The Blu Kingdom

The numbers I've seen lately say that the vast majority of people who buy a Blu-ray Disc player are completely satisfied with it. On the other hand, most people aren't even aware of the format or are confused about what it is. This would seem to be the year to educate the public. That's one of the reasons why we did the Disney/Panasonic Magical Blu-ray Tour, the mall tour that's been traveling across the country. It's hit 11 cities so far [as of early November '07 - ed.] and there were 10,000 people per city who actually attended the events, plus all the publicity around the tour. The point is to actually get Blu-ray players in the hands of people so they can live and breathe a real-life demonstration of magical Disney content, and can interact and see firsthand not only the great picture and the great sound Blu-ray provides but also the type of interactive experience you get when you're not encumbered by limited capacity or slow processing speed.

Would you agree, though, that people need to be educated about the format as well? Oh, absolutely - just like they needed to be educated on DVD because it was so profoundly different than VHS. But it's even more difficult with Blu-ray because you have to hook it up a different way. You should use an HDMI connection and all the settings need to be correct. So it's a bit more intimidating for the average consumer. The early adopters obviously get it, but once we penetrate the households of early adopters, we've got to go beyond that to the less technophilic households. The Average Joe needs to understand that you have to have the right player, the right disc, the right TV, and the right connection, and all the settings need to be right. So, that's a lot. And that's what our tour is all about.

Until now, it seems like other studios' efforts to promote Blu-ray have been kind of lackluster. So it was great to see somebody like John Lasseter [Pixar studios cofounder and director of Toy Story and Cars] being very passionate about getting out there to help promote the format. Well, the efforts so far have been targeted toward the people who would logically buy the players, which is again the audience in-the-know or the more technophilic folks. But I think you're seeing a recognition, at least amongst our studios, that we're ready to move into the next adoption phase. We have a number of efforts going on at retail locations because that's where we can make a day-in, day-out effort to educate. We take store personnel and actually Blu-ray certify them: They pass a course that enables them to answer questions on an informed basis.

Are you targeting the bigger chains like Best Buy and Circuit City? Or are you doing more boutique-type stores? Right now we're targeting Best Buy and Circuit City, but we've also got a co-promotion going on with the fine folks over at Monster Cable to educate people about the correct connectivity and the right equipment. So we really have a broad-reach program $mdash; not only at the mass electronic stores like Best Buy but also at some of the smaller mom-and-pop places.

Obviously this is going to be a big holiday season for people buying flat-panel TVs, especially for the first time. Is there going to be an effort to steer them toward Blu-ray when they're considering their TV purchase? There's absolutely an effort to do that, because we believe it's very pro-consumer to make sure they don't buy a system or format that's going to be obsolete in a year. We feel it's our responsibility to help do that, so we do have a variety of programs to help steer people toward the ultimate replacement for DVD technology.

Getting the format war resolved would probably be the single best thing that could happen for Blu-ray. Do you have a sense whether that's imminent? The format war is over when there's an inevitable successor to DVD, and I would say we're well on our way to establishing Blu-ray as the ultimate successor. I don't have an exact date when that's going to happen, but I think we're approaching that with the kind of sales ratios we see across the world, which, depending on the market, is anywhere between 2-to-1 to 9-to-1 in favor of Blu-ray. So we're rapidly approaching that point, and the obvious recognition that Blu-ray is the winner will come sometime next year.

I noticed recent ads now refer to Blu-ray as Blu-ray Hi-Def. Is that something that was just started? We have a campaign that just began running on network TV over the last couple of weeks that's educating consumers and increasing awareness as to what Blu-ray is. Obviously we need to establish the name Blu-ray with consumers so it's not a foreign term for them, and that's what we're working on right now.