Commentary: Blu-ray Pricing Needs Fixed

A year ago, Universal and Fox’s home entertainment divisions stood on opposite sides of the high-def format war. Universal exclusively supported HD DVD, while Fox was steadfast in its support of Blu-ray. Universal looked to the past by ensuring DVD owners could play high definition discs, while Fox future-proofed their discs with embedded D-BOX motion code and DTS-HD Master Audio — neither of which could be accessed or enjoyed.

The phasing out of HD DVD and rise of Blu-ray has drastically changed this dynamic. Universal has embraced Blu-ray and will roll out their first titles on July 22. Like Fox, they’ve committed themselves to utilizing DTS-HD Master Audio on Blu-ray wherever they can.

An unexpected new connection between Universal and Fox is the one no one foresaw or asked for. This morning’s official announcement of Doomsday on Blu-ray revealed a $39.99 list price, only a penny different than Fox’s and $5 more than their steepest HD DVD price.

The obvious argument for this price increase is the inclusion of DTS-HD Master Audio, which might be valid if Universal’s catalog Blu-ray titles were also priced at $39.99 like Fox’s are.

As you can see on a piece of Universal marketing material for The Mummy films on Blu-ray, their list price is a full $10 less than Doomsday! And by George they all have DTS-HD Master Audio, too.

The practice of pricing new theatrical titles higher than catalog titles is nothing new. In fact, many consumers expect and accept it as long as the difference is $5 or less. Justifying purchasing a film priced $10 higher is hard to stomach, much less pull the trigger on.

To throw another wrench in the wheel, has begun listing pre-orders for Paramount’s initial Blu-ray titles and all are priced at $39.99. Since “technically” all of Paramount’s titles with active pre-orders can be considered new theatrical, it’s premature to lambast the studio for overpricing catalog titles. Regardless, I have no regrets proclaiming $39.99, or even Sony’s $38.96 price for new theatrical titles, is simply too much to charge.

It’s been well documented across the web that Blu-ray’s biggest hurdle to overcome is hardware and software pricing. When many consumers have trouble differentiating DVD’s picture and audio from Blu-ray, why would they want to pay more for a perceived valueless upgrade while the economy continues to spiral downwards?

Universal, Paramount, Fox, and even Sony, we’re asking you to reconsider your new theatrical Blu-ray pricing as we head into the important holiday shopping season. A $35.99 list price like Warner charges or $34.99 like Disney charges is much easier to stomach than anything a hair under $40. Look at how Warner’s I Am Legend and Disney’s National Treasure Two-Pack Blu-ray titles remained affixed atop Amazon’s Blu-ray bestsellers list.

Look to none other than the Playstation 3 for inspiration. If you price it right, they will come.

– Dan Bradley

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