Consumers: CD Freedoms Should Extend to DVDs – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, Executive Director, National Consumers League

With frightening financial headlines greeting us every morning and tucking us into bed at night, many of us consumers have started taking a long, hard look at the entertainment “extras” in our budget that are often so difficult to sacrifice.

Amidst the backdrop of this troubled economy, the National Consumers League recently commissioned a survey of Americans’ entertainment habits and interests, specifically those related to their use of DVDs. In this environment, when consumer satisfaction should be more important than ever to the businesses that rely on their patronage, we wanted to find out what consumers want when it comes to how they can use their DVDs.

For years, consumers have been able to freely copy and back up the content on their compact disc collections to their hard drives and other devices. This freedom didn’t come without struggle – remember the last decade of lawsuits and consumer fear involving the sharing and copying of music files? But, in the end, consumers’ interests won out, and the freedom and mobility that consumers enjoy today with their digital music files has changed the way we travel, relax, entertain, and express ourselves.

Given the growing affordability of hard drives with the capacity to store more music and movie files than ever before, we wanted to examine whether consumers’ expectations from the CD market are translating to the consumer DVD market. We can copy our CDs; how far off are DVDs?

Consumers are currently limited by digital rights management (DRM) restrictions on most DVDs. Without illiegal ripping software, we can’t currently save the contents of most DVDs to our computers, whether for backup purposes or simply to access our DVD libraries without carrying around the actual discs (the mean number of DVDs in consumers’ collections was 77.8 discs). Some “expanded” editions of DVDs come with the ability to save an additional copy to a computer, but these editions generally come with a higher price tag.

We commissioned the study to examine consumers’ opinions related to the entertainment content stored in their DVD collections, and what we found was that consumers overwhelmingly want to do more with the DVDs they purchase. Consumers nearly unanimously think they should be able to back-up their DVDs onto computers or other devices in order to preserve their collections. Many of them, especially those with kids at home, have had to replace lost or damaged DVDs, and more than half of respondents were “bothered” that they don’t currently have the ability to back-up their DVDs.

And in an economy that is already struggling, the habits of many consumers in our survey may indicate a market slow-down ahead: more than half of respondents (55 percent) said that they are currently purchasing fewer DVDs than they did a year ago. And four in ten (41 percent) said they expect to purchase fewer DVDs one year from now.

If our entertainment budgets are shrinking, it’s more important than ever to get value from the DVDs we already own. The entertainment industry would be wise to pay attention to the attitudes and purchasing desires of the typical American consumer, who, according to our survey, is very interested in being able to back-up his or her collection. In our survey, 41 percent said the ability to save a copy of their DVDs would make their DVD collections more valuable, and 40 percent said it might cause them to buy more DVDs.

Consumers have grown accustomed to being able to do what they want, when they want, with the music products they’ve purchased, and now they’re expecting to have the same freedom with the DVDs they own. With more consumers turning to free Internet sources of entertainment, the DVD market may be in for tough times ahead. In an economy like ours, what better time than now to help consumers get more bang for their buck from products and services that may otherwise be the first to go when they are forced to tighten their belts.

Sally Greenberg is executive director of the National Consumers League, a nonprofit consumer and worker advocacy group headquartered in Washington, DC. She can be reached at