Sony to sell Blu-ray titles in China

Hollywood studio aims to meet China's rising HD demand

BEIJING -- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment soon will release high-definition Blu-ray Discs in China, including "Hancock" and "Kung Fu Hustle," becoming the first Hollywood studio to distribute the new format here, the company said Wednesday.

On Friday, Sony will begin the release of 30 high-definition Blu-ray titles at retailers such as Sony Style and for about 205 yuan ($30) each.

The release of the discs, which cost as much as 30 times the average price of a standard-definition pirated DVD, will coincide with Sony's introduction of its Blu-ray disc player model BDP-S350 here. Although swept from China's streets during the Olympics, pirated DVDs are again widely available.

"We're thrilled to be the first to offer the high-quality HD product that discerning Chinese customers demand and deserve," senior vp international T. Paul Miller said.

Chinese demand for high-definition home entertainment can be seen in the shipment of 4.75 million HDTV sets in 2006, a figure that U.S.-based market research firm In-Stat expects to grow to 19.7 million by 2011.

Kenny Ling, GM of Sony's licensing partner in China, Excel Media, said that the Shanghai-based company had "received positive and good response from the market" when it helped Sony release six Blu-ray titles in August.

HD demand has not escaped Chinese pirates. In October, one group in Shenzhen became the first in China to be busted for cracking the Blu-ray code and duplicating the discs, according to the MPAA.

About 800 of the faux Blu-ray discs of popular Hollywood titles, including some from Sony, typically sold for $7 apiece and fooled the average consumer, thus netting the pirates a profit because the films were copied onto cheaper-to-produce standard DVDs.

Other titles to be included in Sony's initial release of Blu-ray discs in China include "Open Season," the "Spider-Man" trilogy, "XXX," "S.W.A.T.," "Vertical Limit," "Men in Black" and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," some of which never saw theatrical release here.

The first Blu-ray discs sold here will be imported, but Sony plans to begin local production of the discs within the year.

Analysts said that Sony will do well to sell its BDP-S350 model Blu-ray player for a price comparable to its average online price of $268. Chinese-made HD disc players from a Canadian brand called Venturer go for about $248 each.

Sony is in negotiations with the Minnesota-based electronics retail chain Best Buy to carry the new line of HD Blu-ray discs.

In competing efforts to tap China's home entertainment demand, this month Warner Bros., which founded a joint venture home entertainment business in China in 2005, announced it would release its titles via a VOD Web site.