Doomsayers are already writing the obituaries of Blu-Ray as expensive players and discs prevent widespread adoption of the new high-def format. But through BD-Live and the massive size of the discs, Blu-Ray can offer unique experiences that make the discs worth paying for.
Hurting Blu-Ray are the proliferation of upscaling DVD players and high-definition download services, all of which are cheaper and good-enough alternatives. Further, online piracy with free movies of DVD quality are always compelling. So how does Blu-Ray carve a market niche? The movie file itself is an infinite good, able to reproduced an infinite amount of times with negligible costs. Blu-Ray quality movies, taking up 25-50 GBs of memory, are more taxing than a 1 GB movie even on my 1 terabyte hard drive.
Registered purchases of the Hellboy II Blu-Ray disc had the chance to join a live chat with director Guillermo Del Toro. Though I didn’t participate, the exiting potential to talk to directors and movie staff is a valuable scarce good (access to these celebrities). Future discs might take this even farther with live commentary and discussions of the movie (it’s the magic of picture-in-picture).
The Dark Knight Blu-Ray included further technological innovations, changing the aspect ratio on the fly to better reflect the IMAX format the movie was filmed in. At this point, no pirated movie format can offer this feature, and while it’s limited in its appeal, it’s a start of turning Blu-Ray in a unique experience above just “it looks really good.”
These are the kind of features that can convince some to buy plastic discs (rather than, say, sue them into doing it). These features reward fans for their loyalty and for spending their money. Blu-Ray’s interactive potential is still in its infancy – most early discs don’t have any online functionality – and some companies might be waiting for more people to buy players before investing. But that’s short-sighted thinking. DVDs still look pretty good even on high-def TVs. It’s unlikely Blu-Ray will ever be a complete replacement for DVR, sharing the limelight with download services. Only by embracing the format for its strengths and exploiting those can you convince the market to embrace the format themselves. Unique, scarce features are the way to convince people to give you their money.