Toshiba's HD-DVD going the way of Betamax

Toshiba Corporation's HD DVD player is shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, in this January 4, 2006 handout file photo. REUTERS/Robert Sorbo/HD DVD Promotion Group

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The high-definition DVD format war has turned into a format death watch.

Toshiba is expected to pull the plug on its HD DVD format in the coming weeks, after a rash of retail defections that followed Warner Home Video’s stunning announcement in early January that it would support only Sony’s rival Blu-ray Disc format after May.

Officially, no decision has been made, insists Jodi Sally, vp of marketing for Toshiba America Consumer Products. “Based on its technological advancements, we continue to believe HD DVD is the best format for consumers, given the value and consistent quality inherent in our player offerings,” she said.

But she hinted that something’s in the air. “Given the market developments in the past month,” she said, “Toshiba will continue to study the market impact and the value proposition for consumers, particularly in light of our recent price reductions on all HD DVD players.”

Immediately after the Warner announcement, the HD DVD North American Promotional Group canceled its Consumer Electronics Show presentation. The following week data collected by the NPD Group gave Blu-ray 93% of all hardware sales for that week.

Toshiba subsequently fired back by cutting its HD DVD player prices by as much as half, effective January 15. But a hoped-for consumer sales surge never materialized; retail point-of-sale data collected by The NPD Group for the week ending January 26 still showed Blu-ray Disc players ahead by a wide margin, 65% to 28%.

Software sales have declined as well. The latest Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales data show the top-selling Blu-ray Disc title for the week, Sony’s “Across the Universe,” sold more than three times as many copies the week ending February 10 as the top HD DVD seller, Universal’s “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Blu-ray Disc titles also accounted for 81% of all high-def disc sales for the week, with HD DVD at just 19%.

Toshiba had been pitching its discounted HD DVD players toward the standard DVD crowd as well as high-def enthusiasts, noting in its ad message that the new players would make DVDs look a lot better as well. And as a last-ditch effort the company ran an ad during the Super Bowl -- a 30-second spot that reportedly cost $2.7 million.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter