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Paramount and DreamWorks Animation Each Declare Exclusive Support for HD DVD - Part II

Posted on Monday, August 20th, 2007 11:16 PM

HD DVD and Blu-ray LogosHome theater enthusiast sites are buzzing today on the news that movie studios Paramount and Dreamworks Animation have announced that they are dropping support for the Blu-ray high definition disc format and will only release their movies on the rival HD DVD format.

If you've been following the topic even lightly, you are probably aware that not all studios were supporting both formats. In fact, only two studios were supporting both, and that was Warner Home Video and Paramount. This meant that fans of movies like "The Departed" and the "Mission: Impossible" movies could enjoy them on whichever HD player they decided to purchase. This approach is good for fans, and I think that every studio should be completely format neutral.

Not every studio is neutral, however. Sony has a big stake in the Blu-ray format, so there's no surprise that their movies ("Casino Royale" for example) would be available on that format only. Disney and Fox have also been vocal Blu-ray only studios, although until recently Disney wasn't releasing or announcing any major releases (that changed when they released the "Pirates of the Carribean" movies and they have set some hard dates for "Cars" and "Ratatouille" -- although Cars has been delayed once before) and Fox has been a Blu-ray supporter mostly in press releases only.

On the HD DVD side of things, Universal was the sole exclusive movie studio. All eyes seemed to be on them. Will they go neutral? Will they flip? Oh, the drama!

Well, now the HD DVD side of the format war just got a few big reinforcements. The "Shrek" movies have been good to Dreamworks Animation with "Shrek the Third" pulling in $732 million worldwide, and "Transformers" was no slouch this summer either (worldwide box office of $657 million and counting). The Will Ferrell/John Heder comedy "Blades of Glory" was due to come out on both formats next Tuesday, but Paramount has now pulled the Blu-ray release.

This news definitely changes the field of battle, and victory by either side is nowhere near certain. Combine this with the fact that HD DVD players can be had for as little as $240 (or $180 if you already have an Xbox 360), while the least expensive Blu-ray player is still about $480, and you have a compelling reason for why it's much too premature for the Blu-ray group to be announcing victory on a monthly basis.

That's why I think that the only victory will come in neutrality.

Today's decision may provide a shift of enough significance to convince many in this war that there will be no clear winner. The only way to win is to serve the customer, who has been stuck in the middle while the studios and hardware manufacturers lob shells at each other from each side.

That's the only scenario that has no outright losers. Manufacturers win because they can sell players that will play all the movies being released. Consumers win because they don't have to worry about not being able to play HD movies on they player they decide to spend their money on. Studios win because they can sell to consumers no matter which format they have.

Sure, studios have to pay more money for producing two formats instead of one. Considering the incredibly low volumes of HD media sales right now, that's not a big hit to the bottom line in the big picture. I just don't think that it's that big a factor right now. In the future, yes, the production costs are going to matter when they're moving units approaching what we're seeing with DVD sales. But that day is a long way off and there's plenty of sales to make in the meantime.

Neutrality only works, however, when the cease fire is honored by everyone involved. All studios need to be neutral, even Sony, but it could probably work if there was a single holdout, because their non-participation would be so incredibly obvious that they would be shamed into it anyway.

So, while I don't like the idea of studios being exclusive to either side, I'm hoping that today's news brings both sides to the table with the final result being their movies released on both formats so it doesn't matter that I have an HD DVD player or that someone else has a Blu-ray player. We both love movies in high definition, and it's in the best interest of all involved to make us, the paying consumers, happy!

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