The LA Times chimes in on the format war, and Sony launches four BD recorders in Japan

I saw this article the other day, but I’ve had some personal stuff to deal with and didn’t get around to blogging about it. On Monday the LA Times ran an article about the BD/HD DVD format war which is mostly things we’ve seen before, but has some interesting bits. They cover the basics of the war, Blu-ray’s 2:1 sales lead, the PS3 advantage, the $150 million payoff to Paramount and DreamWorks Animation to go HD DVD exclusive, etc. But then it dropped this:

The brinkmanship is intensifying. Another major studio, Warner Bros., is being courted by both camps and believed to be mulling over a lucrative offer that could bring such popular titles as “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” into the HD DVD camp, according to Hollywood insiders who requested anonymity because the talks were confidential.

It isn’t too surprising, but this is the first report I can recall seeing that explicitly states that both sides are trying to ‘incentivize’ Warner into backing them. Warner is a big dog in both camps accounting for 20.82% of BD sales (second only to Sony’s 25.26%) and 30.11% of HD DVD sales (second only to Universal’s 41.58%). If Warner picked sides it would be a big loss to whichever format they drop, and a huge win for the camp they back. (Paramount has been only 10.24% of BD and 11.11% of HD DVD sales to date – not nearly as key as Warner, especially for HD DVD.) Since Warner is a much larger fish than Paramount, it will presumably take a lot more to hook them. Right now they’re making money sitting on the fence, selling to both sides. And they have their ‘Total HD’ combination disc in their back pocket. Based on sales alone, the logical choice would be Blu-ray – their release of 300 has sold 2:1 in favor of BD, as have most of their dual-format releases. But there is certainly a lot of back room negotiation and politicking going on, and probably a lot of money being offered by both sides.

But that’s not all, the article goes on to state:

What’s more, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the dominant seller of DVDs, has been contemplating whether to boot stand-alone HD DVD players from its shelves in favor of Blu-ray. Wal-Mart executives would not talk about the company’s conversations with suppliers, but said it would continue to carry hardware and software in both formats until consumers indicate a clear preference.

Nonetheless, they expressed frustration with the continued format race.

“It would be good for the studios or somebody to make the call,” said Kevin O’Conner, Wal-Mart’s vice president and general merchandise manager for consumer electronics.

If that contemplation is true, it is doubly interesting. First, that Wal*Mart is considering picking sides in the first place. Second, and perhaps mostly, that they’d side with Blu-ray. Now, as a Blu-ray supporter I would love them to do this. But, to date, most speculation has been on if Wal*Mart would back HD DVD or not. The presumption has been that since Wal*Mart is largely cost driven, they’d support the format with the current lowest prices on players. And, additionally, since Wal*Mart sources many items from China, and China is in the HD DVD camp (via CH-DVD), it seemed logical. I think this is the first time I’ve seen someone suggest Wal*Mart is considering backing BD.

I don’t think this war is going to be over any time soon.

In other news, Sony announced four new Blu-ray Disc recorders for the Japanese market. The new recorders, which go on sale November 8, support 50GB BR-R/RE discs for recording up to 16 hours of HD. The top-end unit includes a 500GB hard drive (it is a combo DVR/BD recorder). Sony is mulling over launching recorders in the European market as well.

I suspect the US market is lagging because of the complexities of dealing with CableCARD and Cable Labs on a recorder.

Both CNET and Forbes covered the news.

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MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • Tom

    The Digital Bits had blogged about the LA Times story early in the week and did some follow-up. The short of it is that Warner was approached at the same time as Paramount and Dreamworks but balked at the offer. Warner will continue to support both formats is the official word.

  • megazone

    Ah, thanks. Here are the two relevant posts: one and two.