Blame the recession if you wish, but sales of DVDs are down – and Blu-ray isn’t necessarily making up the shortfall.
Last November Screen Digest published its annual guide to the worldwide home video market and it made for slightly depressing reading. Rentals and sales of home video fell by 2.8 per cent in 2008 and Blu-ray didn’t make up the shortfall, accounting for just 2 per cent of global video shipments.
It wasn’t that optimistic about its prospects in 2009, either, prompting Screen Digest’s head of video, Helen Davis Jayalath to comment:
“Clearly the start of a global recession was not the ideal time to launch an upgrade to what many consumers consider to be a perfectly serviceable home entertainment system [DVD] and that spending on the Blu-ray format has been slower than the industry had hoped.”
Prospects for 2010 look better, but worldwide sales of standalone players were expected to hit just 18.9 million by the end of 2009, with another 27 million being allotted to the PS3.
Compare that to the 540 million households that were expected to have a least one DVD player by the end of 2009, and it’s clear that Blu-ray has a mountain to climb.
One problem, aside from the recession, is that your average person doesn’t yet get the benefits of Blu-ray. Simon Morris, chief marketing officer at Lovefilm told TechRadar that while 25 per cent of his company’s customers are ‘touching’ Blu-ray they’re among the most avid consumers of movies full stop.
Morris likens them to footie fans who have a season ticket, Sky subscription, watch ITV highlights and Match Of The Day. In other words, they go the cinema, watch TV, stream content online and – yes – buy and rent movies on DVD and Blu-ray – the same kind of enthusiasts who thought Laserdisc was a good thing. Mass market it was not.
Morris argues that most people understand that high definition is better, but don’t necessarily make the connection between that and hooking an HD-ready TV to a high definition source such as Blu-ray.
Richard Cooper, senior analyst for video at Screen Digest argues that there’s a similar disconnect for PlayStation 3. He told TechRadar that many of them aren’t plugged into high def TVs in the living room, and are being used instead as standalone games machines hooked up to portable TVs – although he expects that to change once awareness of the PS3′s capabilities as an entertainment hub becomes more widespread.
Even home cinema experts agree that the real benefits of high definition only become apparent once your display gets over 37-inches in size. Roger Batchelor, product marketing consultant for Denon told TechRadar “For anyone with a projector, Blu-ray is a must-have.”
Blu-ray may have already won over certain switched-on consumers – movie enthusiasts and some gamers – but for it to become truly mass market and to enjoy DVD-like sales of hardware and software it needs a killer app.
The movie industry is doing its bit by offering Blu-ray/DVD and Digital Copy combi packs – Disney Pixar’s Up (http://www2.disney.co.uk/DisneyDVDs/DVDs/up.jsp) being one example – but that already hints at what maybe Blu-ray’s fundamental problem.
Unlike VHS and DVD before it, Blu-ray exists in a world where video is readily available from all kinds of sources – online, offline, through subscription TV services, by PC, smartphone, PVRs, even internet connected TVs and games consoles. It needs, in the words of Lovefilm’s Simon Morris to be able to pull an ‘elephant out of the hat’ – a killer app that no-one can ignore.
Blu-ray recording and 3D Blu-ray
None of the people we spoke to were really that enthused by Blu-ray recording, the mass market appeal of high def or even the prospect of watching 3D movies at home on their own.
Roger Batchelor from Denon says: “It is yet to be seen whether 3D will be as big as some are predicting. I think the jury’s still out… there are still issues to be sorted out for 3D to become standard in the home: different formats, connectivity and backwards compatibility. No doubt these will be sorted eventually, but it will take a little time.”
This isn’t stopping the industry from pushing 3D Blu-ray players, though – just this week, Panasonic unveiled its DMP-BDT300 3D Blu-ray player [http://www.techradar.com/news/home-cinema/high-definition/panasonic-unveils-dmp-bdt300-3d-blu-ray-player-for-uk-670413] in a product launch that was heavily 3D orientated. [http://www.techradar.com/news/television/hdtv/panasonic-goes-3d-crazy-at-munich-product-launch-670864]
Ian Beushaw, head of digital media at video services provider ITFC (http://www.itfc.com/) told TechRadar:
“Recording onto Blu-ray will not significantly enhance the format’s desirability, as it will be restricted to computer-mounted recorders for creating home videos. With ever increasing capacity, the set-top high definition recorder of choice will, for the foreseeable future, be HDD based.
“3D will have limited appeal and it will be difficult to persuade viewers to dispose of and replace their relatively new Blu-ray player and flat panel TV to be able to enjoy the small number of features produced in 3D.
“Interactivity is the only potential area of growth I see, but again, it’s difficult to predict what effects this will have.”
The last physical format?
Bill Gates famously argued that HD-DVD and Blu-ray would be the last physical video format – a notion confirmed in part by several of the industry pundits we spoke to. Instead, they spoke of solid-state ‘packaged media’ and the increasing availability of video content by other means, including HD streaming and downloads within the next 5-10 years.
But perhaps the brightest hope for Blu-ray is the argument put forward by Ian Beushaw of ITFC:
“If I decide to buy a loved one the complete collection of Pedro Almodóvar films for their birthday, I do not want to email them a download link, I want to wrap it up in silver paper with a bow and present it to them on the day. Having said that, I think that the number of titles destined for physical media in the future will be limited to collectables and significant others with the remainder only available as downloads.”