Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2007 #9:
Next-Gen DVD Format War Wastes Everyone's Time
By David Mumpower
December 28, 2007
Futility, thy name is the next-gen DVD "war". Truly, the struggle for supremacy between Blu-ray and HD-DVD is a pointless skirmish that serves no purpose save for the aggrandizement of woefully out of touch corporations Sony and Toshiba/Microsoft. The two titans of the business world could have averted this current public relations disaster had they been willing to broker a compromise in 2005. While there were extensive discussions along these lines, however, neither side was willing to cede their demands in order to come to an agreement. Microsoft found the Blu-Ray technology unsatisfactory for personal computing while Sony would not budge on file structuring, believing a similar decision in the past had cost the company billions in royalties. The impact of these two behemoths behaving thusly is roughly the equivalent of two men putting buckets on their heads then repeatedly trying to head-butt one another. Unfortunately, random violence, while initially humorous, grows tiresome all too quickly.
In the beginning of the format wars, the anticipation was that Sony Blu-Ray player held all of the cards. The fledgling technology would be presented as a Trojan horse in the Sony PlayStation 3, the new videogame console expected to dominate the next generation of the industry. Meanwhile, Microsoft backed HD-DVD enough to discard Blu-Ray technology but not enough to make its proprietary technology a requisite aspect of their Xbox 360's feature set. It has been made available as a (relatively) cheap add-on, giving the consumer the flexibility to decide for themselves if they are interested. Anyone following the videogame industry or having a child under 13 knows how that worked out. The Nintendo Wii proved to be the system of choice for casual gamers and anyone yet to hit puberty. To date, its sales have dwarfed those of its competitors, making the videogame aspect of the next-gen DVD war shockingly irrelevant.
Where has this surprising turn of events left Hollywood? The expectation had been that one of the formats would win out by now. History supported such a resolution. A quick strike by DVD turned DivX into a laughing stock in a short period of time, making the previous generation of "future tech" amusingly one-sided. This has not been the case with the tense battle for HDTV video supremacy. The utter failure of the PS3 in its first year meant that the Trojan horse expected to win the race for Blu-Ray was never invited into the homes of most consumers. Perhaps wizened by the teachings of The Aeneid, consumers flatly rejected corporate geeks bearing gifts, creating confusion bordering on hysteria in Hollywood.
After all, the body of mainstream studios had offered their support to Blu-Ray predicated upon the supposition that it would earn a monopoly over HD-DVD in short order. Those studios who joined Sony - MGM, Disney, Fox and Lionsgate – found themselves in a relatively even contest in terms of software sales. A couple of studios timidly tested the water by supporting both formats. Those studios, MGM, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema, look to be the smartest thus far. Meanwhile, Universal, Paramount and The Weinstein Company went the other way, throwing their support behind the HD-DVD format. None of them would currently be described as happy with the way this is going.