So, I’m out for an evening of fun, and the conversation rapidly turns to digital media. A woman leans forward, her hand wrapped around her frou-frou drink and says, “Our studio is going with Blu-Ray. Do you think that’s a mistake?”
Yes, Virginia, I do. I think it’s short-sighted, in this day and age, for a major motion picture studio to lock itself into a single format. Sure, Hollywood has been spoiling for a format war since the bruising battles between Beta and VHS, but times have changed, and format exclusivity is a potential death knell for a studio’s DVD business — and let’s face it, with DVD sales going the way they are (that would be down), the motion picture industry doesn’t need more barriers between it and consumer dollars.
Here’s how it’s going to happen: consumers are gearing up for the Christmas shopping season. More than a few will succumb to new high-def televisions and, what the heck?, a new DVD player. They’re going to shop based on price and features. Possibly one or two will come to the store armed with a handy cheat sheet (Disney, Blu Ray, MGM, Blu Ray, Universal, man, they’ve gone HD…I gotta go with this other player. Can’t miss my Universal). I suspect that the average consumer doesn’t know or care how the studios are lining up on this issue. As hard as it is for Hollywood to believe, most people outside of the industry don’t follow technological philosophy with bated breath. They care when they go to the store and can’t buy what they want.
That sort of thing really angers consumers. Number one rule of customer service? Angry consumers are not your friends.
The studios who support both formats — and by support, I mean release everything in both formats — will be the biggest winners. Mastering costs might increase slightly, but making product available in whatever format floats the consumer’s boat is the key to continued robust DVD sales. Paramount and Warner Brothers might be seen as wishy-washy as industry-insider parties, but they’re going to be laughing at their peers when their sales figures start trickling in.
Choice is important, especially in this instance. Consumers have already made the grudging transition from videocassette to DVD. Justifying the move from standard DVD to Blu-Ray or HD-DVD (what? I have to buy Top Gun again???) is going to be a tough sell, especially until the price of players comes down. Many consumers are going to need to be sold on this change — remember, in addition to perfectly fine, works-just-great DVD players they already have, these consumers are also migrating to online sales venues. They don’t need limited-use hardware to fulfill them.