Throttling the Next Big Thing

The expectation many had that the next-generation HD format would take off once the format war was over is pretty much a forgotten dream at this point. Sales of Blu-Ray haven’t experienced the massive jump people expected once wait-and-see consumers saw that HD-DVD was well and truly dead.

Consumers are balking at the $300-plus cost of most Blu-ray players especially because only limited movie titles are available in the format.

“People aren’t going to pay three times as much for a platform that’s only half-baked,” said Steve Wilson, a consumer electronics analyst with ABI Research.

The problem with both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray formats, of course, was largely the library. Perhaps it’s only obvious to me, but when you’re touting the superiority of the platform as a prestige format, you might want to consider releasing Citizen Kane – a movie with a long history that most people would display proudly in their collection, and something more likely to be cherished by someone who just dropped $399 on a player – instead of, say, Ultraviolet – a movie whose design concept can best be described as “blurry, obviously fake, and designed above all to not be viewed in HD.”

This in turn feeds the price question. Why should people pay a prestige price for a player where the majority of titles are movies that people just flat don’t care about seeing in HD – many of which are $20+ on the new format when they’re already in the bargain bins on the old? I just purchased Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3 on DVD for $5.99 each – movies I care about having in my collection (well, Alien 3 more for completeness’ sake). With the already high quality of DVD picture and sound, spending $25.99 for each of them on Blu-Ray would just feel wrong.

Of course, Blu-Ray could get an extra push from indie producers. More and more indie directors shooting on HD would mean an influx of content – some of which would be kept inexpensive to draw in new audiences, and which would help sell the new format to off-the-wall and indie film fans. Of course, it could provide this extra push – if Blu-Ray didn’t seem determined to exclude these producers from the new market.

Where are the POD solutions for Blu-Ray at this point? No, I’m seriously asking – where are they? CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon, is still negotiating a deal to allow them to offer POD Blu-Ray. Kunaki? Lulu? Who knows? Neither one even mentions it. Why not?

It may have something to do with the $3,000-a-person entry fee the industry is imposing, otherwise known as the AACS DRM scheme. It appears that there’s been a real problem playing Blu-Ray discs that don’t include AACS, so everybody who wants to publish to the medium has to purchase an AACS license, and every title must include AACS – regardless of the wishes of the publisher and/or the artist.

Creative Commons-licensed material? Who cares? You’d better slap some copy protection on it.

Want to release a public domain film to Blu-Ray to help preserve our film history (or make a quick buck off of an HD release of The Last Man on Earth)? Sure. As long as that public domain film is one you’re willing to pay $3,000 to copy protect.

And forget about a sales system like EZTakes, that provides its DVD images DRM-free – but with the purchaser’s e-mail address embedded in the burnt copy.

Forget, too, about the share-friendly independent spirit that provokes legal statements like this one (found on my newest DVD, available soon, plug plug).

Also known as - Anti-Copy Protection

Low- and Micro-budget filmmakers will find themselves blocked out of the new next-generation disc market for as long as AACS is an expensive necessity and the artists are blocked out of making their own decisions as to how their content should be treated. The result? Well, unless the major studios wise up on their releasing schedule, a homogenized blend of movies nobody cares about seeing in High Definition, and a marketplace completely priced out of the range of the regular consumer.

After all, there’s one further aspect I’ve barely even touched on that is just as blocked by this current model – one could argue that DVD’s would never have become the consumer mainstay they are today if not for the bins of $1 DVD’s at the front of every major retail chain today…

Leave a Reply