So earlier this year, it seemed like Blu ray was killing HD DVD in the next-generation format wars. Blu ray was far outpacing HD DVD in sales, and with the PlayStation 3, there were far more Blu ray players in the homes of consumers than there were HD DVD players. As well, Blockbuster and Target both announced that they would eventually stock only Blu ray movies. Things were looking grim for HD DVD.
Then Paramount and Dreamworks Animation came out swinging on Monday this week, announcing that they would distribute movies in only the HD DVD format, starting with Blades of Glory, Transformers, and Shrek the Third. Michael Bay went ballistic and posted something on his blog, which he has now retracted, after talking with some executives and watching 300 on HD DVD. However, Steven Spielberg movies will still be released in both formats.
What the heck’s going on here?
Well, Allen Bell, the CTO of Paramount had an interview with PC World. Some of the arguments are valid, though not persuasive. For example, Bell says that programming certain features on Blu ray discs requires more complicated programming because you need actual programmers. True, but you can always create a library of function calls that would enable programming the Blu ray discs to be almost as easy as programming the HD DVD discs. Essentially, replicate the HD DVD development platform, except for Blu ray.
Probably more important is how much the studios were paid to be HD DVD exclusive, rumoured to be $50 to $100 million. The other business arguments made by Bell don’t make a lot of sense. Alienating early adopters is usually not an issue because of who early adopters are. They’re gadget freaks that can’t stand yesterday’s technology and rush out to get the latest and greatest whenever they can. Some early adopters will not upgrade, but many will, as newer players with newer features come out. As well, early adopters eventually become a very small slice of the overall consumer pie, after the middle and late adopters buy the technology. So Paramount would likely lose very little on this front. As for prices, prices will continue to fall.
I will concede Bell’s point that it’s better for formats to come out of industry associations like the DVD Forum. Otherwise, you have one private interest gaining too much control over specs, and that power can be easily abused for the spec creator’s purposes. Sony is certainly not completely innocent in past cases of enormous power. They’ve always liked to control the game, and make up their own rules, to give themselves the advantage over their competitors. It’s aggressive, but it’s good business for them.
At the end of the day, this is starting to look like VHS vs Betamax all over again. Betamax was considered the superior technology, though created and owned by a single player, Sony. However, VHS eventually won out in what became the de facto marketing case study on format wars. The parallels are striking. This time around, Sony’s Blu ray still has a large lead. The question is whether the HD DVD backers can pull another rabbit out of their hat to slay the giant that is Sony. There are really only two things really at play here. How much did the movie studios get paid to exclusively back HD DVD, and how little does everyone want Sony to be in control?
All I know is that this will delay my next-generation DVD player purchase.