A recent Variety article entitled “Pandora’s black box” examines Sony’s PS3/Blu-ray strategy and how, with their seemingly never-ending setback, the movie studios that signed up for the Blu-ray format are feeling a little uneasy.
Despite its many uses, industryites agree that the PS3 will sell primarily on its core vidgaming capabilities.
“PS3 is first and foremost about games,” states Kaz Hirai, head of Sony’s U.S. vidgame division. “That really is the entry point for the majority of people. Oh, and by the way, they’ll get a great Blu-ray player. It’s an excellent by-product.”
That “Trojan horse” strategy is what persuaded many studios to jump aboard Blu-ray, figuring that PS3 sales would put Blu-ray in tens of millions of homes where someone loves to play vidgames.
While some of those studios are taking a wait-and-see approach on the impact of PS3, others are already starting to feel burned by the delays and pricing concerns. “PS3 was a huge deal in our coming aboard Blu-ray,” confirms one top home entertainment exec. “I’m not sure we would have signed on if we had known then what we know now.
No matter how many stand-alone HD DVD or Blu-ray players are sold within the next 12 months, its likely (barring any other unforeseen delays) those sales will be dwarfed by the PS3, so from a pure numbers perspective I can see the allure. Unfortunately for the studios, this may prove completely irrelevant within a few short months. Embedding a Blu-ray player in the PS3 does not mean PS3 owners will be Blu-ray movie buyers.
The HD DVD camp is not sitting still either. Toshiba is moving on to it’s second generation HD DVD player after selling through 70k units of its original line. Add to this unannounced HD DVD players from other manufacturers and the up-coming Xbox 360 HD DVD player and it becomes apparent that dedicated, stand-alone HD DVD playback devices may very well eclipse the insert-number-here of PS3 owners who purchase Blu-ray movies. That insert-number-here figure really is the big unknown and will likely remain so for several months after the PS3’s launch.
The big question is, when do we get back to the business of authoring titles and selling HD disc players in one format and one format only? This is what’s needed to assure the consumer at large their not about to buy into the wrong format. Enter Nielsen’s Video Scan.
On October 12th Nielsen’s VideoScan numbers for the month of August alone, revealed that HD DVD movies outsold all other high definition formats by a factor of nearly three to one. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road folks, VideoScan numbers don’t lie, those numbers are sales not shipments and will factor heavily in future studio support decisions.
So will we see a reversal of this 3:1 margin in favor of Blu-ray, in the months following the PS3’s launch on November 17th? That’s hard to say in all honesty, in a vacuum yes 500K+ players would obviously create an up-surge in Blu-ray sales but of course the format war doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
The new Toshiba players, along with the Xbox add-on will put HD DVD into insert-number-here additional homes and from there who knows where this will go. Two things are certain: HD DVD has established a “beachhead” and the format war will keep most consumers on the sideline for the foreseeable future.