Can a leopard change its spots?
Following Paramount’s shock decision to back HD DVD exclusively, the web is abuzz with speculation as to what will be the next major development in high definition land. Undoubtedly, the entire landscape has been reshaped in the last few days, but I very much doubt that this is the end of the story. The biggest rumblings surround the news that Warner Home Video’s Steve Nickerson is to exit his position as senior vice president of the division. Nickerson was the key architect for Warner’s high definition programme, including the decision to back both formats instead of just HD DVD, as well as the development of the now-delayed TotalHD dual format. His departure has prompted a whole lot of theorising, and what this news means depends on who you ask.
Many desperate Blu-ray owners, still reeling from the kick in the balls that was the loss of Paramount, hope that the departure of this “pro-HD DVD” executive means that Warner could be going exclusive to Blu-ray… which I personally think is highly unlikely, given Warner’s stake in the HD DVD format, not to mention the fact that they already seem to favour it over Blu-ray, with many exclusive titles such as Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
By the same token, many HD DVD owners, gloating over the Paramount scoop and with morale higher than it has been at any other point in 2007 so far, will tell you that the departure of one of the main individuals responsible for Warner becoming involved with Blu-ray in the first place could be a good omen for them pulling a Paramount.
I personally think the second is the more likely of these two scenarios, and, if you were to ask me to make a prediction, I’d say that Warner will eventually go HD DVD-only. Not necessarily within the next few days as some have suggested, but at some point in the not too distant future. If this happens, then HD DVD, by my reckoning, will have the upper hand in terms of content. No other studio has made as much money from HD sales as Warner, and their back catalogue is by far the most impressive in terms of sheer number of titles. If it comes to an all-out battle with Universal, Warner and Paramount on one side and Sony, Disney and Fox on the other (as would have been the case had Warner and Paramount not decided to back both formats at the last minute), then my gut reaction is that the Universal/Warner/Paramount triumvirate (which, let’s not forget, also includes subsidiaries New Line and Dreamworks) would wipe the floor with the boys in Blu.
But that’s all rather academic at the moment. The other possibility is simply that nothing will change at all. Universal and Paramount will continue to shack up with HD DVD; Sony, Disney and Fox will stay wed to Blu-ray; and Warner will continue to play the bigamy game. In my view, that already makes the situation considerably more positive for HD DVD than it was as recently as last Sunday, and has ensured the format’s survival for the foreseeable future.
What’s needed now is for the HD DVD Promotion Group to make Lions Gate and Anchor Bay an offer they can’t refuse. Lions Gate is already bleeding money due to their decision to back Blu-ray, and a nice deal with the HD DVD gang could soften that blow (as well as allow them to hawk their wares to more customers).