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Blu-ray Mounts Event Offensive

29 Oct, 2007 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Ratatouille is among the upcoming Blu-ray titles being previewed by studios this week.

The gloves are off. Backers of the high-definition Blu-ray Disc format are staging a two-day offensive in Hollywood this week, touting their triumphs and offering previews of upcoming releases such as Cars, Ratatouille,, the “Die Hard” movies, Dirty Dancing and Spider-Man 3 to a crowd of more than 50 influential print and online journalists.

The event, which concludes Tuesday, could be seen as a guns-blazing pre-emptive strike against the rival HD DVD camp, which almost simultaneously got a boost from Wal-Mart and other retailers, which reportedly began selling HD DVD players for just less than $200. That is expected to give the HD DVD format a significant boost, particularly in the wake of Paramount Home Entertainment's defection several weeks ago from the Blu-ray side.

The so-called “Blu-ray Festival” coincides with the launch of a new branding and consumer education campaign, with the tagline “I Do Blu,” that premiered Oct. 28 during the final game of the World Series.

Both the campaign and the festival, the latter orchestrated by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, underscore growing sentiments, backed by research, that consumers are largely indifferent to high-definition discs and turned off even more by the presence of two incompatible formats.

To combat this, Blu-ray backers are stepping up the rhetoric and courting the press, particularly the new vanguard of online Web sites, bloggers and discussion boards that cater to the early adopters who historically have set trends the masses have followed.

“It's a great idea,” said Ron Epstein, a founder of the Home Theater Forum, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. “The early adopters are all on the Internet — that's where they find their information. And there's a certain brand new, just happened element.”

“These are the people who are regularly covering technological advances in home entertainment,” said Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing and corporate communications for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “They are at the forefront of the format, as are their readers.”

Representatives of all the Blu-ray-exclusive studios — Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment — were in attendance at the Monday morning opening breakfast, as were key executives with supporting consumer electronics manufacturers such as Sony, Philips and Panasonic.

Also there was Dan Silverberg, VP of high-definition media for Warner Home Video, which since Paramount's move to the HD DVD camp is the only studio to support both next-generation formats.

That may not be for long, Silverberg said. “One thing that may be changing is our strategy,” he said. “When both formats launched and hardware prices were high, we made a decision to support both formats and let the consumer decide. But now that hardware pricing is affordable for both Blu-ray and HD DVD, it appears consumers no longer want to decide — so the notion of staying in two formats for the duration is something we are re-evaluating now that we are in the fourth quarter.”

Silverberg noted that Warner has the top-selling Blu-ray title of all time with 300 and is consistently No. 1 or No. 2 in both Blu-ray sales market share and in number of Blu-ray titles in the market.

“We can definitely talk Blu-ray,” he said. “We are committed to the format.”

At the Monday morning kickoff, the featured speaker was David Berman, director of Home Theater Specialists of America (HTSA), a buying consortium of 62 dealers and 800 installers with combined revenue of more than half a billion dollars a year. He said the HTSA supports Blu-ray because a member survey found 92% favoring Blu-ray over HD DVD.

The press was given a fact sheet of more statistics and Blu-ray milestones, including the fact that even in a week in which Transformers came out on HD DVD and with no comparable title in its lineup, Blu-ray Discs still managed to outsell discs in the rival format. So far this year, Blu-ray titles have outsold HD DVD titles by a 2-to-1 margin. Since inception, Blu-ray software sales have accounted for 61% of high-def disc software sales. And 17 of the 20 top-selling high-definition disc titles are available on Blu-ray.

There also were indications that the Blu-ray camp is done playing nice. At the entrance to the opening breakfast, at the Hollywood and Highland complex, was a huge blowup of a Deadline Hollywood article by renegade online columnist Nikki Finke. The article raised questions about Paramount Home Entertainment's claim that it sold 190,000 copies of Transformers on HD DVD in a single week.

Later in the day, on the 20th Century Fox lot, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment president Mike Dunn blasted Paramount for its defection, accusing the studio of “taking the bait,” referring to a reported $50 million payout to drop its support of Blu-ray Disc and release titles exclusively in HD DVD.

Dunn also intimated that the format war is being perpetuated by Microsoft in the hopes of confusing consumers so much they don't support either format and ultimately buy their entertainment online. He didn't name the computer giant by name, but blasted “the orchestrated campaigns of confusion and anti-consumerism fueled by an 800-pound gorilla that would prefer to force us all into the practice of paying tolls for the right to exchange information and enjoy entertainment.”

Fox also previewed several Blu-ray Disc titles still in development, including I, Robot, Independence Day and Sunshine, which will be released early next year and boast picture-in-picture, audio mixing and other groundbreaking interactive features.

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