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Determination or Desperation?

29 Oct, 2007 By: Thomas K. Arnold

There's a fine line between determination and desperation. Both are motivating the studios' increasingly aggressive show of support for the two high-definition formats.

Packaged media has long been the studios' cash cow. As DVD sales slow, studios are determined to drive consumers to next-gen discs. HDTV sales are soaring, yet neither Blu-ray Disc nor HD DVD have taken off. The lack of a unified standard has kept hardware sales at an anemic level, despite drastic price cuts and a slew of high-profile promotions.

Studios are determined to sway consumers into buying next-gen players. They're pumping out software like crazy, and they're pumping huge sums of money into promotions, such as the Walt Disney Co.'s mall tour.

That's not all. Many high-def disc players come with a bundle of software. Some studios are offering exclusives, such as Sony Pictures' bundling of the Blu-ray Disc of Spider-Man 3 with the Blu-ray versions of the first two “Spider-Man” movies. And, mindful of the critical role big-name talent played in propagating DVD, the studios are bringing out high-profile spokesmen, including Jerry Bruckheimer for Blu-ray and Jeffrey Katzenberg for HD DVD.

If the whole thing smacks of desperation, that's understandable. HD software was initially supposed to take off in Q4 2006, with the debut of Sony's PlayStation 3 and a major promotional counteroffensive from the HD DVD camp. When not much happened, sights were set on Q4 2007. But again, sales numbers are far from impressive, with press releases flying the moment a title hits the 100,000-unit mark — a far cry from the early days of DVD, when the bar was set much higher, at 1 million units.

Now, the consensus is high-def discs won't be a serious business until Q4 2008, and studios are anxious not to be branded the boys who cried wolf. Hence, a certain sense of desperation. One champion of HD DVD played up the fact that standard DVDs look better when played on an HD DVD player, implying consumers should buy a machine even if the HD DVD format remains the underdog.

That kind of talk is exactly what we don't need. It only fuels consumer indifference — the same indifference that years ago sank both rival next-gen audio formats and ultimately sent music consumers online.

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