If you follow the High-Definition format war at all, you’re probably familiar with the weekly sales breakdown published in Home Media Magazine and other places. If you checked them last week, you would have seen something strange.
Something very strange.
At #1, you have Live Free or Die Hard on Blu-ray. This makes sense, since it is both a new release and the action genre fits the “PlayStation 3″ demographic of many Blu-ray disc buyers, but then at #2 we see the animated comedy Open Season. Now if you took a double-take on reading that one, you’re not alone. Open Season doesn’t appear anywhere on last week’s standard DVD sales or rentals charts, nor does it appear on the electronic sell-through and download charts. In fact, Open Season hasn’t appeared on any of the Nielsen VideoScan charts for months – if ever. A quick jump over to Amazon shows why it isn’t on any of the regular charts – it was released on January 30 2007, and with an estimated US box office of only $84m it is highly unlikely anyone would be rushing to buy the title almost a year after it was released. So what gives?
Well, look no further than this Best Buy advertisement, which bundled Open Season with the 40Gb PlayStation 3 for Thanksgiving. Everyone who bought a PlayStation 3 at Best Buy got a free copy of the movie, and those give-aways also got counted as “sales” towards the numbers reported each week in Home Media Magazine. This is a smart move for the BDA, which gets to give away a movie the customer wasn’t going to buy anyway (hence no lost sales), plus they get to inflate the number of discs “sold” and put out a splashy “7 out of 10 discs were Blu-ray” ad.
This is one clear anomaly in the VideoScan data, but if you consider how many bundles, freebies, give-aways, BOGOs (Buy-One-Get-One Free), etc. have been offered by the Blu-ray Disc studios, you can start to draw your own conclusions.
Oh, and before you ask “What about the 5 free movies[PDF] the HD DVD Promotion Group is offering?” the answer is easy – those don’t count in the weekly sales data because they are mail-in rebates; only things physically scanned at the checkout get counted (irrespective of whether they are free or not). This means that, for example, the copy of King Kong bundled with the Xbox HD DVD add-on also doesn’t get counted, nor does the copy of Spider-Man 3 bundled with the PlayStation 3. Only barcodes of discs scanned at registers get counted, even if the customer doesn’t have to pay for them.