Blu-ray takes the lead on HD DVD loss

Scuttling of HD DVD deal by Warner Bros. places long format fight onto imbalanced terrain

Earlier this month, Warner Bros. announced its decision to withdraw its support of Toshiba's HD DVD format in favor of Sony's Blu-ray disc. The announcement came just hours before the trade group HD DVD Promotional Group was scheduled to hold a press conference at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. News of Warner's pullout forced the group to cancel the event.

The movie giant's departure from the HD DVD format signifies a huge momentum shift in the battle for format supremacy. The victor will become the next-generation DVD format, while the loser may fade into obsolescence as consumers - not wanting to purchase two separate systems to watch their DVDs or play video games - will surely gravitate to one. Both are seeking to leverage this latest news in its outreach - one declaring a major victory in securing the next generation of DVD use; the other assuaging concerns they may be headed toward obscurity.

HD DVD's communications efforts since the news broke have been centered on offering the product at reduced prices, and targeting the media with what it says are important facts about its format.

"The message we have always focused on is a consistent experience at an affordable price," says Ken Graffeo, co-president of HD DVD Promotional Group. "And that you're not limited by buying this machine." Graffeo says the group will launch an outreach effort that targets both print and broadcast media, and that it is "aggressively" targeting bloggers and influential Web sites. Internally, Graffeo says, the group remains optimistic.

"As a group, we're all staying the course and we work very well together."

Calls to Toshiba's agency Brodeur were not returned.

Andrew Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group, a crisis communications specialist, says if Toshiba is not conceding defeat, it needs to take a more aggressive approach to reaching consumers.

"The current HD DVD marketing campaign... doesn't scream out: 'I want my HD DVD,'" Gilman notes in an e-mail to PRWeek. "Rather than just show disappointment, a response should include some wows, proof points, [and] customer wins to demonstrate why HD DVD believes it's the better choice for consumers."

The Blu-ray group, on the other hand, is taking advantage of the positive press.

"It's a very big step for Blu-ray," says Michael Hoog, co-owner, Corporate Advocates, which represents the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA). "[Warner's addition] puts them at 70-something percent of all titles exclusive to the Blu-ray format, which is substantial for consumers when it comes to purchasing a player."

Andy Parsons, chair of BDA's US promotions committee, says that the association remains "cautiously optimistic," and relieved that it can focus its energies on convincing consumers to upgrade from standard definition to hi-def players.

Hoog is also careful not to declare victory in the battle for format supremacy just yet. "Blu-ray is very pleased with where we sit now vis-ˆ-vis the high-definition format," he says. "But regardless of what [has] happened with Warner, one of our strategies is to expand the market. We're in a better position now to do that."

Bloggers and online chat rooms are relatively split. HD DVD fans see the reduced prices as a chance to draw in more customers. Graffeo adds that consumers will ultimately care more about pricing than a format war. But the group will need to aggressively state the facts to influential blogs such as Valleywag, which has already declared victory for Blu-ray.

For Parsons and the BDA, Blu-ray will now forge ahead with more product marketing.

"One thing we have available is the Web site," he says. "It'll be much more educational now that we can reallocate the energies we've put into the format war into this new push to educate consumers, and say through our Web site: You really need to experience this for yourself."

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