Blu-ray is an unstoppable train

Europeans told to learn from US retailers in order to convert consumers to Blu-ray and drive it into the mainstream

Why upgrade to Blu-ray when the old DVD player still manages to churn out a pretty good picture?

That appears to be a question many people have been asking themselves, especially when prices for Blu-ray players and discs remain high.

Not for much longer, however, according to various speakers at the Blu-ray Disc Association’s (BDA) press shindig at the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin.

They were keen to dispel any concerns that the format will never quite make it into the mainstream – though it was conceded that more work is necessary before Blu-ray finally puts DVD to the sword.

Jim Bottoms, managing director of Futuresource Consulting, told the IFA conference that DVD’s market penetration had reached a point in the 1990s when it could be described as an “unstoppable train”.

He said that was now the case for Blu-ray in the US and within 6-12 months it would also be true for Europe.
“At this stage it’s too early to make that call for Europe but we are only six months away from it,” he said.

“In the US, that call can be made now. It will be pretty much impossible to stop Blu-ray becoming a mass market product in the US.”

He added: “We are moving forward to a situation where Blu-ray really is growing with its own momentum to become a train that is unstoppable.”

Work remains to be done in Europe

Things aren’t hurtling along quite so forcefully in Europe, though, where BD sales will reach 12 million discs this year, according to Bottom.

This only accounts for around 2 per cent of total video sales, although he expects the share to climb to 5-6 per cent next year – and keep rising swiftly.

However, by 2012 DVD will still lead in the UK, 56 per cent to 44 per cent. BD will do better in Germany – it’ll take 46 per cent of the market – but less well in Spain and Italy – 43 per cent and 39 per cent, respectively.

To encourage the market along, Bottoms said Europe had to learn from the US, particularly from retailers there who have got behind Blu-ray by promoting it in stores and demonstrating the format’s superior quality.

He said there was evidence that some consumers had been “turned off” HD based on only viewing broadcast HD programmes.

They hadn’t found the quality sufficiently superior to judge it worthwhile paying to upgrade from their existing DVD players.

Demonstrating Blu-ray at point of sales areas had been shown to be very effective in persuading people about the format’s quality.

Initiatives such as improved retail support would ultimately help close what Bottom described as the HD content gap in Europe.

He said this situation had arisen because currently around a third of households had HD screens but only 2 per cent could get high def content.

This was compared to the US, where 50-60 per cent of households had HD screens and around a third could access high def content.

Frank Simonis, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association’s European Promotions committee, not surprisingly agreed that Blu-ray had reached the point of going mass market.

He said the European market would start to accelerate in the autumn, adding: “You will see a lot of good things this fall. European consumers are hungry for high def.”

Simonis defended the lag in the release of European movies compared to the US and the higher price of European Blu-ray discs – a huge sore point with many consumers.

He said Europe, despite being a similar sized market to the US, had 15 different languages and individual markets in each country – making it a very different proposition to the US.

“We have to work on an individual country basis for each launch plan,” he said. “So it’s one year behind the US. It’s not something we like but something that’s due to the nature of the European continent.

“So we are not doing that badly – in fact, if you put Europe on the same timeline as the US, Europe is faster.”

How would you describe the Blu-ray Express – hurtling unstoppably or trundling along? Please let us know your comments.

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