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.
Frank Bitterhof says
It is – indeed – about choice. But the content providers already make additional mistakes at their own expense.
Availability of discs in both formats is a step into the right direction, but releasing previously unavailable catalog titles day-to-day however as DVD and HD-Disc is a mistake (e.g.: MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY starring Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard).
If this title were exclusively avalaible in one of the HD-Disc formats, that would constitute an incentive for consumers to do the next-gen player purchase (if the title were unavailable in the standard DVD format.
In regard to the Playstation 3 there is an industry over-emphasized expectation that the PS3 will boost sales figures on behalf of Blu-Ray Disc.
Many people forget that the PS3 is foremost the successor to the PS2 and – as such – a next generation life style product for video gamers which care hardly or little about its Blu-Ray Disc playback properties.
In regard to its PS3, even SONY has little more than one line to mention the Blu-Ray Disc playback capability.
It is unlikely that the majority of PS3 gamers (many which still own small displays without HD properties) will notice a major quality difference between the 10 $ DVD from Wal-Mart and the corresponding Blu-Ray title which will cost them additional 15 $.
More important than the average video gamer are the “early adopters”, mainly home theatre enthusiasts that switched from LaserDisc as the then state-of-the-art home video program to DVD Video in the late 90’s.
These are the ones that will form the bottom marketbase for any of the two new HD-Disc formats.
In terms of quality (picture & sound) there is already a de-facto support for HD-DVD, partially due to mouth-to-mouth propaganda and availability of hard- and software.
In regard to Blu-Ray there are still some open questions like disc-authoring issues, replication costs and durability in the video rental business.
As it looks currently, HD-DVD earns “!” while Blu-Ray still wears an “?”.
I’m still waiting for the final verdict on PS3, but agree that its Blu-Ray capabilities aren’t going to be what drives consumers to whip out the credit cards. That you get a state of the art DVD player with your gaming console will be a nice bonus — and maybe it will have some sort of trickle-down effect.
Since it would be economic suicide for studios to release new titles (or, rather old titles, new life) in one of the new high-def formats only, I think you’re right that the incentives simply don’t exist. Right now, new DVD players aren’t really what consumers need. Whether or not they want them is another question — and will be somewhat answered as Christmas shopping season continues. I say somewhat because there’s a serious price barrier with these systems. Families might simply decide that a good computer is a better investment.
Speaking of which, I think the biggest obstacle facing HD-DVD and Blu-Ray is that studio attention is wholly focused on digital media (delivered digitally as opposed to on disc). There are dollar signs in executives’ eyes, and they’re looking to the next next big thing. HD/Blu-Ray was so last year.
Lets face it, most people don’t know anything about technology. And that immediately negates any advantage Blu-Ray has. 1080p is just some crazy number.
No, the consumer is going to see two things: price and name. HD-DVD costs less. So, if I just put out 3000 of my hard earned dollars, I’d be more willing to spend $500 for HD-DVD than $1000 for Blu-Ray. Furthermore, the name HD-DVD. We all know what a DVD is, therefore, a HD-DVD is clearly for my HDTV I just bought. But Blu-Ray? What is that? Blue isn’t even spelled right.
At best, there will be a universal player and no matter what we buy, it will work. However, if one format were to win, it will be HD-DVD based on the two advantages listed above that Blu-Ray will never overcome.
Why does everybody think that you’ll have to re-buy all of your movies if you go to an HD format??
First off, most (if not ALL) HD-DVD and Blu-Ray players will play regular DVD’s… And the older movies that do get re-released on the HD formats don’t look that much better than the DVD versions!
The only Blu-Ray movies I buy are the NEW movies coming out. The ones that were mastered in 1080p. Those are the only movies where you will definitely see the difference between DVD and the HD discs…
So folks, don’t fall for the hype or BS that’s being spewed out there… HD formats are great for NEW movies, but don’t do anything for older movies. For your older movies, stick with DVD.
John S. says
This is a very good article. Nice that I am not the only one with concerns and fears about Hollywood’s Blu-Ray/HD-DVD surge. Why the need to dump DVD to a whole new format when we already switched from VHS to DVD a rather short time ago? I was an avid collector of VHS throughout the 1990s and had to fit into DVD as of 2000 or so — having to rebuy some of my favorite anime and movies in the then-new format. Now I have to re-rebuy the same titles I enjoy AGAIN in another format?! It’s a real hurt to my wallet, plus I may not have enough room for everything.
I feel Hollywood is being so childish and is more concerned about money than what their audience really wants. Which is why they want to change the DVD formats too quickly than the customers could swallow. Instead, the reasons DVD sales (and theatrical sales as well) are not what sort fo DVD we watch, but that there hasn’t been a great number of good movies over the past serval years or so. We need movies that tickle our imagination and have strong storytelling, excellent acting skills, likeable characters, swell direction, ect. Hollywood on the other hand is more interested with overdone cliches, “big sale” gimmicks, political correctness, super-skinny women, rushing things out with no thought to who the characters are and no point of the story. Make an inferior product, you lose. Had Hollywood done better, DVD sales would go more upward. Also, no matter how much better a movie on the new competing formats are then the current DVD, it it still be unwatchable if it’s like “Catwoman” or “Garfield II”. Also, the article makes a good point that some poeple would watch movies online than DVD, something that the film industry hasn’t quite taken attention of.
I feel this whole Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD war, as well the overdone push for the big studios to force-feed either one down our throats, will fall down hard and crash was customers wil be confused or too tired to care to buy the discs over regular familair DVD. It might might the financial situation with the home entertainment to get worse than expected. Unless things happen otherwise, I’ll still stick to my regualr DVDs. 😉 Regular DVDs are still great, why fix something that isn’t broken?