Fall brings great sports rivalries like the World Series and college football. But one rivalry as compelling as any Red Sox/Yankee pennant race or Michigan/Ohio State game is being waged in consumer electronic stores across the country every day: Blu-ray vs. HD DVD.
In this battle between competing next generation high-definition video formats there is a lot more at stake than just a shiny trophy. The winner will reap billions as the next video technology standard, while the loser will go down in history with the likes of New Coke, Apple’s Newton and Betamax.
Blu-ray, backed by Sony, picked up momentum this summer when Target and Blockbuster announced they will only carry Blu-ray discs. But the HD DVD camp gained a major victory in August when the Paramount and DreamWorks movie studios agreed to release their films only in the HD DVD format.
With these corporate pr machines pumping millions of dollars into the media to influence public opinion, we wanted to know what consumers were really thinking. What format do the movie lovers who have invested significant amounts of money to buy the very best in home video technology prefer? Last fall, TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony analyzed social media discussions and found that consumers favored HD DVD.
We revisited the study again this year to see how consumer opinions are evolving. We collected almost 136,000 posts from blogs, discussion boards and other social media sites between July 14 and August 24, 2007. We classified them as being positive, negative or neutral toward Blu-ray or HD DVD |and for each format calculated a Favorability Index: the ratio of positive to negative discussion. Blu-ray emerged with a strong 173 index, while HD DVD lagged, though with a still respectable 125 index.
But there is more to the story: A large segment is indifferent to the outcome. We took a sample of 1,035 posts representing 813 authors for more detailed analysis.
First, we segmented them in one of five categories based on their stated allegiance (Note: 24 percent of the authors did not demonstrate a clear preference). Thirty percent of the authors declared themselves indifferent, more than the number of Blu-ray and HD DVD advocates combined. This may have implications for the adoption of either of these formats: If these authors, who tend to be tech-savvy videophiles show no preference, mainstream consumers may have an even more difficult time making a decision.
The second largest segment acknowledged that Blu-ray would be the likely winner, indicating that momentum has shifted toward Blu-ray. But momentum is not the same as enthusiasm. This group’s comments reflect their frustration with the format war or resignation to Blu-ray’s strong market position, not that it is a superior technology or offers a better entertainment experience. And, as we found in our earlier study, there is an outspoken segment who simply resent Sony and oppose their technology on principle.
“If there would be such an option: BD winning and Sony going out of business, I’d be all for it. They won’t get a penny from me in the forseeable future,” said Navychop on SatelliteGuys.us
“I am format neutral,” wrote FerretHunter on avsForum.com. “I adopted HD DVD first, then Blu-ray with the PS3. If a disc came out that was identical, in all honesty I’d get the Blu-ray version, just in case they win the war.”
“Blu-ray won’t win on technology, they will win on actual CE [consumer electronics] and studio support. It won’t be one $120 player out there, it will be Denon, Pioneer, Samsung, Sony, Sharp, etc. all with their own $120 Blu-ray player, and then Toshiba, and only Toshiba with their $100 [HD DVD] player,” wrote Bmxtrx on Forums.Audioholics.com.
“I own both formats, but I support Blu-ray fully,” said Thecuze on AVSForums.com. “The only way that SOFTWARE prices are going to go down and big catalogue titles are going to be released (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spielberg flicks) is if one format stop being niche and goes mainstream, which will never happen if a consumer is confused about which format to trust.”
We wondered why the support is so lukewarm, so we analyzed our sample for the features these consumers cited as an advantage or disadvantage of one of the formats. We found 869 instances where the author cited one of four specific features. Three features accounted for 92 percent of these instances: technical attributes, cost and movie selection.
Technical attributes are the largest topic of discussion, and just 57 percent of comments give the edge to Blu-ray. Movie selection, the number 3 topic, shows a similar slight advantage for Blu-ray.
Cost, the number 2 discussion topic, is a dramatic advantage for HD DVD.
With this close balance, news like Paramount Pictures’ and DreamWorks Animation’s August decision to exclusively support HD DVD causes waves.
During the week after the announcement, the volume of discussion increased 40 percent to over 32,000 posts from an average of 22,500 posts per week over the prior five weeks. And this wave lifted HD DVD’s boat: Blu-ray favorability dropped 31 percent while HD DVD favorability soared 54 percent.
These data show that the consortium backing Blu-ray can take heart that they have captured the lead at this stage of the format war. But the large segment of indifferent consumers shows that this lead is vulnerable and HD DVD lower cost and its ability to find new allies gives the format a strong incentive to continue the battle. No doubt both sides are plotting their strategies for the crucial holiday season.
Jim Nail is the chief strategy and marketing officer at TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. (firstname.lastname@example.org)