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Studios catch hi-def heat

Lieberfarb calls for next-gen platform soon

WASHINGTON — The never-ending war of words between rival high-def DVD camps escalated further Monday as former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb criticized his onetime colleagues at Warner and other studios for not forcing technology developers to settle on a single standard for a next-gen DVD high-definition platform.

“The decision on whether we have a format war is really in the hands of the studios,” he said in a presentation at the Digital Hollywood Forum on Monday. “Hopefully the studios will look at the issue pragmatically and come to the right solution.”

Lieberfarb is now a consultant to Toshiba, which is the principal developer of HD DVD, one of two competing and incompatible high-def standards that is backed by Warner and its sister companies New Line and HBO as well as Universal and Paramount. The other format is Sony’s Blu-ray Disc, which has the support of Disney, Fox and Lions Gate. Both are expected to launch next year after the HD DVD camp had to delay its planned debut late this year.

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In a later session, Warner Home Video senior VP Steve Nickerson said the studios were at risk of throwing away much of their gains from DVD if they don’t offer consumers a compelling high-def DVD format.

“In 1997, the year DVD was introduced, consumers spent a combined $24 billion over five release windows for movies; in 2004, they spent $40 billion,” Nickerson said. “Almost all of that increase was the result of DVD sell-through.”

The consumer purchase habit, however, is relatively new, and could easily be eroded, according to Nickerson.

“Consumers will be looking for HD programming,” he said. “If we don’t give them a packaged media option, we are at risk of taking the relatively new purchasing habit and trading out for something else that might not produce the kind of growth we’ve enjoyed from DVD.”

(Paul Sweeting is a reporter for Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.)