Warners Goes Blu-Ray Exclusive

The crippling blow of the high-definition disc war may have just taken place with Warner Bros. Pictures, the sole major studio of the big six that has been releasing on both formats, announcing just hours ago that it will go Blu-ray exclusive.

The studio, which also has the biggest market share of any studio in the format, plans to continue releasing in both formats through til the end of May 2008, after that however it will be Blu-ray exclusive. Barry Meyer, the Chairman & CEO of Warner Bros. Pictures, says “The window of opportunity for high-definition DVD could be missed if format confusion continues to linger. We believe that exclusively distributing in Blu-ray will further the potential for mass market success and ultimately benefit retailers, producers, and most importantly, consumers.”

The surprise announcement, just days before the massive annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) begins, has sent a shockwave through the industry. Rumors had been swirling for months that Warners would go format exclusive, but which format and what date it would go was unknown. The move now makes Fox, Sony, Disney and Warners Blu-ray exclusive, whilst Paramount/Dreamworks and Universal remain HD-DVD only.

Much like the rumour that Paramount got a $150 million payoff by Toshiba to go HD-DVD exclusive, talk has it that Warner may have gotten anywhere between $250-500 million to go solo with Blu-ray – a claim Warner Home Entertainment President Kevin Tsujihara flatly denies. The studio does confirm that its own dual format releases before May will see Blu-ray versions come out first by a “short margin”. Warner subsiduary New Line Cinema also confirms that it will go Blu-ray exclusive.

As a studio Warners has generally favored HD-DVD in the past due to that format’s better ability to handle special features (eg. Picture-in-Picture), and has released several high profile titles like “Batman Begins” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” exclusively in HD because of that. However the continually evolving Blu-ray standard recently caught up on that front, finally allowing Warners to likely release those titles it had been holding out on.

As a result of the move, one the most highly anticipated press events of this year’s CES was Sunday’s press conference from the HD DVD Promotions Group. That event has now been cancelled due to the timing of Warner’s announcement. No conference will now take place, but HD-DVD will still have a presence on the floor of the convention.

The boys at The Digital Bits are understandably in “told you so” moods.