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Blu-ray Disc, Front and Center at Retail!

10 Nov, 2009 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Best Buy EVP Mike Vitelli's admonition at Blu-Con 2.0 that we'd better do everything we can to take Blu-ray Disc to the masses, and do it now, seems to be a fourth-quarter battle cry for retailers across the board.

Wal-Mart is finally selling certain newly released Blu-ray Discs for less than $20, about the same as the DVD, and probably taking a loss just to use the format as a lure to drive traffic into stores--the same approach the giant discounter took with DVD nearly a decade ago.

Best Buy has remerchandised certain "lab" stores to put Blu-ray disc software right up in front, taking the place of music CDs, which have been unceremoniously shuttled to the back. I walked into the Best Buy near my home in Carlsbad, Calif., and was surprised at how prominent Blu-ray had become--and what a neat fit it was with the store's existing blue color scheme.

And on a trip last week to the Fountain Valley, Calif. Fry's Electronics to buy a new digital camera, I almost tripped over the huge racks of Blu-ray Discs positioned between the entrance and the checkstands, a long row of high-def discs at unbelievably attractive prices.

Retailers seem to be finally getting it, realizing both the promise and the potential of Blu-ray Disc to be DVD, all over again. True, DVD's fast ascent was triggered by a far superior visual and audio experience, but Blu-ray has the same advantage over DVD that DVD had over VHS. Maybe it's an advantage that's only recognizable on an HDTV, but everyone's getting a high-def TV these days--and regardless of what the cablers say, Blu-ray disc remains the only way to bring TRUE 1080p high-definition into the home, a fact I believe is slowly but surely beginning to sink in with the public (remember my Richard the Plumber blog posting from a few weeks back?).

That's why I am so befuddled by yet another story in the mainstream media, this time in the Los Angeles Times, that is headlined "Discs Facing Ejection: As CD and DVD sales sink, Best Buy plans for a future when it stocks fewer hard copies while pushing downloads." The premise of the story is sound: retailers are looking at ways to capitalize on digital downloading. But the execution left me scratching my head and wondering what universe authors Ben Fritz and Dawn Chmielewski are living in.

The article paints a rosy, glossed-over picture of both the current state of downloading (no one's doing it because it takes too long, it's too complicated and the quality isn't there) and the inherent differences between music and movies (we buy music by the song, which is why downloading took off so quickly; we buy movies, well, by the movie, so why spend $20 and two hours downloading a movie when you can buy it for $15 at Wal-Mart?).

The article also completely ignores the fact that the same retailers experimenting with digital downloads are the ones giving Blu-ray Disc a massive push, and that the state of the home entertainment industry is actually quite healthy, with consumer transactions up nearly 7%, year over year. Indeed, Blu-ray is conspicuously absent from the entire article, which keeps referring to the slump in CD and DVD sales but says nothing about the dramatic year-over-year gains in Blu-ray Disc sales.

Oh well, I guess that's why we exist. Trade journalists and trade magazines that cover the business, that know the business and that understand the business. That puts us in a prime position to give everyone a fair shake, and to report what's really going on out there.

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