Format Wars: Red Herrings Abound

February 17, 2007

Blu-ray & HD DVDIt’s been over two weeks since I’ve commented on the format war, new record? Seriously though this is getting crazier by the minute. By now you may have heard that Sony has claimed victory over HD DVD with Blu-ray, but per-usual any proclamation of victory may be a wee bit premature as a good chunk of consumers are still oblivious to either formats existence.

Nevertheless Sony appears ready to begin marketing Blu-ray as the winner of the format war, so lets examine some of the data that ‘Sony Computer Entertainment America’ has apparently used in deciphering this triumphant victory. SCEA’s declaration that “cumulative Blu-ray movie unit sales stand at just over 439,000 units in the US, while total HD-DVD sales are just under 438,000 units.” Sounds like a win to me; how about you? Ok that was heavy on the sarcasm, in case you didn’t notice.

So SCEA claims to have only sold a thousand or so more [Blu-ray] discs than HD DVD in the U.S. but enjoys more studio support and, as late as January, easily had 150k more players in the street than HD DVD. What’s wrong with this picture, does this sound as unimpressive to you as it does me?

If Blu-ray really does have as much going for it as the BDA would lead us to believe, you’d expect to see significantly more Blu-ray discs sold than the other guys, right? Not really. Again the majority of consumers are hardly aware, much less care about all of this at this point, which is why I think Sony and the BDA are very shrewd with their timing here. After all it’s better to claim victory before the heavy skirmishes even heat-up, right?

And what about the much ballyhooed 2:1 sales advantage of Blu-ray titles versus HD DVD in January? While it’s true that Blu-ray did indeed gain ground over previous months versus HD DVD, January in particular was a rather lopsided month to gauge anything by. There were 25 BD’s released in January versus 11 HD DVD’s. So what do you say? A win is a win right? Let’s put some of those wins into perspective.

From Video Business 02/09/07 “Also, the top titles on Blu-ray outsold those on HD DVD during the first three weeks of January. Lionsgate’s Crank sold 7,500 units on Blu-ray, compared to HD DVD’s top seller for the period, Warner Home Video’s Batman Begins, which sold through 4,100 units, according to studio sources.

However, it’s hard to get an even comparison as not all movies are available on both formats. Crank was a new release and wasn’t available on HD DVD, and Batman Begins has been available on HD DVD since November.”

7500 titles in three weeks? The studios give away that many titles as promotionals, heck 7500 titles probably doesn’t recoup their mastering and production overhead on a new title. If they sold 7500 copies of a DVD, they’d hang their head in shame and wonder what the hell happened. To put this into further perspective ‘Crank’ on DVD sold two million, yes two million copies in its first week of release alone…. This is why I cringe a little when I hear terms like won, winning, and out-paced in conversations about either HD format; they’re just a grain of sand on the home video beach.

All the premature chest-puffing of late isn’t going to change anything in the short term. We need real strides made in educating the public to the advantages of hi-def optical discs, better titles, and additional hardware options if any of this is a move beyond the SACD, DVD-A, or UMD albatross’s of years past. There’s a very real chance that even if one side wins it could ultimately lose to DVD in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be as happy as anyone to see an end to the format war, but declaring victory and actually achieving it are two very different things. After all isn’t this the second or third time the BDA and Sony have already waived their flag of victory to the otherwise uninterested public? Lets see 60, 90, or 120 days of sustained dominance before we even kick the tires on the victory-mobile; if we do, it just might have enough gas to reach the finish line. After all if a month or two of sales were the deciding factor in this disc-duel, HD DVD would have already won.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray, HD-DVD