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HD DVD: No Way For It To Come Back Against Blu-ray

Friday, 4 Jan 2008 | 5:09 PM ET

For years, everyone's been waiting for an indication that either Sony's Blu-Ray or Microsoft and Toshiba's HD DVD format would emerge triumphant and the other would go the way of the BETA deck.

Today, finally, a crucial tipping point in this battle in which the $20 billion dollar home video market is at stake--Warner Bros has decided to distribute its high definition DVDs exclusively in the Blu-ray format, ditching its previous plan to distribute in both HD DVD and Blu-Ray.

This gives Sony's Blu-ray format the critical mass it needs to become the standard. Blu-Ray currently has exclusive distribution of content from Sony (obviously), plus Disney ,20th Century Fox and Lions Gate . Now HD DVD's only exclusive distribution parters are Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures/Dreamworks (which was reported paid hundreds of millions of dollars to side with the format).

Hollywood must be breathing a huge sigh of relief (I think I can hear the Disney and Fox execs from my office). The $20 billion DVD market needed a successor to the aging format, and now the fact that the Blu-ray format is the clear leader it's not just a huge win for SONY, but also a crucial win for the movie studios.

All of Hollywood needs a format to win, and fast. The longer the battle dragged on the harder it would be to transition that $20 billion home video market, and the more likely that that revenue stream dry up.

On the flip side, this is bad news for Microsoft and Toshiba, the two main proponents of the HD-DVD format. They were counting on the lower price of HD DVD players to tip things in their favor, figuring if they could sell players for $150 it wouldn't matter that Sony's PlayStation 3s, which cost hundreds more, had a Blu-ray player embedded, and that their format would win.

At this point I think there's no way for HD DVD to make a comeback. The question now becomes, how quickly will Universal and Paramount/DreamWorks start distributing in Blu-Ray?

This holiday shopping season was considered crucial in determining which format was more popular, and though I'd suspected that Warner Bros. was going to make this announcement, as recently as yesterday the PR department was saying they had no announcements in the works, so this was a last minute decision.

I'm interviewing Kevin Tsujihara, the head of Warner Bros. home entertainment division. In the years that I've known and interviewed him, he's always been considered a leader in the space, pioneering Warner Bros. digital distribution. Executives across the industry look to him for guidance on the future, and I'm dying to hear what he has to say!

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.