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Old 10-09-04, 11:53 AM
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Current Fox blue-ray news

To affect format developments
By Paul Sweeting 10/8/2004


OCT. 8 | Twentieth Century Fox's decision to join the Blu-ray Disc Assn. represents a calculated gamble by the studio that it can influence critical decisions about the next generation of DVD without fueling a ruinous format war, studio officials said last week.

"This is Fox's opportunity to influence the development of these formats, and we're going to take it," Fox Home Entertainment senior VP Danny Kaye said. "But it's true that it carries certain risks."

In addition to joining the Blu-ray Assn., Fox was given a seat on the group's board, where it will join 13 other companies that formed the original Blu-ray Disc Founders Group. The association, which officially bowed Oct. 4, boasts 73 member companies from the electronics, IT, media and software industries.

Fox officials noted the studio also recently joined the DVD Forum, the worldwide standards-setting body that is backing rival high-definition format HD DVD. But Fox had sought to gain a seat on the Forum's policy-making steering committee and was turned down (VB, 1-19).

Also on the Blu-ray board are representatives of the format's primary developers--Sony, Matsushita and Philips--with the panel serving as final arbiters of the format's technical specs.

By joining the board, Fox thus assures itself that its concerns about copy protection, licensing compliance and other aspects of the format will be heard. But it also risks being construed as an endorsement of Blu-ray at a time when Hollywood is trying to husband its leverage carefully to try to avoid a format war between Blu-ray and its rival technology, HD DVD.

Developed largely by Sony's engineers, Blu-ray can already count on Sony-owned Columbia TriStar in the race to line up studio support for the competing formats.

Last month, Sony added MGM to the Blu-ray column by agreeing to acquire the Lion.

As the first non-affiliated studio to join the group's letterhead, Fox handed the Blu-ray camp at least a minor public-relations victory. To date, no studio has committed to releasing titles in HD DVD.

But in making the announcement, Fox emphasized that its involvement with the group did not represent an endorsement or a commitment to publish titles in Blu-ray.

Still, the move further roiled Hollywood's already heated high-def politics.

Although none would speak for attribution, executives at some other studios sharply criticized Fox's decision.

By appearing to line-up with Blu-ray, Fox's critics said, the studio would only encourage Sony, et al., to forge ahead with their launch plans for the format on their own timetable and diminish chances of reaching a compromise that could avert a format war.

It's also likely to turn up the pressure on the other studios to take sides, as both the HD DVD and Blu-ray camps move closer to launch.

"It was totally unnecessary," one major studio home video chief said. "All it does is foster the sense that we don't need to get to one format."

While acknowledging the danger, Fox officials said there was more to be gained by trying to influence the development of the formats directly rather than waiting on events.

"Some of the companies that are saying those things have already had an opportunity to have an influence," Kaye noted.

Both Warner and Disney sit on the DVD Forum's steering committee, where they're able to vote on technical proposals.

Disney, in fact, came close to signing up with Blu-ray as well earlier this year, but backed off after word of the plan leaked and the studio feared its move would be construed as an endorsement.

Time Warner, meanwhile, is a key patent holder in the current DVD standard, and would benefit from the success of HD DVD, which is based on similar technology.

Last month, sources at several studios said Warner sought to encourage a general industry move toward HD DVD by circulating a draft press release announcing plans to release product in the format. A Warner spokeswoman last week denied the studio had drafted such a release but declined to discuss the matter further.

I found the last little Paragraph about Warners interesting...
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