The Remarkable Rejuvenation of Physical Media

The fall and eventual revival of physical media, what it means to film lovers, and why it’s happening.

A photo of a cassette player surrounded by various cassettes.

It would be a heavy understatement to say that we haven’t been seeing a resurgence in the usage of physical media. It isn’t a secret that the digitalization of physical media has greatly affected its popularity, but this hasn’t been the case as of recently. In the last decade, record vinyls, CDs, and even cassette tapes have been growing more and more popular. Initially, it appeared that this resurgence was thanks to generation Z being drawn to the collectability and aesthetic of old physical media, but as time went on, more and more young people are using physical media as more than just decor. Physical media isn’t just limited to audio, however.

In the film industry, physical media has been an extremely popular way of viewing movies, television shows and the like. Thanks to the popular resurgence of physical media, more and more young people are choosing to enjoy their favorite films over a VHS tape or a DVD. From the twenty six people I surveyed, nine were included in generation Z. Three of these nine people reported that they preferred physical media when it came to video quality, funnily enough. Even so, seven of those same nine reported that they still use DVDs, regardless of video quality in comparison to digital formats. Some young people are finding visual physical media so enjoyable, that they will prefer it compared to it’s digital counterparts even when the quality suffers. Recently, I personally interviewed one of my friends about their thoughts on the recent resurgence. If you are interested in a more thorough analysis, I would recommend checking out my podcast below! If you don’t have the time, a helpful infographic below can summarize the results in less detail.

I reached out to some of my young friends and family members to hear their thoughts directly. Many of them preferred physical visual media due to the convenience of already owning it, as well as a DVD or VHS player. The price of the digital format matters, so if it’s a price they are unwilling to pay, they will simply use their physical copies instead.

This isn’t the sole reason physical media is used by generation Z. Nostalgia and aesthetics also play a great factor into what these folk prefer. In fact, I was told by a few friends that the lower quality sometimes enhances their viewing experience, sometimes helping to create a more cozy or fitting atmosphere. The same goes for those who still listen to cassettes. See the video below, where I demonstrate using a modern cassette player to tune in to some Christmas music!

In the future, some questions that arise include whether or not this resurgence of physical media will last far out. Many believe that it will, given how newer generations are taking a great interest in these forms of media, finding them intriguing. After all, in the poll that I surveyed, over forty percent of the participants were from generation Z. Even more, the second highest ranking generation, generation X, likely wasn’t a coincidence either. A large number of gen X parents raised their gen Z children, and their tastes likely had large impacts on their kids. If the older generation valued physical media to a larger than average extent, it would make sense for their children to have a better chance of sharing this passion.

This brings us to where we are now, as many are predicting this pattern in generations to follow. With digital media becoming more and more easily accessible, perhaps physical media is gaining more sentimentalism as time goes on, even from generations that didn’t grow up with it.