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Blue DVD Blues: Sony and Toshiba Have Left the Building

They'll do it their way By Miles Weston

Frank Sinatra may have made doing it his way famous, but then he had something really going for himself ? a single voice that was the envy of  half of the population of the world. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the next generation of DVD.  Toshiba and Sony have left the building and have determined they will do it?their way! Instead of singing we get the feeling we're watching the great James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause.  Remember? He was a rebellious young man with a troubled past who comes to a new town, finding friends and enemies.

Sure the two have troubled pasts.  They both struggled with their successes and failures.  They have both lusted for patent supremacy and lost.  They both have friends and enemies.  Big questions are: How committed are the friends? How determined are the enemies? What about the gotchas they aren't considering?

All of Hollywood is committed?to making money.  Lots of it!  And the more the better.

They are watching ticket sales slide.  They see the newness wearing off DVD sales and people are being more selective in the discs they purchase for their libraries. Dispelling the theory that moviegoers are opting to stay home and rent movies on DVD, the home video rental market was off over 2% for the first half of the year.

Is everyone buying pirated video?  Are they sending/downloading it off the Internet? Best way to answer those questions is with a comment from Blockbuster's CEO who noted that the continued poor theatrical performance is having a negative impact on the industry.

That's financial community-speak for most of the movies aren't worth going to see, buying, renting or even stealing.

A different disc format won't change that.  If the format disagreement continues it means it will be two years before either has any traction in the marketplace. All of the studios that committed to delivering blue technology (BD-- Blu-ray disc, or HD -- HD DVD) titles this year have already said they will take their seat in the stands and watch the debate play out.

They will continue to knock out titles on present DVD discs as people buy more and more DVD players.  They will see what MPEG-4 and H.264 offers them in terms of added content protection on present media.  They will look for new channels. 

Sure, the studios have huge vaults they can mine for money -- films that were created, you know, back when movies were really good.  But they won't release them on any format without solid DRM (digital rights management) technology.  It is available because they have developed it with the help of the software folks and it is flexible enough to work across any media -- including IP.  It's so good it will take a 15-year-old at least a day to break!

A few are dusting off the golden oldies like Universal Studios with their remake of King Kong.  Universal isn't taking any chances on losing their control. With military precision they are protecting their content from the moment it emerges from the vault to the moment it's delivered to the consumer with all of the DRM protection intact.  If it works, other studios will follow suit and not worry about blue laser technology.

In fact, many of the friends -- on both sides of the discussion -- are starting to look elsewhere for relief.

The options are out there and the studios are looking at them all.  The head of Warner Brothers recently noted that his industry is trying very hard to make sure that what happened to the music industry doesn't happen to his. Trust us, they mean business?

That's why they are looking at every option, every opportunity.

The networks, content developers and consumers are becoming accustomed to video on demand across their cable and satellite connections (Fig 1).   Slightly more than 11.6 U.S. households have DVRs (digital video recorders) today and by 2009 that number is expected be nearly 47.5 million.

Fig. 1

Much as we hate to admit it, much of that content will reside in the higher and higher capacity hard drives that are cheap today and just getting ready to die. The intelligent way to deliver the content -- not that intelligence has anything to do with it -- would be for content owners to employ a realistic copy approach similar to what Sony's BMG is employing with its music CDs.

BMG's new technology allows customers to make three copies of the disc, and while the company admits its solution needs some enhancement it does create speed bumps in casual piracy.  Put a little meat on the bones and this could be a solution that delivers the content security needed to deliver content in the most efficient way possible.  When this happens BMG will be able to reduce its reliance on their two expensive channels of distribution -- theaters and retail stores. 

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Related Keywords:Sony, Toshiba, Blu-ray, HD DVD, BD, Hollywood, DRM, consumers, pirated video, movies, high definition

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