‘Crossroads,’ Britney Spears and the Journey to Watch a DVD in 2023

If you were a child of the early 2000s, there’s a good chance your Britney Spears fandom reached a fever pitch around 2002, when she was basking in the success of her third studio album, “Britney,” and, months after that VMA python moment, she starred in her first feature film: “Crossroads.”

The film, written by Shonda Rhimes, follows Spears’s character and two friends, played by Zoe Saldaña and Taryn Manning, as they take a cross-country journey to find friendship, rock ’n’ roll and a maternal relationship. There is singing on the open road. There are giggly convenience store trips. There is a boy.

I, turning 7 that year in Boise, Idaho, knew exactly what I wanted for my birthday: “Crossroads” on DVD, so I could watch it about 300 times.

Twenty years later, ahead of next week’s release of Spears’s memoir, “The Woman in Me,” I wanted to rewatch my favorite childhood movie. But doing so turned out to be nearly impossible: “Crossroads” was not streaming on Netflix. Nor was it on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+ or any of the other streaming services I searched.

Finally, I tracked down my original “Crossroads” DVD, but was confronted with a new problem: All of the devices I had once used to watch DVDs — computers, TVs, gaming systems — no longer supported them. I was stuck.

Top producers such as Sony, Samsung and LG once sold tens of millions of DVD players a year. In 2009, 88 percent of American households owned a DVD player, according to Nielsen. By early 2021 that number was just 56 percent, and lower for young people.

Gaming systems used to market themselves as all-in-one entertainment hubs, where families could play games and watch movies. But by 2020, the Xbox Series S was designed for “disc-free gaming.” This year, a version of the PlayStation 5 excluded the disc drive. The last Apple MacBook that contained a disc drive was released in 2012.

That mirrors a decline in the disc market, which last week was dealt another blow when Best Buy confirmed that it would stop selling DVDs and Blu-ray discs after the holiday season. Netflix shuttered its DVD delivery service at the end of September.

DVDs, which entered the market in 1996 in Japan as a more compact and durable replacement for VHS tapes, reached their peak popularity in the mid-2000s, when movie studios began to report better sales numbers in the first week of DVD release than at the box office. Domestic sales began their decline just a few years later, during the Great Recession.

“To state the obvious, the way we watch movies and TV shows is much different today than it was decades ago,” a spokesman for Best Buy wrote in an email to The New York Times.

In 2021, physical media accounted for just 8 percent of the U.S. entertainment market, or $2.8 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association. That’s a fraction of the tens of billions of dollars consumers spent on DVDs in 2005 and 2006, around the market’s peak.

That DVDs have largely fallen out of use is “a function of the march of time in connection with technology,” said Jason E. Squire, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and host of “The Movie Business Podcast.”

“The entertainment industry is filled with these kinds of landmarks in the map of history — radio, television, home entertainment,” he said.

Even with so many streaming services out there, some movies and television series still fall through the cracks, either because the services don’t think there’s an audience for them, or because licensing them would be too costly.

Streaming services often buy temporary rights to a film or show, leaving some titles unavailable for gaps of time while they are without a streaming home.

For example, “Friends,” which had been on Netflix for five years and was estimated to be one of its most watched shows, was unavailable on streaming for about five months in between the time that Netflix’s deal ended and the show’s next platform, HBO Max, got up and running.

That’s why, say, if you try to continue your journey through millennial nostalgia and look for the “Spice World” movie, you’ll find it’s not streamable in the United States — but it is available on DVD. Which is great news, if you still have a DVD player.

For now, there are still plenty of customers who prefer to have their favorite movies reliably available as physical objects.

“We do get customers basically every single day still buying physical media,” said Diana Hernandez, the deputy store manager at the Midtown Manhattan location of Bookoff, a secondhand store that sells DVDs. Some are nostalgia buyers; others are older and more comfortable with the format; and some don’t have access to the internet.

“Looking back, people in the future will be saying, ‘Yeah, well, this is another typical transition for the entertainment industry because of new technology,’” Mr. Squire said.

But we’re not fully there yet. For those who want a backup of their favorite series or movie, other big retailers still carry them, and the secondhand market is strong in many cities: Bookoff, for example, is expanding to Long Island soon, Ms. Hernandez said.

As for my “Crossroads” journey, I managed to play my old copy on a DVD player I borrowed from a friend. (Spoiler alert: It holds up.)

And if you want a nostalgia trip of your own but don’t have time to get your hands on a DVD player, good news: The movie is back in theaters for just two days next week to celebrate the release of Spears’s memoir.

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