Saturday, February 16, 2008

Blu-ray Wins

In the presidential campaign, the battle between blue states and red states hasn't yet begun, but in the DVD format wars, there's finally a victor, reports the New York Times (although the LA Times is a little less certain), and it's blue. Blu-ray, that is.

HD DVD suffered a quick succession of body blows: Last year, Target stores dropped HD DVD (though Target still sells the players and discs online ). Then, in the last six weeks, Warner Brothers, Best Buy, Netflix, and yesterday Wal-mart, in a coup de grace, each abandoned the format.

A question worth asking - and neither article does - is why Blu-ray prevailed. Perhaps because the discs have greater capacity, perhaps because the format (my sources tell me) have better technology, or perhaps even because the name is cooler (never underestimate the power of branding).

The other question, for Blu-ray and its backers, is how much of a window of opportunity they have to push their wares. On the one hand, many consumers may see little reason to upgrade their players and libraries for only an incremental improvement in quality. And on the other hand, digital downloads are growing in popularity, albeit slowly. The Blu-ray hardware companies will have to reduce their prices, and the studios will have to do likewise with disc prices, if they want to overcome consumer resistance, and establish significant market share before downloads become a real threat.

And not to forget the just-settled writers strike, the battle between discs and downloads will have an effect on writers residuals. See my article on DVD residuals and my analysis of the WGA deal (note discussions of download residuals and DVD residuals).

Meanwhile, Toshiba, the primary backer (and owner) of the HD DVD technology, is apparently not expected to withdraw the technology anytime soon - Microsoft still supports it, as do three studios - but the format war is over. According to the NY Times, Toshiba execs wouldn't even return calls.