It's safe to say this one could be somewhat triumphant. With rival format HD DVD having seen its CES press conference cancelled, the Blu-ray people could spend the next hour crowing.
Hopefully they won't though: I want to hear some up-to-date numbers on how Blu-ray is really performing, irrespective of the woes of its rival. How are they going to ensure more Blu-ray sales in the next year? How will the format develop? And where are we at with the cutting-edge interactive gubbins that they've promised in the past.
Read on to find out. I'm blogging as live during the conference, but then uploading it in one go when I get back to the Wi-Fi sanctuary of the press room.
By the way, don't you think this promotional image at the side of the stage is copping more than a little from Apple's marketing style? Just a thought.
First up is Blu-ray head honcho Andy Parsons, who kicks off by saying there's not actually any press releases or images on the USB stick that's on everyone's seat. D'oh! Still, there's a heavyweight panel of speakers, including Warner's Ron Sanders - “I suspect some people will have questions for Ron,” says Andy, provoking much mirth in the crowd.
So, stats. In 2007, Blu-ray discs sold 64% of HD discs, compared to 36% for HD DVD. Th source is Home Media Research, apparently. So roughly a 2:1 ratio. Globally, Parsons says Blu-ray grabbed 66% of the market (this is software sales). Hardware-wise, he says Blu-ray has an 85% share of the market, although this includes PS3.
Now Danny Kaye is up, he's executive vice president of research and technology at Twentieth Century Fox. He's going to take us through some more numbers. There's now about half a million Blu-ray players, and roughly three million PS3s in the market. So that's about 3.5 million Blu-ray players by the end of 2007.
Kay predicts two million more Blu-ray player sales in 2008, and then another four million PS3s. That's an interesting figure – I wonder how it corresponds to Sony's PS3 predictions. But yes, basically Kay is predicting 9.5 million Blu-ray players and PS3s in the market by the end of 2008.
Five million Blu-ray discs were sold in 2007, generating $170 million. This is in the US, he makes clear. So in 2008, he predicts 40 million Blu-ray disc sales in the US, generating $1 billion of revenue.
Now it's time for David Bishop, president worldwide for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, who's going to talk about technology going forward. But first a comment on PS3, which he says has “made the difference”. But he says it's going to be important to keep reminding consumers that PS3 is a Blu-ray movie player.
Efforts so far include bundling Spider-Man 3 with PS3s, as well as committing funds to advertising purely the movie playback features of PS3. “The idea was to make sure when someone opened up the present under the Christmas tree, they realised they weren't just getting a games machine – it was a movie playback device.”
Now they're ready for the next phase, he says. It's about developing the interactivity of Blu-ray, for which the first step was developing Picture-in-Picture, with Sony having already released Resident Evil Extinction using the feature. It's about stuff like showing behind-the-scenes content on screen while watching the film. Director commentaries and the like, I guess.
Also Bishop is talking up BD Live, and features like downloading trailers from within Blu-ray menus. Sony is doing this, but apparently Fox and Lionsgate are doing similar things – with Fox showing something nifty with games. “You'll see things like multiplayer gaming, ringtones delivered to the consumer, and it'll really enliven and enrichen the experience around Blu-ray,” he says.
Another intriguing new feature: the ability to put a Blu-ray disc in your PS3, and then in a few seconds transfer that film to your PSP, for watching on the go. That's coming towards the end of the year, apparently.
Now Bob Chapek, president worldwide of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. He starts by talking about consumer confusion around high-definition formats (TV as well as discs). He says Blu-ray supporters have made great efforts to educate people, working with retailers. Disney teamed up with Monster Cable for an educational CD-ROM, which he says worked well.
But best of all was Disney's partnership with Panasonic, he reckons. They teamed up for a Blu-ray promotional tour, travelling around the country and showing demos in shopping malls. Disney plans to do more of this in eight other cities, starting this month. They're all in the US or Canada though – no news on whether similar stuff is planned in Europe.
Now Ron Sanders, president worldwide of Warner Home Video – the new boys in the Blu-ray camp. More talk of consumer awareness and Blu-ray advertising, It's definitely inspired by Apple. Apparently the aim now is to “establish the inevitability of Blu-ray”, which sounds slightly sinister. YOU WILL SURRENDER. IT'S ONLY A MATTER OF TIME. Those are my words, obviously. He didn't just start shouting on-stage.
Apparently brand awareness of Blu-ray is now nearly 80% in the US – 80% of consumers know the brand. This compares to just 25% at Christmas 2006, says Sanders.
Last speaker is Steve Beeks, president of Lionsgate. “Blu-ray's emergence as the format of choice is now inevitable,” he says, to hammer the point home. “The market has decided. Consumers are the ultimate arbiters of which format will prevail in the marketplace.” He says all indices are “aligning to point the way to a high-definition market from which Blu-ray emerges as the gold standard.”
He reckons the consumer had the final say. Cynics might raise an eyebrow, and say pots of cash from hardware manufacturers had something to do with it too. I'm not saying this, you understand. It's all those other bloggers...
Anyway, Beeks says that the energy wasted on competing with HD DVD in 2007 can be put to more productive use in 2008 getting behind one format. I'm not sure HD DVD has quite given up the ghost, but the point holds true that focus should be sharpened.
And he ends with another claim that consumers have made the final decision – clearly an important message for the consortium.
Eminent UK journalist David Phelan is sitting next to me, and has just asked what the PS3-to-PSP feature means for UMD movies. It's a good point – if you can get a film onto your PSP by buying a Blu-ray disc, why would you ever buy a UMD? One for the fanboys to debate.
A question about pricing? It's up to individual companies says Andy Parsons, although he points out that prices did come down in 2007, which had a positive impact on the format. He won't be drawn on the future though.
A question – might they run a trade-in programme letting swap their HD DVD players for Blu-ray players? Everyone laughs. No plans for this though, although Parsons says it's been suggested several times to them recently.
A question about possible consumer backlash as new players come out with interactive features, that won't work on older Blu-ray players. If you buy a new movie and can't use the swizzy new interactivity, will you be pissed off, in other words? Parsons says the same thing happened with DVD – progressive video, which became a standard without early adopters complaining too much.
A question about Blu-ray recording, which is available in Japan but not outside. Parsons takes this one, and says it's a decision for individual hardware manufacturers. There's nothing stopping them, he says. But he points out that hard-drive based DVRs have taken a strong position in the marketplace, and that is a factor.
The panel are all from the software side, so they're not answering. I wonder why hardware people aren't here on-stage to answer those kind of questions.
So, what if Paramount and Universal DON'T also switch to Blu-ray, how will the Blu-ray group convince consumers that the format war is over? Beeks says it'll be down to retailers – in other words, as they drop HD DVD (if they do), consumers will have the choice made for them.
Question: did Blu-ray camp pay Warner a sum to abandon HD DVD? Sanders shouts out “I wish! We have a 42 billion dollar worldwide market, so any payments would be a drop in the ocean compared to the risk of getting it wrong.” Is that a firm no?
What about multi-format discs – with Blu-ray and standard definition on one disc? Kaye takes this one, and says they don't want to sacrifice capacity on a Blu-ray disc to hold a standard-def version to be played on DVD players, although he accepts they could package a separate DVD with a Blu-ray disc.
Back to the recorder question, someone suggests the reason they're not coming out in the West is copyright issues – too good a copy, so the studios wouldn't like it. Chapek says some of this gets taken care of with DRM. Studios will be able to provide the ability to make a copy soon, for whatever price they choose. So it's not a worry for them. “I personally think the issue is somewhat moot,” he says.
Sanders says consumers really want playback devices, not recorders -and suggests this was shown with DVD recorders in the past. “They just want it for playback, they'll use other devices for timeshift.”
More questions: will we see more deep catalogue titles on Blu-ray? Stuff aimed at general consumers, not “the nerds”. Chapek says one of the biggest moments for Disney in DVD was bringing out Snow White, which showed consumers that this was a properly mass-market technology. So they're doing the same thing with Sleeping Beauty next October.
Bishop chimes in, and points out that most of the panel lived through the launch of DVD. So in the early days, it was about releasing library product important to the early adopters, but he says they want to lead in the next level of consumers by releasing more and more library content.
Now a question on regional encoding. Will it be made any clearer where your Blu-ray disc will play? At the moment it's just a tiny A or B on the packaging, so people might travel, pick up some Blu-ray discs, and they won't play. “It stops Europeans taking advantage of the dollar rate,” says the questioner, Barry Fox – he's a UK journo. What, he ends, do the lawyers make of that?
The panel is laughing, but they're all shifting about in their seats. Apparently Barry asked the same question last year at this press event. And there's no answer.
Next question: as capacity increases, will there be new audio codecs? Parsons says not at this stage, due to the incompatibility potential. He also says the codecs in Blu-ray now are good enough, even for audiophiles.
Last question, is Warner's Blu-ray exclusivity global, or US-only? It's global.
Oh, now it's the last question. When will we get some TV-based Blu-ray discs, rather than movies. Lost is apparently out, but not much more. Kaye says we'll see more TV Blu-ray discs in the next year, as the studios try to broaden the audience.
And we're done.
CES 2008 Special
Read all our coverage from the show in our CES 2008 category