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The HD Campaign Is in High Gear

5 Nov, 2007 By: Stephanie Prange

What in previous years seemed to be a rather friendly — if sometimes impassioned — competition between next-generation discs suddenly turned more contentious last week.

If it were a movie, the tag line might read, “HD DVD vs. Blu-ray Disc: This time it's personal.”

What industry observers previously only alluded to off the record or anonymously — Paramount's payment for switching sides to HD DVD — became part of the rally cry for the Blu-ray contingent at last week's Blu-ray event.

We've moved beyond mere murmurings of payments and sabotage of packaged media to studio executives actually referring to these possibilities in speeches.

As in any high-stakes political campaign, each side is pulling out all the stops and opening the pocketbook to plead its case. The elaborate parties sponsored by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and other Blu-ray supporters are evidence that the format war is reaching a new level — as is the advent (probably not so coincidentally) of HD DVD players priced at less than $200 in stores.

But hardware sales aren't the only deciding factor. Studio executives have been closely watching the poll numbers, measured in sales of Blu-ray and HD DVD discs, and the Blu-ray parties never fail to mention their substantial lead in that respect.

But a win there could be far from assured, and Blu-ray supporters know it, as they moved to counter the Oct. 16 release of Paramount Home Entertainment's HD DVD release of DreamWorks' Transformers with special offers. Despite Transformers' appeal, Blu-ray discs continued to outsell HD DVDs for the week ended Oct. 21, albeit only by a slim margin of 51% to 49%. Another big test will be the Nov. 13 HD DVD release of DreamWorks' Shrek the Third, which I'm sure Blu-ray supporters are gearing up to meet with some enticing offering of their own.

It's clear both sides intend to step up the rhetoric to garner public attention and create the perception that theirs will be the winning format.

Unfortunately, this is a campaign in which both contenders could lose if the public remains indifferent.

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