CES2008: Warner’s Choice to be HD DVD Death Knell?

Whether or not it proves to be the crowning blow that finally ends the next-gen disc wars is yet to be seen, but the major buzz going into the 2008 International CES this week in Las Vegas is what happens next, now that Warner Bros. has given its long-awaited nod to Blu-ray Disc for all its future titles. The HD DVD camp is now down to only two supporting studios and its intense battle to catch up to Blu-ray (not to mention overtake it) has suddenly gotten a whole lot more difficult.

Warner had been considering whether to drop its support of both incompatible formats in favor of one, and there were several reports that the studio was waiting for the end of the holiday season in December to make its choice (HD Notebook, Dec. 12, 2007).

Time Warner’s movie studio was the last remaining major content provider in Hollywood to release its titles in both formats, and now the fifth shop to jump on the Blu-ray bandwagon. While both formats sold their respective titles and players in the holiday season, neither format’s products performed particularly well at retail, when compared to standard DVD titles and progressive-scan players (some selling for under $50).

Warner acknowledged that sales between both formats’ discs were not dramatically different. While American Blu-ray Disc sales for 2007 amounted to more than $165 million, HD DVD sales, for its part, totaled more than $100 million. (The margin in Blu-ray’s favor was somewhat wider outside North America, where about 40 percent of overall sales fell into HD DVD’s corner.)

Warner said a clear “window of opportunity” could have been missed amid lingering confusion by consumers if a next-gen disc system were not agreed upon with deliberate speed. Thus, the timing of the announcement on the eve of CES last Friday.

The HD DVD camp, apparently taken by surprise by the announcement and its timing, had quickly cancelled a CES press conference scheduled for Jan. 6. Over the weekend, it issued a press release calling 2007 a “breakthrough year” for its format, and said about one-million HD DVD players have been sold globally through 2007.

Warner will continue issuing its titles in both new formats until May.