Nothing says the dog days of summer like the first Christmas display of the season. Costco is already gearing up for the holiday season — my first glimpse of Santa-mania came in the form of a ribbon display. Presumably, due to extensive market research, someone knows that the first thing consumers purchase for the impending holidays is ribbon to tie around the merrily wrapped packages.
You have wonder, if only a little bit.
The other big sign of the upcoming season comes in the forms of headlines: “Consumers Urged to Pick New DVD Format” or “Shoppers to choose which high-def DVD format lives”. Makes you feel both helpless and powerful, doesn’t it?
Apparently, the biggest casualty of this holiday season will not be your wallet, it will be either Blu-Ray or HD DVD. Okay, when it’s put that way, maybe your wallet will be a victim. I mean, if you happened to invest time and money in the losing format, well, that’s just money down the drain.
Here’s how it’s going to shake out. Spider-Man 3 is Blu-Ray only (natch). The Bourne Ultimatum is HD DVD only. So, it’s like the battle of Tobey Maguire versus Matt Damon. And, frankly, if I were either of them and losing out because my distributor purposely limited the exploitation of my product, I’d be cranky. In a very expensive, Hollywood sort of way.
I get that there are egos involved in “winning” another format war. But, as a consumer, I don’t care. I don’t want to invest in one side or the other if it means that I’m throwing money down the drain. We were a Beta household, if you know what I mean. It’s a false war that will surely destroy the losers, but it will also, surely, lead to total consumer distrust. Kirk’s article about Google this week showed us another side of this issue: how long can media companies expect consumers to invest in technology before we simply tune out?
But wait, there’s more!
Did you know that your computer is a soldier in this war? Your computer. As ArsTechnica notes, the operations of your computer’s operating system might be comprised due to the manufacturer’s compliance with Hollywood’s various and sundry DRM schemes. To play Blu-Ray or HD DVD discs, your computer must come chock-full of copyright protection stuff. You’re giving up performance so that your machine is optimized to protect both high definition schemes, one of which might be toast tomorrow.
Shouldn’t we get a rebate from Hollywood for this? What if the HD DVD DRM requirements impede the performance of my machine — responsiveness, ability to do what I want to do — and the standard disappears with the New Year’s balloons? It’s not like Apple (my operating system’s parent) is going to issue an Epiphany patch that will erase all the protections built into my system for HD DVD.
What happens when the next generation of home entertainment media hits the street? When super-DRMd CDs are introduced? And so on. Should it be my responsibility to deal with the house of cards that is modern entertainment distribution?
Hollywood — or rather, major media players — want consumers to make the decision that nobody else could make. The problem is that consumers don’t necessarily want to be on the losing side of a battle they didn’t want or need. Blu Ray and HD DVD are nice, what with all the bells and whistles, but they’re not essential to the video-watching experience.
Of course, the real problem the studios face is that there is no real brand loyalty when it comes to the entity releasing movies (with, possibly, an exception for Pixar). You don’t really see consumers who stick only with Disney or swoon for Paramount. Decisions are made on a movie-by-movie, series-by-series basis.
So, while there will surely be some consumers shopping for new players this holiday season, the vast majority will be shopping for titles. As long as what they purchase plays in their existing players, consumers will be happy. If it doesn’t play, then hello returns! If compatibility issues reach a crescendo, hello negative publicity!
I still believe that the studios should swallow their pride and compromise on a format. Barring that — and it’s too far gone for compromise — they should release all media in both formats. There is already a certain level of product fatigue on the part of consumers. Continuing down this path will only cause misery for the Hollywood system.