How Did Blu-Ray Win the Format War?
The war over what will become the next-generation format for high definition DVDs is over, and Blu-Ray has won it.
As I've explained before, for the past few years Sony has pushed its Blu-Ray standard while Toshiba has sought support for its HD-DVD standard. Both sides claimed about half of the emerging consumer market, and as a result most pundits advised people to avoid buying either until this battle was sorted out and a clear victor was determined. Well, that time has arrived.
The question is how did Blu-Ray emerge victorious in the format war?
The recent timeline ought to be somewhat instructive. In early January, Warner Brothers made the sudden decision to adopt Blu-Ray exclusively, and this was the focusing event from which a snowball effect was created and then gained steam, as, before you knew it, every few days more media and consumer electronics companies like BestBuy and NetFlix were announcing their support for Blu-Ray as well in the weeks that followed. The death knell came on Friday as Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, announced it would only sell Blu-Ray DVDs. Reuters has since reported that Toshiba "is planning to stop production of equipment compatible with the HD DVD format for high-definition video, allowing the competing Blu-Ray camp a free run".
That may be the timeline, but what about causality? In other words, how or why did Warner Brothers get the ball rolling last month in favor of Blu-Ray, and why was everyone else so quick to follow suit? Such questions need to be asked because battles over formats and technical standards have immense consequences on shaping how we experience culture in the Digital Age. This issue not only applies to DVDs, but also radio, television, and the internet.
For those of us who study the politics of technical standards, it would be wonderful to gain some insight into what was the catalyst behind these recent events, particularly Warner Brother's sudden decision to adopt Blu-Ray last month. Was there some deal struck in a smoke-filled backroom? Was it purely a financial, profit-driven motive, or were there alternative factors as well? Does the way in which everyone else quickly followed suit provide evidence of the "rough consensus principle" in action? If so, why didn't previous statements of supporting one format garner the same result?
While we continue to seek answers to these pressing questions in order to save the internet from corporate control, at least we can finally get that long-awaited high-definition copy of Star Wars on DVD.