format peace

post format war

It is hard to imagine that HD DVD would come back from the blow that Warners BluRay decision delivered. The internet was busy speculating about half a billion dollars in bribes that supposedly that came down rolling Barham Blvd. I think that the sales performance of DVD makes the Studios very nervous. All too quickly they got used to the huge volume of DVD revenue and a steady increase for that matter. The average american bought DVDs for $53, rented them for $25 in 2007. And he/she paid $32 at the Cinema Box office. For both HD formats combined a single dollar left peoples purses in the last year.

In total billions these numbers look like:

16 DVD sales
7.5 DVD rentals
0.3 nextgen DVD formats (both)
9.6 Box office

The troubling point for the studios seems to be that DVD sales are declining. Already in 2005 DVD set top box sales had gone done for the first time in history. Back then it probably was the fanfare about the ‘next thing’. People don’t like to buy yesterdays gadget. The studios felt they needed to get HD via DVD going. And Sony did the better show and number exercises.

Both formats encoding technology, bandwidth and other core parameters are pretty similar. As Mike Curis eludes to, the scripting technology in HD DVD seems to be more open, developer friendly and thefor hugely favorable over the bloated Java based BluRay implementation. But what’s to expect from Sony.

Flat panel displays sales have taken off, and about a year analog TV will be turned off. With the format war being over the Bluray sales should surge. And, I think, they will. Initially. Many bluray players will be PS3s. After correcting the outrageous price Sony’s next gen box had finally some sales worth mentioning. How many people bought the black box because they could not get the cute white one is a different story.

I wouldn’t be surprised if DVD+BluRay Sales volumes would come out flat in 2008 and from there on further decline. There are three reasons for this future disappointment:

* It’s the internet stupid.
Not only the net alone. Technology progresses everywhere. Hell, my toaster wants more attention than it’s great grandfather did 20 years ago. Media is omnipresent. VHS had to compete with, well, Books and TV. Maybe radio, cinema and newspapers. That’s about it. Bluray faces a vastly different world. None of the existing media emanations will just fade away. And new ones get created with an increasing pace. There is simply not enough time to watch all those movies.

* we don’t care since you don’t care
The Studios have failed to understand their own product. There is a history to this. And others failed similarly: The music industry would be in much better shape, would they have not confused the means of peddling circular things with the end of enabling people to enjoy music. Both HD formats allow for better visible quality compared to DVD. Better bandwidth and modern codecs could make for a great experience. Despite this potential most early Discs that were available have been widely criticized for their poor transfers. Some people felt that they would be better off with a decent upscale of a good quality DVD. People love movies. A considerable slice of the population, and almost certainly the majority of early (media) tech adopters care for a good experience. The Studios should have put the utmost emphasis on quality. And that starts with the film transfer. Even though the studios are not keen to involve creative people more than absolutely necessary, they should have gotten them on board for the launch of the new media. Imagine Steven Spielberg approving a 5 movie disk set claiming “this is how I want my movies to be seen”. People would spend allot of money for this. They would get players, lay cable. The whole thing. Maybe the studios should have gotten together with the ACE and directors guild to develop a approval system. Pay directors and DPs to sign off on a DVD transfer. I would pay happily knowing that the creative vision was intact. OK, in some cases I would simply paying for the drug habit of that one hit wonder boy. But I do that anyway, one way or another.

* it’s complicated
HDMI 1.3 is really exciting, since it not only features greater than bitdepths but also could carry the extended xvYCC color space. While being true, not many people know what this means. And neither should they. DVD succeeded because it was ‘as simple as CD’. No more rewind. That made Hollywood billions. Simple is key. The HD formats are not exactly known for simplicity. And the studios are not helping. Neither do the hardware makers. I find my way around these matters. But it’s my job to understand all this. And if it wouldn’t, then I would really watch another movie than to worry about downsampled movies that were escaping DRM through the analog otherwise. Having two formats was of course a big problem. But even with BluRay remaining it’s not as easy as it should be. Different disc sizes. Flat panel resolutions. Frame rates.
Image processing. And an interface written in Java simply scares me: There are just too many ways developers mess up. Hardware makers and studios alike fall in love with features that have nothing to do with their product. Multi Angle was one of these technical possibilities that DVD had. Studios were all excited about it. Since they didn’t understand what their product is: A movie is one view. One perspective. Everything else is a cute vaudeville attraction or plain and simple porn that desperately tries to stand out (no pun intended).

DVD hardware sales

Variety on DVD sales numbers
2007 Box office

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