Though my initial reaction to Warner Brothers’ announcement that it was going exclusively Blue-ray come May was almost bemusement, the more I think about it, the more irritated I’m getting. Full disclosure: I’m sure my newly-found aggravation isn’t being helped by sleep deprivation or being on a crowded flight on my way to CES, but…
Clearly Time Warner has the right to make whatever decisions it sees fit to make for its business units, and just as clearly, nearly everyone who has bought an hi def player thus far knew they were taking a risk -- I certainly did.
Yet still, there’s something that just feels so wrong about the timing of all this. The fact that Warner was thinking about making this move has been rumored for a couple of months now. But coming just two days before the kick-off of the Consumer Electronics Show, the announcement certainly seems to have been devised to be as devastating to the HD DVD camp as possible. Based on the early press coverage (today’s Times: Warner Sides With Blu-ray DVDs, A Clinching Vote for Sony’s Format), and the last-minute cancellation of Sunday's HD DVD event, they’ve succeeded.
But if Warner or the Blu-ray camp had any interest in serving consumers best interests -– interests which have clearly been ignored in this dispute from day one – couldn’t they have gotten their acts together a month or two earlier and prevented a whole lot of folks from making what’s certainly now looking like foolish holiday purchasing decisions?
Of course there is one potential explanation here that could make a lot of sense, and, in the process, let Warner Brothers off the hook a bit with regard to the timing of their announcement.
Let’s conjecture that early holiday sales figures are showing that despite promotions that brought the prices of HD DVD players below $200 (and below $100 on Black Friday) -- with anywhere from seven to 12 free HD DVD titles thrown in to boot -- not nearly enough people took the bait. And while I can’t imagine standalone Blu-ray player sales were any better, Sony certainly sold a bunch of PS3s (with its built-in Blu-ray capabilities) over the holiday, and that means there are a lot more Blu-ray households now than there were three months ago. And maybe, just maybe, the early holiday data was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Warner Brothers.
So as not to shirk my journalistic responsibilities, allow me to now add what has quickly become boilerplate in virtually all the coverage I've seen of this story: Despite this staggering blow, HD DVD isn’t dead yet, the format still has Universal, Paramount, and Dreamworks Animation on its side, yadda, yadda, yadda. Yeah, fine.
Okay, fine, but the more important fact: Blu-ray now has roughly 70-percent of the market on its side (that number comes from the Times article -- can’t confirm this on the plane, but it seems like it’s in the right ballpark).
It’s going to be interesting to see what the HD DVD camp’s next move will be, but I think it’s safe to say that it would have been easier for Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney to declare victory in Iowa than for Toshiba and Microsoft to come up with anything resembling reassurance or optimism here. Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t they announce that in recognition of the best interests of the consumer, Universal, Paramount, and Dreamworks Animation are now free to release their catalogs in whichever format they choose?
Sadly, I just looked out the plane window, and alas, no flying pigs.