Update: Paramount’s HD DVD decision
There had been some reports from The Digital Bits and LA Weekly about $150-million in payouts to Paramount and DreamWorks Animation that I purposefully failed to report as it was, at the time, all but rumor. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal basically confirmed the payments from two Viacom executives and Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks. The New York Times article also says Microsoft “could not rule out payment but said it wrote no checks.”
Just when I thought the format war was getting pretty boring, Paramount went and made it all exciting again. Paramount (Viacom) is the second largest studio in Hollywood only trailing Warner Bros. (Time Warner) in market share. While Paramount and DreamWorks only make up less than 12% of the total Blu-ray Disc sales, the upcoming releases of the summer’s top blockbusters, including Transformers and Shrek the Third will certainly bring more attention to HD DVD. Shrek is the 2nd highest grossing film of the year only behind Spider-Man 3 (a Blu-ray exclusive). Transformers is in fourth place directly behind another Blu-ray exclusive, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
Concerning the exclusive release of Transformers, director Michael Bay is apparently “pissed” at Paramount, posting on his personal blog, “I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For them to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!” He is so angry he concluded, “No Transformers 2 for me!” What may come of the Bay-Paramount partnership is yet to be seen, but it throws another interesting element into the fray.
Paramount/DreamWorks may be committed to the HD DVD format for now, but the New York Times article also states that the agreement is for 18 months, and no Steven Speilberg directed films are included. Speilberg is co-founder of DreamWorks. In an interview with Ain’t It Cool News, Paramount CEO Rob Moore said Speilberg is a “huge supporter of Blu-ray” and any of his films (including Indiana Jones) would have to be a dual format release. (Edit: This morning, High Def Digest published an exclusive confirming Speilberg is a “big supporter” of Blu-ray.)
The Blu-ray response has been immediate and punctuated. Blu-ray Disc Association Chairman Andy Parsons, of Pioneer, issued a statement indicating shock. “The decision seems oddly timed given Blu-ray’s tremendous momentum,” he said. The BDA is made up of several companies including Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony and Samsung. Mr. Parsons goes on to say the “price delta” between HD DVD and Blu-ray is shrinking and a trend is “on its way to eliminating any perceived cost advantage the HD DVD format has claimed to have.” He goes on to hint at the reported payoff. I feel the statement was a little harsh towards an ally you’re trying to win back.
Fox President Mike Dunn took the opportunity to boast about the Blu-ray software sales saying, “Blu-ray has consistently outsold HD DVD all year, and this is the case for any titles released by any studio in both formats.” Disney also came out yesterday boosting the technological achievements of Blu-ray Disc. President Bob Chapek of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment was very optimistic about the format’s future, saying the achievements made so far are “just the tip of the iceberg and we are confident that consumers will be astounded by the level of entertainment that can only be achieved by using the maximum capacity of the Blu-ray Disc format.”
As I said, things are getting exciting once more, and I’m sure there will be more developments even today, and certainly through the next few weeks. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, this is an exciting time to be a nerd. Don’t worry though, I’ll keep my ear to the ground and my eye peeled and will report relevant happenings so you can keep up to date.
Update: Michael Bay’s original post was removed from his website. He made a new post which can be read here explaining why he posted what he did.