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The Key To HD Format War is Volume of Titles  Print E-mail
Home Theater News Industry-Trade News
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Wednesday, 17 January 2007

One of the big lessons from the SACD vs. DVD-Audio format war, which resulted in no winner, was the idea that major record labels expected consumer demand to magically materialize itself before they were willing to release a significant amount of their back catalogue music. While Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon turned out to be a really nifty title on SACD, the rest of the catalogue was never released to tempt people, who liked what they heard with Dark Side, to buy more software. The same can be said of the lackluster mix of Metallica’s Black Album on DVD-Audio. Never did audio enthusiasts or hardcore heavy metal fans get tempted to upgrade their audio systems to listen to the entire Metallica catalogue, because only one title was ever released. Ignoring the technical limitations and complications that plagued SACD and DVD-Audio, based around unfounded fears of piracy (the labels would be lucky if enough people wanted music in surround to try to steal it), it was a lack of both quality titles and depth of catalogue that made the high-resolution audio war an ugly battle without a winner.

HD DVD and Blu-ray are fighting a far more high-stakes battle in the world of HD video discs, yet the same lessons from the SACD and DVD-Audio battle remain relevant to whichever format emerges victorious. The need for large volumes of titles is essential right now in order to woo gamers (HD DVD on Xbox 360 and Blu-ray on PS3) to buy and/or rent movies on HD disc formats. Having enough volume of HD movies on store shelves and being promoted in the marketplace will tempt Costco-shopping housewives and soccer dads to pick up a new player to go with one of the 1.5 million flat HDTVs sold each month in the United States.

Right now, there simply isn’t enough content out on Blu-ray or HD DVD. There are about a hundred movies released on each format, many of which are truly excellent. However, there need to be thousands of titles on the market. Specifically, the newer a film is and the better the special effects are, the sooner it should be re-released on an HD disc format. While older movies should all be eventually released in HD formats, it’s the newer titles with more modern transfers and cinematography that look best on gleaming new 1080p HDTV sets. An easy way to get volumes of profitable and creatively important content on the street is for studios to release entire television series on HD disc formats. The Sopranos are coming back for their sixth and supposedly final season on April 8, 2007 – would serious fans consider buying Season One through Season Five on, say, Blu-ray if they were released a few months before the last season? How about a series like 24 on HD DVD? 24 has newly-shot, exciting content that people really need to follow in order to become fans, which makes it a really compelling title for potential release to boost the software available on movie store shelves.

Oddly, the Blu-ray camp has shied away from adult material at this stage of the format war, despite the huge revenues the industry generates from home video sales. Many AV industry veterans consider pornography to be the main factor that led VHS to win over Beta in their early ‘80s format war. Our sources say they saw a few HD DVD titles at the adult section of the recent CES show. All morals and convictions aside, if you are trying to win a video format war, you might want the pornographers on your side. Some (perhaps most) might play the role of dirty scumbags, but that doesn’t change the fact that they sell hell of a lot of home videos.

Lastly, have you noticed that none of the four remaining record labels have embraced HD DVD and/or Blu-ray? Having seen their domestic revenues slip from over $30,000,000,000 in the early ‘90s to a mere $11,000,000,000 today, you might expect to see the majors interested in selling their back catalogues on a copy-protected format, but the majors are busy trying to continue to sell music by the download instead of building value into a disc that could save the album-based business model for them. Fighting new technology is nothing new for the music business, as we have seen with every new audio format. Unfortunately for music enthusiasts and the bottom line at the record labels, they aren’t yet a part of what could be a big wave with HD disc formats.

The pipeline is going to open up with more and more content on HD DVD and Blu-ray, especially as players get better, cheaper and more reliable. As players hit $299 and lower, and as there are thousands of titles on HD DVD and Blu-ray respectively, mainstream America as well as the rest of the world will very likely embrace one or both of these new formats in a way that will replace the DVD as the preferred disc format for most consumers. Whatever the studios can do to get the tens of thousands of feature films, videos and television programs out of the vaults and onto store shelves will do wonders to keep people reaching for their wallets when it comes to investing in HD DVD and/or Blu-ray.

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