November 26, 2008 / 1:30 PM / 12 years ago

Cheap Blu-ray players seen scarce in Europe

LONDON (Reuters) - A scarcity of cheap Blu-ray video players combined with the effects of a recession are expected to delay take-up of the new, high-definition Blu-ray DVD format in Europe, according to media research firm Screen Digest.

A view of the Blu-ray booth is seen at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2008. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Screen Digest said on Wednesday that supply problems early in the year had led to a shortage of affordable Blu-ray players, and most of those available were being channeled to the more developed markets of the United States and Japan.

“A shortage of cheaper Blu-ray players means that the sub-$300 machines that are already appearing on U.S. shelves are unlikely to materialize in Europe this Christmas,” Screen Digest analyst Richard Cooper said in a report.

“Combined with the recession, this means the format is unlikely to move much beyond the early adopter market this year,” he said.

Toshiba’s withdrawal of rival HD DVD video format early this year left the market exclusively to the Blu-ray camp, led by Sony, but caught Blu-ray components makers by surprise, leading to the shortage, Screen Digest said.

Sony said last week Blu-ray disc players would fall short of a worldwide target of 5 million units, most of which had been expected to sell in the United States, due to the tough economy.

Experts say electronics retailers are expected to slash prices of Blu-ray players, which sold for as much as $1,500 in 2006, to as little as $150 after Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.

Major film studios such as Time Warner’s Warner Bros or Sony Pictures relied on video sales for 41 percent of their movie-related revenues last year, Screen Digest said, with rentals generating a further 10 percent.

European consumers are expected to spend 11.4 billion euros ($14.8 billion) buying videos this year, the research firm said, with Blu-ray accounting for just 3 percent of that total.

But by 2012, Screen Digest estimates the European Blu-ray market will be worth 5.4 billion euros, as high-definition viewing gradually becomes the norm, helped by the increasing availability of HD programs from broadcasters.

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Rupert Winchester

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