Confab predicts format's bright future

The Blu-ray Disc format will ride to the rescue of the home entertainment industry — eventually, according to a panel of top retail and studio execs at Tuesday’s Blu-Con conference in BevHills.

Retail and studios acknowledge that consumers are still reeling from the recession, which is continuing to negatively impact the entire home entertainment business, and Blu-ray’s momentum has not been enough to offset double-digit percentage slides of DVD. But when combining digital and Blu-ray gains, studios forecast the home entertainment business will level out or start to grow again by 2012.

“In 2012, we’ll see the growth trend again,” predicted Mike Dunn, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment president, during a sesh moderated by Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif-Cohen.

Martin Scorsese gave a ringing endorsement to the Blu-ray format, calling it “a very, very strong change for the better” in home entertainment during his keynote address, delivered via satellite from the DGA office in Gotham.

“Blu-ray is as close as you’re going to get to the theatrical experience at home,” Scorsese said. When he was working on the Rolling Stones concert docu “Shine a Light” a few years ago, he was enthused because he knew that thanks to Blu-ray “it would be transferred just that way to the home.”

Scorsese discussed the new wave of film restoration and preservation being done by studios to bring classic films in the most pristine presentation possible to Blu-ray.

“I’m very excited and optimistic as a filmmaker and a film lover that Blu-ray is going to extend the life of film,” he said. He noted that his favorite Blu-ray transfer so far is John Ford’s “The Searchers.”

Best Buy is aggressively merchandising both Blu-ray players and titles, rallying around the products as a key expanding business. In particular, Blu-ray players are this year’s fastest-growing consumer electronics product, surging 112% in year-over-year sales, Mike Vitelli, executive VP of consumer operations group at Best Buy, said in a keynote. That tops the 106% and 85% jumps for popular ebooks and netbooks, respectively.

Best Buy anticipates 18.6 million Blu-ray players (including PlayStation 3 videogame consoles and Blu-ray set-top players) to sell in 2010. That marks a significant hike from the 10 million units of Blu-ray hardware expected to sell this year. Many of these players include Internet video capability, further extending their appeal.

Blu-ray players currently make up 66% of Best Buy’s home entertainment hardware category, compared to 35% two years ago. Blu-ray titles comprise 25% of the retailer’s video software, up from 13% two years ago.

“This is why we are bullish about Blu-ray,” said Vitelli.

Beyond Blu-ray, video-on-demand is another rising area for studios, especially when offered day-and-date with the DVD/Blu-ray release.

“We see huge spikes in VOD activity” with day-and-date delivery, Warner Home Video president Ron Sanders said in a panel.

Dunn said Fox sees VOD revenue climb 20% when titles are offered day-and-date versus the traditional window.

(Susanne Ault and Marcy Magiera write for Daily Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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