The years-long, hyper-analyzed high-def format war came to an end in January 2008 when Warner Bros. announced that it would be releasing its high-definition titles only on Sony’s Blu-ray Disc, prompting Toshiba to cancel the promotional conference it had scheduled for its competing HD DVD at that year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.And so adult studios finally had their answer as far as which road to venture with their HD content. But now almost two years later, the question still remains: Is that road leading anywhere?
Most agree that the eventual endpoint for the most common delivery method of adult video will be direct digital streaming. Which effectively makes physical formats of any sort obsolete on arrival … depending on whom you ask.
Well, AVN went to five of the most prolific employers of Blu-ray in the adult sphere—Digital Playground, Elegant Angel Productions, Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Wicked Pictures and Hustler Video—to find out whether they thought their investment in the format was proving a fruitful one.
“If anything, the non-interest and weak sales at the retail level have been deafening,” said Joey Wilson of Third Degree Films/Zero Tolerance. Between those two labels and sister imprints Black Ice and Diabolic Video Productions, the company has released a total of 28 titles on Blu-ray. For the time being, it has halted releasing on the format altogether and adopted, as Wilson put it, “a wait and see attitude.”
Seeming to be taking a similarly reluctant approach, interestingly enough, is Wicked, whose VP of DVD production, Jackie Ramos, told AVN that demand for titles on Blu-ray has remained flat for the company since it began releasing on the format. So far, Wicked has issued only about 17 titles on Blu-ray, none of them anytime recently.
“High-priced units probably put off strong sales of adult Blu-ray product,” Ramos said. “When you take into consideration that you can get an upconverting DVD player for cheap, consumers didn’t need to immediately jump on the Blu-ray bandwagon. Of course, with prices dropping on players as well as production costs, the tide may turn.”
High Def, High End
According to one company, at least, the tide has been doing nothing but creeping steadily up the Blu-ray shore from the get-go. That company is Digital Playground, and it has put out a whopping 150 titles on Blu-ray and been releasing every one of its movies simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard DVD for over a year.
“Definitely after the holiday season we see a jump, and whenever there’s a big Blu-ray sale from the manufacturers, you see a little bit of a jump, but overall, it’s just steadily growing,” said DP founder Joone.
Within the next few months, Joone said, the company plans to have all of its catalog HD titles to market on Blu-ray. The format has been a solid source of new revenue from old content.
“It’s definitely a new revenue stream, because those titles have already made their money back, so this is just new revenue coming in,” he explained. “Our company philosophy is to basically create really good content and offer it in every possible format, so that we let the consumer choose how they want to view it.”
But again, there’s the big—and endlessly debated—question: Do consumers want their porn so crisp you can distinguish every single sphincter pock? The consensus among these five studios was resounding. The adult fare that consumers do want in such razor-sharp resolution is of the high-end grade.
“It seems that they will pay the price for the bigger-budget movies, or better-quality movies,” Joone said.
Graham Travis of Elegant Angel said that in order for a title to be placed on Blu-ray at all, it must be “a bigger production, with very strong visuals and a higher-end feel.”
Along the same lines, Hustler director of video operations Jeff Thill said only the studio’s parodies are currently going to Blu-ray. He, too, said demand for the format has remained flat since the company adopted it, but that “consumers are now able to appreciate a high-definition signal on an almost subconscious level. With proper lighting and production value, adult titles can really shine and stand out in the Blu-ray format.”
Echoed Travis, “There is so much potential shooting in high definition. It is a challenge to all of us in gonzo to realize that, and to excite adult consumers about Blu-ray. I think if we embrace that challenge, we could create a very profitable format for all of us for the next few years.”
Physical Good vs. Digital Good
The next few years? Some doomsayers foretell a complete wipeout of the industry by then. But supposing they’re wrong, will Blu-ray still be a viable format at that point?
“I think there will be hard product formats like Blu-ray for some time to come,” Travis opined. “Blu-ray is really taking over on mainstream and eventually that will hit adult with more consumers having players. It is a premium product and I foresee it being prevalent for at least three to four years or so.”
Joone is considerably more optimistic than that: “At least the next five to ten years,” he said. “I think that you’re always going to have physical formats—even today, people say, ‘Well I can download it and keep it.’ And when you talk about the average consumer, they’re going to download something and put it on a hard drive; do they really think about how they’re going to back up that hard drive, and what happens if it crashes?
“When you think about it, your DVD or your Blu-ray is your backup,” Joone continued. “And it’s a very economical way for you to save your content. So when people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to just download everything,’ my thing is, ‘Yeah, but then you gotta invest in a backup type of scenario for you to be able to not lose that stuff, because how would you get them back if you have a hard drive fail? Hard drives will fail; it’s just a matter of when. And you want to be able to let your friends borrow it, or maybe you want to sell it later for a used item. You have those opportunities with a physical good, where you don’t with a digital good.”
Perhaps he’s right. In this age of iPods and DJs working off laptops, somehow the vinyl record continues to live on. But still, like Wicked’s Ramos encapsulated it: “Digital downloads as the preferred method of obtaining content is just around the corner. Once perfected, it will enable consumers to purchase what they want to see, when they want to see it, without having to upgrade their systems yet again when the next new format arrives.”
Then again, several of those we spoke with, including Ramos himself, agreed that Blu-ray most likely will be the last disc format we’ll see … for single movie titles, anyway.
“I think Blu-ray’s going to be around probably as sort of the last video format,” said Joone, “because I think you’re kind of hitting the limit of the image quality being shot on HD. Newer disc technologies are going to be better for a storage medium or putting a bunch of movies on a disc, than really a single title release.”
That said, how does adult exploit it effectively?
“I think for people, especially retailers, who haven’t seen it yet, I encourage them to look at a good Blu-ray title,” Joone stressed. “An example is either Pirates or Island Fever 4 or Nurses—the ones that they already know sell really well. If they look at it, they’re sold, and then they can sell their customer. People are getting free porn on the internet, but it’s in very low-res quality. This is a way for retailers to kind of find a new customer and to keep their customers, by offering them something that’s really high quality that their customers can’t get online.”
Sounds all well and good, except for the fact that eventually, of course, they will be able to get it online. Or maybe even some other way, like—as Hustler’s Thill speculated—”direct download to the brain via a spinal cord port sold by Apple.”