A: Blu-Ray, B: HD-DVD, C: none of the above

The one thing that will surely finish off the studios, record labels and their pals isn't piracy, peer-to-peer file transfer or bootlegging. It's their own arrogance and contempt for their customers.

The one thing that will surely finish off the studios, record labels and their pals isn't piracy, peer-to-peer file transfer or bootlegging. It's their own arrogance and contempt for their customers.

It's always been thus, of course, but piracy, peer-to-peer file transfer and bootlegging over the Net have made the decision whether to buy content or not almost entirely dependent on the morality of the consumer. Moral behaviour so often depends on perceptions of fairness and harm, rather than conformity to fixed rules: arrogance and contempt, especially by the powerful, tend to score low on the list of attributes that encourage people not to sin. And now they can sin, effectively without consequence, if they feel that those sinned against deserve it.

So let's look at today's example. Paramount has decided to ditch Blu-Ray in favour of HD-DVD. On the surface - why not? Competition is healthy; there are two formats out there and the best one, as decided by the market, should win; of course there'll be some changes in allegiance as this process pans out. When the dust dies down, the consumer wins.

Except that - as you know - this is nothing like that. The two formats are practically identical, especially at their main job of delivering lots of data in the form of an HD movie. Inasmuch as the market is deciding, it's going for Blu-Ray (although I don't know how much of that is driven by the PS3, that doesn't really matter). What the punters want is certainty, or at least proper choice by having films in both formats. Iinstead, they're getting the HD-DVD group fighting back by buying exclusivity on content.

And at this point, the arrogance ("Our output is so fine, you'll take it how we like") and contempt ("Yeah. You'll have to buy two players. What of it?") show though. Not that either side's been good, exactly, and Paramount's decision will have been larded about with all sorts of business considerations, but that's how it looks. Perception is what matters, just at the moment.

So it won't be a difficult choice to say "thanks, but no thanks. I'll wait some more", during which time the business of illicit HD downloading will romp ahead - as such things always do when they're more convenient, less restricted, provide the best service and (in the eyes of many) only hurting those who conspicuously don't like you very much.

It really isn't about the money. And, when Paramount has spent the $150 million HD-DVD bounty, it may care to remember that.

It's a studio. What am I saying?