Blu-ray awareness on rise


A majority of U.S. households now know what a Blu-ray Disc is, while the number of households with a high-definition disc player has crossed the 10 million threshold, a new study shows.

The study, from media research firm Interpret, finds that 60% of U.S. consumers are aware of Blu-ray Disc, "up from zero two years ago, when the format was still in the talking stages," said Jason Kramer, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based firm's chief strategy officer.

Making that number even more significant is that the survey of consumers age 18-54 was conducted in mid-January, after Warner Home Video threw its support exclusively behind Blu-ray but before Toshiba officially ended the format war by abandoning HD DVD.

Since then, the studios and consumer electronics manufacturers supporting Blu-ray Disc have been ratcheting up their own promotional efforts and encouraging retailers to devote more floor and shelf space to the next-generation format.

Among men 18-34, the critical "early adopter" demographic, Blu-ray awareness is at 76%, the Interpret study found.

Still, Kramer said, Blu-ray supporters "still have a lot to do. The format war is over, and they've taken Blu-ray from zero to majority awareness, but it doesn't get easier from here, unfortunately."

Kramer sees the biggest impediment to Blu-ray's mass market success the fact that it requires not just a new player but also a new television. There are now 44.4 million HDTV households in the U.S., Interpret research shows, or 39% of the 113.9 million TV households. That's a significantly smaller pool than the one DVD faced when it was launched 11 years ago.

"It's an intermediate step DVD didn't have," Kramer said. "But it's also a huge opportunity for studios to work with consumer electronics companies to get consumers to both at the same time."

The 10.3 million U.S. homes with a high-definition disc player represent 9% of all households. DVD penetration, by contrast, is at 91%, which Kramer calls "the saturation point."

The 9% figure includes Sony's PlayStation 3, with a built-in Blu-ray drive.

Disc buys among high-def disc player owners are fairly evenly split between high-def discs (an average of 8.7 discs over the last six months) and standard DVDs (7.7 discs), but that's because until the format war ended not all studios were producing compatible discs. Two of the six majors, Universal and Paramount, were exclusive with HD DVD and have yet to release their first Blu-ray Discs.

Internationally, Blu-ray has even further to go than it does in the U.S. Awareness is at 56% in Great Britain, 49% in Germany, 45% in Japan and just 30% in France.

The HDTV household penetration rate, accordingly, is lower in those countries as well. In Great Britain, an estimated 26.2 million households have HDTVs, for a penetration rate of 35%. In Japan, the rate is just 28%, followed by 21% in France and 18% in Germany.

"But we've got the digital switchover taking place, which is a good thing, because the fact that you are replacing your TV means people will be thinking they might as well get an HDTV," Kramer said.

The high-def player penetration rate in Japan and Great Britain is currently at 9%, on par with the U.S.; it's 4% in France and Germany.

In contrast, 92% of British households have at least one DVD player, a higher percentage than in the U.S. France is next at 89%, followed by Germany at 84% and Japan at 82%.