India unperturbed by Blu-Ray, HD DVD war


MUMBAI: The Gen-X home video viewing formats – Blu-Ray and HD (high definition) DVDs are stirring up quite a storm in Hollywood. But the Indian market is in a bit of a haze yet. While Blu-Ray might have made a tad bit of dent in the Indian market, the HD format is visibly missing.


In the ongoing clash between the two formats, Warner Bros. recently switched gears from HD to Blu-Ray technology, thus implicating that Warner’s home video collection will now be available on VCD, DVD and Blu-Ray discs.


Along with Warner, other studios such as Sony Pictures, Fox, Disney and Lionsgate are also supporting the Blu-Ray format, which then leaves only Paramount and Universal backing the HD DVD format. The two formats, which are more advanced than DVDs, were first released in the West in 2006.


The most evident differences between the two formats are that Blu-Ray provides a storage space of 50 GB and an HD DVD provides 30 GB. This makes the quality of a Blu-Ray disc better than that of HD. Secondly HD DVD is available at lower price points.


Blu-Ray and HD market for Hollywood movies in India


While some Hollywood films in Blu-Ray are being sold in India, HD DVDs are not available here as HD players have not yet arrived in India. On the other hand, some Blu-Ray players are available in India through Sony’s Play Station 3 and the new models of Vaio laptops, both of which are few in number. On the other hand, Microsoft’s hi-end version of X-Box player has provision for playing HD DVDs, however there is no clarity on whether they have arrived in India.


This makes Sony is the only company in India that imports Blu-Ray discs of its movies. Sony’s Blu-Ray march in India was marked three months ago. “We launched 25 titles in India during Diwali 2007. The number of units was limited to 300 – 400 because the Blu-Ray market here is very – very small,” says Sony Pictures Home Entertainment India head N Muthuram.


Planet M general manager merchandising Navin Savla says, “We take approximately 100 copies from Sony and the sales are limited to one unit per store. The response is not encouraging mainly because the prices are too high. If the movies are made available for approximately Rs 800, then chances are this market may grow.”


At present, Sony has priced Hollywood movies at Rs 1,799 on Blu-Ray format. Continued…< Page Break >


Blu-Ray and HD market for Bollywood movies in India


Currently no Bollywood movie is available on either Blu-Ray or HD format. But January end or beginning of February will mark Eros International’s entry, with the launch of Heyy Babyy on Blu-Ray format.


Eros’ assistant vice president home entertainment Girish Kumar says, “Heyy Babyy will be our first title to roll out on Blu-Ray. We are planning to launch approximately 500 units in India alone. After testing the market we will decide our future plans.”


This means that the units of Bollywood’s first Blu-Ray movie in India will be higher than that of Hollywood movies. As compared to Sony offering Hollywood movies at Rs 1,799; Eros International is mulling a price point of Rs 1,000 – 1,200 for Bollywood content.


When queried Planet M’s Savla on whether they were open to stocking Blu-Ray format Bollywood movies in their stores despite a poor initial response, he says, “We have to sell anything that is supposed to be sold. But the return on investments is very low.”


Gradual adapters/importers of Blu-Ray and HD technology


Currently, Sony is the only supplier of this next-generation home video technology. Very soon Eros International will follow suit. So Blu-Ray has already sown seeds in India. It remains to be seen whether Sony will release Saawariya, their first Bollywood co-production venture on Blu-Ray for the Indian and international markets.


Companies like Saregama, Excel and BIG Music and Home Entertainment, which have home video distribution licenses of Hollywood studios for the Indian market, feel that the format war in the West is of little or no significance to the Indian market at this point in time.


Saregama and Excel will start importing the Blu-Ray discs and HD DVDs this year, but BIG Music and Home Entertainment and Moser Baer are still resistant to the new format.


In India, Saregama has the home video license for Warner and Paramount, which support Blu-Ray and HD respectively. Although currently Blu-Ray is favoured over HD, it doesn’t perturb Saregama. Saregama international studio head Parag Kamani says, “Even though Saregama has the license of companies supporting different formats, it does not bother us. Both the formats will continue to sell because HD hardware manufactures have not shut shop yet. The market will decide, which format they want. We will import both.”


Excel Home Entertainment managing director Muslim Kapasi opines, “Blu-Ray is winning the war and HD will ultimately die. Both formats cannot co-exist for home viewing.” Excel has home video licenses for Fox and Disney. Continued… < Page Break >


Resistance to change


BIG Music and Home Entertainment CEO Kulmeet Makkar says that the company has no immediate plans to either import or put its own movies on the new formats. Makkar reasons, “We have the license from Universal, which supports HD technology. Since HD players are not even available in India we cannot circulate their HD DVDs here. Besides, the Indian market is not even ready for such high quality products. We are still striving to expand our VCD and DVD markets.”


He further adds, “Although HD is more affordable, Blu-Ray is more technically sound. But BIG does still does not find it viable to release local content on Blu-Ray.”


Optical disc giant Moser Baer, which has created a stir the home video market by its low priced VCDs and DVDs, does not support these technologies. Moser Baer Entertainment CEO Harish Dayani says, “Blu-Ray will not work in India, not now, never! I have my doubts about its wide acceptance in the West too.”


Moser Baer has its own manufacturing plants and technology to produce VCDs and DVDs and it is working diligently at expanding the home video market with this technology itself.


The DVD market itself is in a nascent stage in India and shows potential for future growth. Hence flooding the market with Blu-Ray technology may lead to disturbance.


Growth Prospects


When queried about the potential growth in this format market Muthuram says, “It is too early to predict growth. Only when the local language movies release in this format, will the market grow.”


Companies like LG and Samsung have released players for the new technology but they are priced high with an HD player costing as much as $299 (Rs 11,661), Blu-Ray player $399 (Rs 15,561) and a Dual player (that plays HD as well as Blu-Ray) $799 (Rs 31,161). These price points are way too high by all standards for mass acceptance in the Indian market.


Currently, there is no clarity on the growth on Blu-Ray in India but the seeding of this technology has begun. It remains to be seen whether HD will make it to India and what company will make the first move – and when.