What to do when your purchased movies disappear

A few weeks ago, Google announced that they were discontinuing the Google Play Movies app on some devices. This could mean that some of the movies you paid money for will disappear. If you linked them to the Movies Anywhere service, they probably won’t disappear, but not every studio allows you to do that. So the likelihood is you’ll lose some content.

I can see where this would get some folks upset. After all good money was spent, and you would expect a company like Google to be around where lesser companies wouldn’t be. Here’s what you should do about it.

Calm down, and move on

This is not the first time this happened. There have been plenty of other online services that have shuttered, leaving their users’ content unavailable. Whether it’s text from an online forum, creative works like music or video, or commercial content like Hollywood movies… it’s happened multiple times. It’s annoying but in the end there isn’t much you can do about it.

And it really doesn’t matter which industry titan you pair with. Back in the early days of the online world, Sears hosted a service called Prodigy. You have to remember that Sears was on top of the business world back then and you could talk about them much like you talk about Amazon today. Prodigy evolved several times over the years before eventually melting away in the early 2000s. Each time, their old content simply disappeared.

More recently, both Best Buy’s online streaming service and Blockbuster Online both shuttered, leaving those with content on those sites out in the cold.

Sadly this is just part of the cycle of our evolving online world. There’s nothing to do but accept it and move on.

Movies Anywhere is great but…

There’s a service out there called Movies Anywhere. If you’re not familiar with it, take a look. Movies Anywhere links your accounts with Disney, DIRECTV, Amazon Prime, Apple, VUDU, and others together so all the movies you’ve purchased on all those services are available to all the other services. It’s great because you can buy a movie wherever it’s cheapest and it will show up wherever you actually want to watch.

That’s all great, but let’s not forget that Movies Anywhere could go out of business too. Such was the case with an early competitor, UltraViolet, which promised the same sort of thing. It was designed to help you manage the digital copies of physical media you owned. UltraViolet left the world gracefully, allowing most of its content to flow over to Movies Anywhere. There’s no guarantee that Movies Anywhere would do the same, if they went out of business.

Don’t expect physical media to avail you.

Oh, you might be thinking, this is all the fault of the streaming economy. If I owned all my movies, this wouldn’t happen. Well it’s true that it wouldn’t happen like that. But physical media players break and are hard to replace. When was the last time you saw a VHS player for sale? What about a DVD player or Blu-ray Disc player? We all went through several generations of format changes. Along the way we all lost access to movies.

Even assuming you (possibly illegally) copied movies to your hard drive or cloud storage, those things fail too. It’s not a foolproof system unless you’re prepared to build a massively redundant data network just to store that copy of Hamlet 2 you’ve been holding on to.

The best answer is…

It’s time to look around and realize it’s 2021. Why are you buying movies? Yes there are going to be some that you just have to have. But for the most part, the idea of movie purchases is just… 20th century thinking. It’s based in the idea of scarcity. Back in 1997 you bought a movie because it was pretty cheap, about the price of two movie tickets. You could have rented it, except the local Blockbuster never had the new releases in stock. So you just picked it up forever. Maybe you perused the special features once or twice. Maybe you watched it over and over with your kid. But the point is, you didn’t really have an option. There was no streaming. As I said, rental availability was sketchy. Today neither of those things are true.

If you must buy a movie because it’s a real favorite, do so. But practically everything is available for rental and instant streaming. Generally the prices are so low that you could rent five times before buying made more sense.

Before paying for rental or buying, try a search engine like JustWatch. Feed in the names of the streaming services you have, and maybe you’ll find that the movie you want is already available to you.

Hey, I feel ya.

Like most of you, I come from a time when a person’s record collection, or perhaps their library of books or movies, defined them. When you walked into the home of a new friend, you couldn’t help gazing at their records and you silently judged them. Their selection of media was a big part of who they are.

But friends, those days are gone. Physical media doesn’t define us anymore. It’s time to let go and realize that the streaming economy isn’t your enemy. Yes, you’ll lose access to some media every so often. But hey, it happened when you gave up your old 8-tracks too. You moved on then… so move on now.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.