Has Blu-ray Vanquished HD DVD Once And For All?

The biggest news of CES 2008 landed yesterday with Warner's announcement that it is moving to exclusive Blu-ray support by June of 2008. Yesterday's news was that New Line and HBO (distributed by Warner) aren't yet officially attached to this strategy, but stories circulating the 'net today say New Line is already falling into line with Warner's HD strategy.

Warner's Friday coup was the rock tossed right into the middle of the CES 2008 lake. And the ripples have barely started to reach shore. Blu-ray supporters are again claiming (perhaps accurately this time) that the format war is over.

The announcement came in the afternoon, with many executives on both sides in airports and en route to Las Vegas. But reaction has been swift, and thus far looks like the white flag running up the pole at the HD DVD camp. My Sunday night was to be taken up primarily with the HD DVD promotional group's gala press event. Word came down late last night that the event has been called off. No word on whether HD DVD's show floor booth will be populated. Toshiba's press conference is early on press day Sunday and we'll certainly hope to know more then about what will follow as far is its plans to fight it out or cut losses quickly and concede.

And indeed it looks grim for HD DVD. By mid-2008 Blu-ray will have Sony, MGM, Fox, Disney (with Pixar), Lion's Gate and Warner (and apparently New Line) in the fold. If things stay as they are, HD DVD will then be supported only by Universal and Paramount (with Dreamworks). It's not known if Universal has an exclusive commitment to HD DVD, nor is it known if Paramount negotiated an out clause in the case of such an event when it went HD DVD exclusive last summer.

And this time it doesn't appear that another defection will save HD DVD. Initial behind-the-scenes grumblings are that incentives were involved to not only entice Warner, but also to keep Fox exclusive to Blu-ray, thus increasing the likelihood that the format war ends with Warner's move.

The initial statement from Toshiba speaks of being surprised by Warner's move. Surprised by the outcome maybe, but certainly not by idea that decision was imminent. It's long been known that Warner's position supporting both formats was in flux, and the perception that for either format to be successful in broad terms there needed to be one format moving forward. My sources tell me intense negotiating has been ongoing for weeks, and that momentum changed more than once.

There will no doubt be a lot more to come on this story throughout the show. There will be time in the coming weeks to do many post-mortems on the fall out here. But man has CES 2008 gotten off to an exhilarating, tumultuous start! And it hasn't even really started yet!