Although there’s still been no official announcement, it looks like, sadly, Network are no more. Whilst there’s always a chance that a new company might pick up the baton, that seems unlikely – the golden days of DVD releases are now far behind us ….
It’s not too hard to understand why. Network were always a niche organisation even in their heyday (releasing many titles of such commercial obscurity that it’s hard to imagine they racked up more than a few hundred sales each). Today, streaming is the thing – not only legit suppliers such as BritBox or Prime, but also the likes of YouTube or DailyMotion (where a large chunk of the Network catalogue can be watched for “free”).
No doubt this piracy had an impact on Network’s well-being. Why bother to shell out for a DVD or BD when you can watch it for “free” on YouTube?
But back in Network’s early days (late 1990’s) the landscape was quite different. It was still the dial-up era, so streaming video larger than a postage stamp wasn’t really on. If you wanted to enjoy the rich flow of archive programming supplied by Network then you had to buy the discs.
And for a fair few years they were flinging out releases at a bewildering rate of knots. Sometimes I’d find myself becoming reacquainted with programmes I’d watched in my youth (the ITC catalogue, Strangers, Bulman, Mr Palfrey of Westminster, Nightingales) but mainly I’d be taking a punt on shows that I’d never heard of.
Sergeant Cork, Redcap, Public Eye and The Main Chance are just a few that spring to mind. With only sketchy information available (as well as the odd online recommendation) it was simply a case of handing over your money and hoping for the best. And generally – drama wise – I’ve little to complain about. ITV’s sitcom output is a different matter though – I may not have scraped right at the bottom the barrel (Don’t Drink The Water, Yus My Dear) but some DVDs can be filed under “watched once, never again”. Or even “watched a few minutes of the first episode and decided that was more than enough”.
In recent years (maybe even the last decade or so) Network’s release schedule had slowed right down. They would still pull the occasional rabbit out of the hat – Maigret (surprisingly dull) or Give Us A Clue (surprisingly addictive) – but I didn’t find this too bad a thing as it allowed me to mop up most of my wanted titles from their back catalogue.
And to be honest, even if a Network Mk 2 emerges from the flames with a packed new release schedule I’d probably give most of them a miss. Some years back I came to the conclusion that I’d already bought enough DVDs to last a lifetime (several lifetimes, in fact) and rather than continually fretting about what wasn’t available, I should really begin to enjoy what I have.
That also means that I’m not in the least interested in the Doctor Who BD releases. I’ve got the stories on DVD and they look fine to me, so buying them again with new special features that I’m probably only likely to watch once is a waste of both my time and money.
It’s hard not to have a pang of regret about Network’s passing though. I’ll think I’ll pop on a DVD in their honour. But which one? Hmm, this might take some time ….