At last year’s CEDIA show in September in Atlanta, the buzz was already starting to build that 3D Blu-ray was not far off. Panasonic had one of their 3D road show demo trailers in the booth and were doing constant demos during the show.
Now, the actual 3D Blu-ray standard still hadn’t been finalized (that would occur in December), so there wasn’t a whole lot of hard information about when and were, at least not on the record. So I was pleased as punch to be in the Panasonic 3D trailer to see the demo, when a senior VP of Panasonic’s sales division came into the trailer with some dealer buyers and offered up some pretty solid info.
He predicted that the standard would be finalized shortly. It was, three months later.
Barring any unforeseen delays, he committed to the dealer buyers that Panasonic would be amongst those first out of the gate, with his firm’s 3D sets arriving in stores by late spring/early summer (traditionally new TV model launch months for the majors), and with screen sizes in the 50” and up range. He also said they’d have 3D Blu-ray players to coincide with the TV launch. Both predictions came true this past spring, as Panasonic was indeed one of the first 3D vendors to ship product, and they held consumer awareness campaigns in various cities around the corner to drum up excitement.
The executive then told the dealer buyers that their contacts at the Hollywood studios had committed to an aggregate 50-60 3D Blu-ray movie titles at launch, which given the ever-growing 3D movie catalog that Hollywood is churning out, seemed entirely reasonable and believable. Unfortunately, this last prediction turned out not to be the case, and here we are six months on and Hollywood has failed to deliver the 50-60 titles the executive had promised.
Dreamworks Animation has been doing all their stuff in 3D for some years now. Monsters vs. Aliens is their only release so far. Disney is only now planning releases (their first will be a combo 2D/3D/DVD/Digital Copy release of A Christmas Carol in mid-November. Sony has three out or soon to be available from their animation division. Disney/Pixar will have Toy Story 3 out by November which is sure to be a popular title. But, in the ultimate slap in the face for early 3D adopters, Avatar in 3D on Blu-ray won’t debut this year at all, but will only be available as a promo copy as a bundled or redeemed item for Panasonic 3D TV buyers in an announcement made recently. A general 3D Blu-ray release of Avatar won’t happen until next year.
So, why are the studios dragging their heels on new 3D releases? It’s the same reason filmmaker George Lucas dragged his heels on the home video releases of his Star Wars movies – market penetration. Savvy studio executives know that home video releases typically follow a very predictable course. At the time of release, and for a relatively short period of time afterward is when a typical home video release garners the most sales. After that, sales go stale, and eventually the title becomes an ordinary catalog item, with comparably mediocre sales after the first big spike.
In fact, in a moment of surprising candor, Mr. Lucas recently flat out said they’ve waited this long to do the Star Wars Blu-ray releases simply in order to maximize sales. I’ve heard that before from other contacts in the movie biz, but usually those comments are off the record and not for publication. Studio execs want as many butts in movie theater seats for a film’s general release, and as high a sell-through in units as they can get when the home video release comes around. If the market penetration of 3D TVs is only at a couple of percent at the moment, it’s financially disadvantageous to release blockbuster movies on 3D Blu-ray too early. The big sales spike won’t materialize until the market penetration of 3D TVs is much higher.
And, Hollywood loves to sell the same thing over and over so Avatar in 2D on Blu-ray now and in 3D next year shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to home video fans. Still, I do feel that in the case of Avatar, the studio should have kept its promise to do the 3D Blu-ray release this year as originally planned. That’s the kind of film that’s a market-maker and would fuel 3D TV sales. Fox just two weeks ago released an expanded version of the movie in Imax 3D. That could be the version they release next year on 3D Blu-ray. Just sayin’.