Did you watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on your HDTV the other night? What an amazing show! It was the kind of event that especially shines in high-definition. Watching a few sporting events over the weekend was somewhat hit-and-miss since not everything has been in HD (at least for me), but having your team win makes up for that a little.
So here’s my advice for the forthcoming Chinese-owned HD DVD format: bundle an Olympics highlights disc, or even a box-set, with each of your players. Based on national pride alone, you’re bound to sell at least a hundred thousand units, and word of mouth will bring in the next batch of customers. Communist governments are typically into heavy self-promotion, and I’m sure the government can even be talked into helping susidize this deal big-time. A box set of these Olympics could very well be your Planet Earth, and maintain the same kinds of high ranking in the most loved HD disc sets of all time. An exclusivity deal for this Chinese box set might help your sales momentum carry you forward for quite a while.
What will you need to do beyond that? If you followed the format war in the western world, it would appear that being influential with the studios is a key requirement. For example, we read in a recent Forbes article that Sony’s participation as a movie studio in all the movie studio politics helped keep Lionsgate on the Blu-ray side. But that’s the west, where consumers theoretically drive the market. It’s not that way in China, where studio politics can be trumped by real politics.
In case readers didn’t know, one of the driving forces behind the Chinese HD DVD format is China’s desire to own as much of the technology as possible. They don’t want to be restricted by, or share profits with, all sorts of foreign-owned patents and licenses. This fact alone means that the CBHD (China Blue High-Definition) team gets some government help, and I’m sure that there are many Chinese citizens who are equally happy to show national pride and root for their hometown team instead of the foreigners.
Some analysts point out that studios haven’t signed on to support CBHD, and that Blu-ray is the inevitable winner even against this format. I think they’re ignoring one major difference between China and the rest of the world: the Chinese make plenty of their own movies and music to not need to care about everything that comes out of Hollywood. In fact, even the Indians make plenty of their own music and movies to not need to care about the movies that come out of Hollywood. Is that the same for you and I in the west? Absolutely not. Our entertainment is totally dependent on what Warner, Disney, Universal, Sony, Paramount, etc. put out. Thus, the outcome of the format war here was deeply affected by these Hollywood studios and their control over our western content.
While studio politics might be a hill of beans in the USA or Europe, it don’t mean a thing in Communist China, where the government gets the first and last word. Movie and music piracy is a fact of life there, and people barely care about purchasing original movies in the first place when cheapo copies are freely available.
Heck, I meet plenty of people in this country who have that same attitude. The difference is that copyrights and other intellectual property laws are observed with a little more reverence in western countries. That means that the governments of those countries might actually get a few police officers to care that Johnny Consumer is making his own copies, buying some cheap ones, or getting them off the internet.
Hollywood makes a tiny amount of money in that nation of over a billion potential customers, and the Chinese government does little to fix that situation. They’re polite and appear to give a crap about studios and copyrights, but the Chinese authorities would just as soon keep more of the profits in their homeland. The government decides who gets to play ball and what those rules are. They choose how much time Blu-ray can spend with the ball and how much time their own team will get.
So, CBHD guys: get your act together and put those players out, and look into that Olympics bundle right away. Only time will tell if your format war has the same dynamics as it did in the west. Your hometown advantage can only work for a little while, and you’re gonna have some competition from locally manufactured Blu-ray players soon. And don’t forget that previous attempts to establish homegrown standards over western ones haven’t necessarily panned out.
HD DVD fans: this is not really anything to do with us because it’s primarily designed for use by Chinese in China. I doubt that we’d even get any firmware upgrades (if that’s all it takes) to make our existing players use CBHD discs, and even then, it’ll be mostly for watching Chinese content.
Here are other recent articles about CBHD in case you want to learn more about it: