Warner Bros. Holds Fast on Blu-ray / HD DVD Dual Commitment

As polarizing as the high-definition format war continues to be, Warner Home Video remains silently, but firmly, committed to its position of providing its movie titles to users of all formats on the market.

"If the consumer continues to support both formats, the industry will as well," Warner Home Video president Ron Sanders told TWICE magazine in an interview last week from the floor of the CEDIA convention in Denver.

Common sense might dictate that content producers such as Warner are in no position to prescribe
how consumers are to view their movies - that they simply need to make them available for consumption. Sanders says that newly released Blu-Ray titles outsell their HD DVD counterparts by a 2-to-1 margin, but that does not mean the demand for both will not be met.

Rumors have been flying recently that huge sums of money are being offered to studios to "help decide" which format to finally settle upon. If hard cash were all it took for studios to settle this fracas, observers on the outside may not be aware, it would have been settled two years ago. In any event, some sources continue to report that Toshiba made an undisclosed offer to both Warner Bros. and Paramount to move them both to exclusivity, and that Paramount accepted.

There continues to be no hard evidence of this claim, though Sanders declined the opportunity to expressly refute it during his TWICE interview.

At the recent IFA conference in Germany, both Disney and 20th Century-Fox also dodged the question regarding whether they had received cash in exchange for Blu-Ray support. It may seem like an eon ago, but reporters may have forgotten that both these companies had stakes in the technology - in Disney's case, in an interactive technology it offered to both formats, but which was picked up only by Blu-ray.

But those cards have been held by the game's major players for far too long - long enough for observers to have forgotten them, like trying to remember the names of O.J.'s original prosecutors. Given the fact that this format war is, for all intents and purposes, a stalemate, perhaps the studios require new and different motivations to reach a final resolution - even if it means forgetting whatever side they thought they were on and doing something else instead.

Senior Analyst Chris Crotty of iSuppli poses this theory: "Perhaps they foresee a future in which neither format prevails, e.g., consumers have dual format devices and/or one of each format player. If that is the case, why not take the payment and get something out of the battle?"

Warner Bros. is the last of the major studios to back both formats. WHV chief Ron Sanders claims the reason is to give all customers what they need. Perhaps the public needs a 12-disc limited edition Harry Potter boxed set for the holiday season - which, by the way, the company did announce today for both formats, to be released December 11.

Let's face it, Warner Home Video is sitting on a gold mine with this one. The five Harry Potter films are among the top 50 highest grossing American films of all time, with total worldwide box office receipts of $1.408 billion. For WHV to want to offer anything but every possible format would be silly. I'm surprised they're not pulling out all the stops and releasing them on Laser Disc and RCA SelectaVision as well.

No matter how this turns out - if this turns out at all - history will record Warner Bros. as the last agnostic.

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