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HD and VOD

4 Jan, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

Following last year's simmering heretical discussion of closing the theatrical release window, Tuesday's Wall Street Journal was abuzz about the possibility of closing the DVD release window.

The article, which made some interesting points, smacked of a plant, even if what it said was true. Some of my colleagues doubted the veracity of claims that Warner, Disney, Universal and Fox are "aggressively" pursuing day-and-date DVD and cable VOD releases.

I'm not so sure. I've heard rumors of Time Warner testing day-and-date VOD and DVD releases already. If it was paying off big time, I suspect we would have seen a wider effort to make that shift by now.

On the other hand, the new high-def formats might change that equation. The studios could offer a standard-definition version on one platform at the same time as high-def on another.

It could work either way. Most of the cable and satellite providers are already offering some kind of high-def programming, although Forrester Research this week said half of consumers who own HDTV sets don't subscribe to HD programming — yet. That, Forrester says, means a $3.4 billion missed opportunity by 2010.

So the studios could offer high-def content by VOD on the same day as standard definition DVDs of the same titles hit stores, which would help whet consumer appetites for high-def viewing and maybe eventually spur purchases of more expensive, high-def DVD players.

Or they could go the other way — offer standard-definition versions on VOD and high-def discs in stores. That would be a way to justify the higher price they expect to charge for high-def discs without sharing the premium with the cable and satellite companies.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I'm not so quick to pooh-pooh rumors of simultaneous releases in the future that new technologies are opening up. Either way, the high-def future is a wild card that has never been part of the equation before.

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