Tuesday, September 05, 2006

High-Def War Politics: Fox Announces Loyalty to Blu-ray

While perusing the neighborhood Best Buy or Circuit City, you may have noticed a small selection of HD-DVDs or Blu-rays among the many racks of DVDs. While the press releases updates about continuing "battle" of the high definition DVDs, common discussion of these next-generation formats is relatively fixed in technically savvy circles or with those involved in media. Many are focused on who will be the eventual winner of the DVD war, given that either Blu-ray or HD-DVD will be the next major format for recording, releasing, and archiving domestic and foreign media. However, there are already immediate ramifications present for film studios and film consumers that the everyday moviegoer should know before they take the high-def step.

One such instance was in a recent Reuters' article announcing Twentieth Century Fox's endorsement of Blu-ray. Fox is one of the oldest film studios with an extensive cinema library that will be the titles released in Blu-ray. Studios are wise to be taking an active role in determining the next media format, as the outcome will greatly affect their capital. Los Angeles Times' writer Rachel Abramowitz believes that studios are invested in the new technology because "DVD sales constitute 50% to 60% of the revenue on any given picture." With the constant reports of the financial downturn in media, it's only natural that studios are actively seeking to secure their futures. Fox isn't the only studio to back Blu-ray as Warner and Paramount are also, but the latter two dually plan to release titles in HD-DVD to widen their financial opportunities. However, Fox's Home Entertainment President Mike Dunn revealed that "[20th Century Fox] have no plans to release on HD-DVD," thus being the first studio to commit solely to the format. In doing so, Fox is risking the studio's future earnings, since there is always the possibility that HD-DVD will emerge as the premier media format. Fox's support of Blu-ray is bound to give the latter credibility and possibly greater support from other studios. But with the dependence on DVD revenue, no studio can afford to make the wrong choice for their future media format.

In addition, Fox's decision has some underlying implications for the everyday movie-watcher. According to the Digital Entertainment Network, 80% of American homes have DVD players or a compatible system, the target group for the high-def switch for televisions, disks, and media players. High-def technology is the natural progression of technology like the move from VHS to DVD and is better quality overall than the DVD. By going high-def however, the consumer may be losing the freedom of choice that comes with DVDs being the current universal form across media. For instance, those who have chosen HD-DVD technology will be unable to get compatible Fox titles like Kingdom of Heaven or The Usual Suspects since Fox is going the Blu-ray route. If more studios copy Fox's decision, one format could arguably overtake the other more readily because it would force the consuming public into a corner. They would have to buy the studio-supported format if they wanted to watch that studio’s films. But for the most part, many media analysts believe most studios will waver between both technologies until one emerges the victor. While this provides the studios with more security, it means some consumers are bound to pick the "wrong" format. As a result, have even less freedom as the emerging format becomes the main outlet for any following media.

One may wonder if the public has to choose between Blu-ray and HD-DVD; in other words, why can't we have both? Though it may be possible, media history has shown that opposing, incompatible media formats are very unlikely to coexist in public economy. Even though various media conglomerates have chosen sides, the average movie-watcher should hold off selecting either system until the outcome becomes a bit clearer. There is no doubt that Blu-ray and HD-DVD are both significantly better technologies than DVDs, but who knows which system could end up on top. Technology is a fickle medium that should be watched carefully, especially by those who do not have the money to invest in the entire high-def catalogue. Though it may be tempting to revamp one's theater system with the most current, state-of-the-art accessories, one may risk purchasing the "losing" format and being left with a technology that has no future.

No comments: