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HD DVD: prognosis from bad to worse

Bluray partyFriday, Warner Brother’s crashed HD DVD’s CES party with the shocking last-minute announcement that they’d throw their support behind the rival Blu Ray DVD format.  It was bad news for Toshiba and their HD DVD technology, really bad news.  It was like being told they had six months to live.  Prognosis: terminal. 

Warner’s decision meant 5 out of 7 major Hollywood movie studios were supporting the Sony developed next generation DVD format.  Short of a miraculous comeback, Warner Brother’s ended the format war.  Now, added revelations are suggesting Sony may be able to add insult to injury and claim a landslide, possibly even, a unanimous victory in the Blu Ray vs HD DVD battle by June (when the Warner’s decision will go into effect).

Universal and Paramount are the two studios not yet in Sony’s pocket.  Wednesday, Daily Variety confirmed that Universal’s agreement to back HD DVD has ended. That frees the studio to change camps at any time should they choose.  Additionally, Paramount appears to have worded an escape clause in to their contract which was triggered by Warner Brother’s move.  Now, subject to contractual language, they can opt out of the preexisting agreements at their discretion.

So far, despite reports of the contrary, neither Universal nor Paramount has announced any plans to change positions.  Just the opposite, Universal remains committed so several HD DVD promotions over the next few months.  And Paramount isn’t changing stances either. Their spokespeople are saying the “current plan is to continue to support the HD DVD format.”

That doesn’t’ mean a change isn’t in the story arc.  Warner’s decision was an almost certain fatal blow. Universal and Paramount won’t stick around to back a losing effort indefinitely.   Toshiba and their supporters just need some time to decide whether to keep hoping for a miracle or unplug the life support.

Stories hint retailers are starting to apply pressure that could force a more rapid decision.  Despite the lower production costs and greater interactivity features promised with the HD DVD format, if it’s not going to last (and it does look terminal), retailers don’t want to waste valuable shelf space.

Further hinting impending demise, Paramount’s deal doesn’t cover Steven Spielberg films and rumor has it: the upcoming Indiana Jones sequel will be issued on Blu Ray when the DVD is released. (Though by then the format war could be long over already).

Just two months ago, Sony’s CEO, Howard Stringer, was calling the fight a “stalemate.” Going into CES, there was no end in sight.  Now from out of left field, it’s looking like Warner Brother’s came off the bench to pinch hit a walk-off home run in extra innings of a ball game.   And if Paramount and Universal change camps, it’ll be a grand slam. 

The battle between the two hearkens back to the days of Betamax battling VHS.  Back then Sony lost.  A long time coming, but they may be able to count this as a little redemption.  By June, there should be a sole survivor from the format wars.


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