With the trend being for more films to skip a Blu-ray in favour of DVD-only, a bit of light on why that may be the case.
Last week, I penned a feature on this site noting that for more and more non-blockbuster films, the Blu-ray is becoming something of a luxury. That whilst less higher profile films may be getting a DVD release, in many cases that’s as far as the physical version goes. The Blu-ray has become a not taken for granted option.
This is in part, of course, due to the declining sales of physical media across the board. We’re in an era where smaller releases are having to forsake a physical release altogether, in favour of streaming or on demand options.
But there’s also a further complication. Since that article ran, I’ve heard from one or two people involved in the industry that the added costs of a Blu-ray release are part of the problem.
The actual core film masters used for the DVD and Blu-ray releases are oftentimes the same. Especially if it’s a recent theatrical release, those masters will comfortably hold the resolution needed for both formats, so the issue isn’t there. The actual physical cost of pressing a Blu-ray over a DVD is slightly higher too, as you’d expect. Even that though isn’t the hidden problem.
Instead, it’s the licensing fees that are the hidden issue here.
As I understand it, when a company releases a film on DVD, they don’t need to pay a fee for each disc for the privilege of doing so. But that’s not the case with a Blu-ray, where a consortium of companies own the standard, and they expect their payment.
Those companies charge a fee that for a small distributor can add some 50p to a Blu-ray, per disc made. That’s before any kind of margin has been added.
Furthermore, as this document outlines, “there are significant per title license fees and a per disc royalty for all Blu-ray discs”. These are costs that DVD releases do not have to factor in. The document I’ve linked to there isn’t a fresh one, but I’m told that such fees are still very much an issue.
As such, say we’re releasing our independent hit Geostorm Origins on Blu-ray. We’d have to license the AACS digital rights management standard (compulsory on commercial Blu-ray releases), pay the AACS title key certificate fees, and then pay a royalty on each unit made to the consortium behind the format.
Now the exact prices aren’t clear, and work was done in the past to bring some of those prices down. But still, I’ve heard it directly from one or two in the industry now that these licensing costs are discouraging them from a Blu-ray release. To be clear: not from people involved in the titles I mentioned in last week’s article.
Here’s another threat facing Blu-ray, too. With physical media being squeezed at retail, there’s a further challenge in persuading a supermarket to stock a DVD, yet alone give extra space for a Blu-ray too. Two facings on the shelf, two SKUs, is a tricky sell-on on anything other than a big blockbuster. Even online stories (outside of Amazon, who use TARDISes it seems) have a finite amount of warehouse space. For a lower profile release, one SKU may be all they’re willing to take.
Likewise, more consumers are switching to digital downloads instead, and distributors are understandably having to think twice about where they spend on physical disc releases.
The bottom line is that a DVD is a far less risky product to release, and cheaper to bring to market. Meanwhile, a Blu-ray can be far more expensive, which is easy to absorb if you’re a huge studio, less if you’re a smaller company putting out a fairly straightforward non-special edition release.
As an aside, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the costs for making a 4K Ultra HD are far in excess of those for Blu-ray too, on all counts.
But as for the broader Blu-ray issue: might I, as a humble consumer, suggest that some relaxation of fees for movie releases wouldn’t hurt? The problem, though, is that the people behind Blu-ray I’d suggest stand to make far more from the format by it being the optical disc of choice in a games console over a Blu-ray movie now (both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles use the format). And I guess if they cut the price for one, they have to cut it for the other.
Sadly, I see no sign of that happening…
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