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Can We Say 'Over?'

21 Oct, 2005 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Now that Warner Home Video has officially joined the Blu-ray Disc Association, with a promise to release a healthy library of titles when the format launches next spring, the proverbial writing's on the wall.

Five of the six majors are now backing Sony's concept of a next-generation, high-definition optical disc, a bigger show of support than DVD enjoyed even months after its March 1997 launch.

Meanwhile, just three majors are supporting Toshiba's rival HD DVD — a format that, ironically, was developed by the consumer electronics giant in response to studio requests for a less-dramatic change from standard DVD.

Never mind that the studio leading the charge for this “request” was none other than Warner, which along with Toshiba developed DVD and shared the patents — and the royalties.

Both companies had a vested interest in keeping DVD alive, hence the fear of Blu-ray, a completely new technology.

The fact that Warner has now gone over to the other side speaks volumes about the final outcome of the battle for supremacy between the two formats. You're not going to choose someone else's kid over your own unless you are convinced your own child has absolutely no chance.

So why are some studios still supporting HD DVD? As one of their presidents told me on the sly, “To keep Sony honest.”

At this point, I honestly don't believe any of the six studios has any intention of releasing product on both formats. They're all intending to release on Blu-ray only, even the two, Paramount and Warner, that are publicly saying they support both formats.

And I predict Universal, the only major to maintain an HD DVD-only stance, also is going to release on Blu-ray and not HD DVD.

But no one's going to show their hand until a launch is imminent. To get so many studios on board, Sony has had to make various concessions and promises. If the powers that be at Sony feel they've scored an easy victory, there's less incentive to keep those promises than if they feel there's always something else looming in the shadows that the studios could turn to should their word be broken.

This is Hollywood, after all, where it's all about the deal, and about deal-making and deal-breaking.

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