Woolworths feeling Blu

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LONDON -- For customers of giant British retailer Woolworths, the DVD format war is officially over.

In March, Woolworths will become the first U.K. retailer to offer exclusive in-store support for Blu-ray DVD, relegating sales of the HD DVD format to its Web site only, the company said Monday.

The 820-store chain -- one of the largest DVD retailers in the U.K., with about 10% of the 2.3 billion pound ($4.6 billion) local DVD sell-through business -- said it will drop HD DVDs from its stores, although they will still be available online. It said it made its decision after Sony's Blu-ray outsold Toshiba's HD DVD by 10-1 in its outlets over Christmas.

Since launching high definition DVD last October, Woolworths claims to be the biggest retailer of the new DVD format in the U.K., with sales typically rising by more than 40% a month.

"Sales figures clearly show that the market is moving towards one format of high definition DVD," Woolworths DVD buyer Steven McGunigel said. "The main reason is the success of Sony's PlayStation 3 machine. Because it plays Blu-ray discs, there are over three quarters of a million homes in the U.K. that can view the new high definition format. There is nowhere near that number of HD DVD players around.

"Switching to Blu-ray only will provide one clear offer to customers in the format they want to watch high definition movies in," he added.

Last year, according to industry figures, Blu-ray accounted for 75% of the one million high- definition units sold in the U.K. Total sales were worth 22 million pounds ($43.7 million).

Disney's "Ratatouille" is expected to be the first Woolworths Blu-ray DVD chart topper. Other big release films due in the spring on the format include "I Am Legend" and "Sweeney Todd."

Predictably, Sony execs were pleased at the news. "We are thrilled Woolworths has made the decision to promote Blu-ray exclusively," said Matt Brown, executive vp international at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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