Whatever happened to Blu-ray?

The flamewar after 2008's "Blu-ray is dead" post re-ignited a couple of months ago. So, what DID happen to Blu-ray? The news is not all bad - and far from all good.

Blu-ray is dead - heckuva job, Sony! proclaimed an October 2008 headline here on ZDNet - and it ignited a firestorm of comments pro and con. But some have noted that it's now 2014 and Blu-ray is still around and - as a popular corollary - I'm an idiot. 

Blu-ray: a zombie format?
After calling the win for Blu-ray in the Sony/Toshiba high-def format war in June, 2007 (see Blu-ray vs HD DVD: game over) while it was still raging, I watched Sony snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They thought they had a cash cow they could squeeze for billions, but the reality was far different.

Did Blu-ray win?
Of course! When you see consumers breathlessly counting the days until the next blockbuster comes out on Blu-ray, lining up at video stores and forking over 50 percent more for the Blu-ray version, you know you have a winner!

Oh, wait - that's a Sony circa 2008 fever dream. Video stores are mostly gone, replaced by Red Box. Grocery stores have a few dozen DVDs and some Blu-ray discs. Wal-mart does a good business with $5 Blu-rays.

But for the most part the packaged media business has collapsed. From a story on Deadline.com:

So much for the high-def discs that studios once hoped would revive home entertainment. Consumers bought about 124M Blu-ray discs in the U.S. last year, + 4.2% vs 2012, research firm IHS Technology reports this morning. But with prices falling, consumer outlays only increased 2.6% — not nearly enough to compensate for the 13.6% drop in DVD sales.

In fact, where popular DVDs regularly sold over 6-10 million US copies a year - and still do - only four Blu-ray's (Avatar, Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Despicable Me 2) have broken the 3 million US sales in a calendar year.

Clearly, Sony fumbled the transition to Blu-ray, but - credit where credit is due - they did avoid the total fiasco I predicted in 2008. Barely.

The Storage Bits take
Optical media investment is now being driven by something that didn't even exist in 2007: cloud computing. Massive Internet-scale data centers need reliable cold storage. BDXL and future Blu-ray derivatives are stepping up to the task.

These 100GB+ discs have not caught on with consumers and probably never will - buy the cloud service instead. There's no reason to release movies on them either - collected works of Steven Spielberg on 1 disc? - so these high-capacity variants look to become the first primarily cloud storage technology.

That's not a bad thing. But I do wish Hollywood would stop trying to milk Blu-ray for maximum dollars and go for maximum unit sales.

My Blu-ray of Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo - in glorious B&W and hi-fi monophonic sound - shows what digital restoration and HD video can do to help us appreciate a great film. That is Hollywood's most important legacy - if they choose to embrace it.

Comments welcome, of course. What percentage of your viewing is streaming vs disc?


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