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Indies Waiting to do HD

6 Aug, 2007 By: Chris Tribbey

In the high-def disc software battle, the major studios have chosen sides or have decided to be format agnostic, releasing titles on both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

This leaves the independents.

About 90% of Blu-ray releases and 82% of HD DVD titles come from the major studios. Save a handful that have dipped their toes in the high-def water, most independents say they have no HD DVD or Blu-ray plans.

The most common issue keeping them out of the high-definition picture is price.

“It's very costly,” said Phoenix Entertainment Group CEO Anthony Perez. “It's too risky.”

Bulk disc pricing data obtained from three major replicators shows an order of 25,000 non-hybrid HD DVDs can run anywhere from less than 90 cents per-disc to as much as $1.45 each. For 25,000 Blu-ray Discs, per-disc costs run from a little more than $1 to $1.50. That doesn't include set-up costs, packaging or authoring charges. Standard-definition DVD replication on a similar scale can cost less than half what high-def runs.On the authoring side, doing high-def can run as much as four times what standard definition costs, according to Todd Taylor, director of video services for Tango Productions Inc., which provides authoring and film production services for the HD DVD format. He said his company authors DVD-9s for $3,500 to $4,000.

“From an authoring standpoint, it's going to cost you the same either way (with Blu-ray or HD DVD),” he said.

Because of the costs, many independents are staying on the sidelines.

“We're still thinking about it,” said Bandai Entertainment's sales and marketing manager Sam Maseba.

Others say their product isn't right for high-def.

“It doesn't make sense for us because of our product,” said Lifesize Entertainment president Bruce Frigeri.

“Once HD DVD or Blu-ray catches on, everyone will bring their best catalog titles out,” said Mike Bailiff, ADV Film's SVP of sales and marketing. “But now it's hard to commit.”

“What we're going to do is take a very long look at the market,” said Jim Yardley, VP of sales and marketing for Geneon.

Another issue is uncertainty about which format will emerge on top.

“All it comes down to is we will follow whoever wins,” said MTI Home Video president and CEO Larry Brahms.

Mitch Perliss, EVP for Razor Digital, which just announced a handful of Blu-ray releases, said the HD DVD Promotional Group and Blu-ray Disc Association should take a long look at helping smaller content providers get into the game.

“Why not say, ‘Mr. Independent, we'll subsidize half your costs?’ he said. “They know they have to get software in the market. You have to have the software to get people excited about the hardware.”

If either side were to offer to help underwrite authoring and compression costs, would the independents join in?

“Probably,” Brahms said.

“Yes,” Lifesize's Frigeri said.

“Definitely,” Phoenix's Perez said.

“Hell yeah,” ADV's Bailiff said.

“We'd have to take a very long look at it,” said VIZ Media's home video sales director Brian Ige.

Amazon and Microsoft have taken a step toward getting more titles in the market with their 1,000 HD DVD Indies Project, where 1,000 indie filmmakers will have their high-def film authored on HD DVD for free, which will then be made available on Amazon.com at the director's suggested list price.

But Ken Graffeo, EVP of marketing for HD DVD-backer Universal Studios Home Entertainment and co-president of the HD DVD Promotional Group, downplayed the importance of independents throwing their software into the high-def market. The hardware question must be answered first, he said.

“Hardware's the most important thing,” he said. “You need the razor to get the blades.”

Yet most independents are unmotivated by high-def, unable to afford to offer their product on both formats and waiting on the sidelines because picking a side may mean picking a loser.

“Those of us who lived through the VHS and Betamax war … for a while we did release both,” MTI's Brahms said. “It didn't make any sense.”

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