Streaming Means You'll Never Own Your Favorite Movies or Music. Here's Why That Matters

Subscriptions to platforms like Netflix or Spotify are convenient, but they have their drawbacks.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
  • Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has three times been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Abrar Al-Heeti
3 min read
Watch this: You'll Never Own Your Favorite Movie Ever Again

Growing up, it was always exciting going to a friend's house for movie nights and sifting through their physical collections. As a kid, some of the most memorable gifts I received were DVDs of my favorite films, like Shrek and Lilo & Stitch (still absolute classics, in my opinion). It was exciting to know I now owned a physical copy of the film I saw in theaters and loved so much, and that I could play it any time I wanted. It wasn't going anywhere.

Today, the media landscape has drastically shifted. Most of us watch movies and TV shows on streaming services like Netflix or Hulu or Disney Plus. We don't tend to buy DVDs or Blu-rays or even digital versions of films as much as we used to, because we pay so much for all these streaming services and expect to find anything we'd want to watch on them. 

But if there's one constant truth about the world of streaming, it's that it's always changing.

You might sign up for a Netflix account so you can watch a show everyone's been talking about, only to soon find out it'll now only be on Peacock. Streaming services are always shifting their offerings in a highly competitive space. That means that, unlike the days when we all owned physical copies of movies, TV shows and music, you can't always count on your favorite media to be available on the platforms you subscribe to. 

"You have a gigantic library at your fingertips, but you don't have a lot of control over what goes in and out of that library," CNET's Joan Solsman told Sophia Fox-Sowell in an interview, embedded above. "Sometimes things can disappear, and privileges can disappear at a moment's notice. The great thing about it, though, is that you have so much more access to other things without having to pay discretely for every single thing you want to listen to or watch."

While it's great not having to pay for each individual album that drops, I do miss the days of going into Target and buying physical copies of CDs and leafing through the accompanying booklets. You can still do this, of course, but it seems less practical if you're already paying for music subscriptions like Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube Music. They're just so much more convenient. I mean, I'd struggle to even find somewhere to play a CD these days. (My colleague Erin Carson might fight me on this.)

There are a host of reasons why owning physical copies of media can be advantageous, though. Not only can a platform's offerings change, but movies, TV shows and songs themselves can be edited and altered even after their release. If you don't own a physical copy of something, you won't be able to go back to that first version, if that's something you want. (Take, for example, when the creators of Game of Thrones went back and removed a Starbucks cup that accidentally made its way into a shot. You'll never see that version again on HBO's platforms.)

Check out the video above on the advantages and disadvantages of our shifting media landscape.