Disney makes blu-ray exciting with toons

Updated: Aug 29 2008, 04:58am hrs
Walt Disney Co is dispatching Pinocchio, Snow White and a team of other characters in its efforts to accelerate consumer adoption of next-generation DVD technology.

Disney, like other media companies, is counting on high-definition Blu-ray discs and companion technology that connects them to the Internet to reinvigorate its highly profitable home entertainment business. But so far, Blu-ray players are selling more slowly than expected, apparently because people are not convinced they need a better DVD experience. So Disney is sending in the troops. The company will release five platinum titles from its library in the Blu-ray format over the next two years, hoping that classic animated movies will spur wider interest.

The films are Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Fantasia 2000 and Beauty and the Beast. The company had previously announced plans to introduce one such title, Sleeping Beauty. All the DVDs will include unusual features geared towards a generation that embraces interactivity and social networking. Viewers can watch a movie in tandem with friends in other locations, while they chat using a laptop or cellphone (the comments appear on the screen).

Viewers will also be able to compete against others around the world at trivia or send what Disney is calling movie mail, video images of themselves that appear within the context of the movie.

Such activities are possible because of a technology called BD Live that connects Blu-ray discs with the Internet.

Bob Chapek, president of Disneys home entertainment unit, said that his company hoped the animated favourites would help it break past early adopters to a wider group of consumers. BD Live is not a niche product, Chapek said. We see mass adoption of the technology.

Chapek said that Snow White, last available in 2001, had helped start the market for traditional DVDs. The power of these titles is incredible. Disney needs all the muscle it can find. Sales of Blu-ray players have been disappointingalthough the industry has big hopes for the coming holiday season and players compatible with BD Live just became available a few months ago.

They are also expensive: Blu-ray players that function with BD Live are priced from $300 to $700, much more than regular Blu-ray machines.

Making DVDs exciting is a trick that movie studios are desperate to pull off. After years of blistering growth, domestic DVD sales fell 3.2% last year, to $15.9 billion, the first annual drop in the mediums history, according to Adams Media Research.

Blu-ray sales are growing fast, but still represent a tiny part of the business. The industry estimate for sales of Blu-ray discs in 2008 is nearly $1 billion, up from $170 million last year.

NY Times / Brooks Barnes