give a person access to pretty much every recorded song in the history of mankind?
Indeed, I’m a culprit myself of being ungrateful when it comes to receiving physical media. I’ve a few unopened CDs and DVDs that sit on my shelf and now act as mere reminders to fire up the relevant online service and give them a spin there. My own attitude makes me reticent to gift similar items.
Yet who would ever really want to receive a Spotify or Netflix gift card? It feels like a cop-out, with even the card’s value not returning any tangible item that can be kept and cherished like a good Christmas present should. Who’s honestly going to pop an App Store gift card up on the mantlepiece and, in ten years' time, look upon it and reminisce on what a vintage gift-giving year Christmas 2014 was?