Pricing IS an issue

In the “Bowl me over with a feather” category, it looks like Sony’s PSP movie format discs (UMD) might be going away.

Disappointing sales have slowed the flow of movies on the proprietary Universal Media Disc to a mere trickle. At least two major studios have completely stopped releasing movies on UMD, while others are either toying with the idea or drastically cutting back.

And retailers also are cutting the amount of shelf space they’ve been devoting to UMD movies, amid talk that Wal-Mart is about to dump the category entirely. […]

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has completely stopped producing UMD movies, according to executives who asked not to be identified by name. Said one high-ranking exec: “It’s awful. Sales are near zilch. It’s another Sony bomb — like Blu-ray.” […]

Any why, pray tell are the movies not selling? The article sites a several reasons.

No one’s watching movies on PSP,” said the president of one of the six major studios’ home entertainment divisions. “It’s a game player, period.”

Observers speculate the studios released too many movies, too fast. Within five months of the PSP’s March 2005 launch, 239 movie and TV titles already were either in the market or in the pipeline — a significantly higher tally than games, according to the DVD Release Report.

First off, let me stand up and say that I am watching movies daily on my train trip to and from work. I usually watch about 2-4 movies a week (35 min train trip, so it takes several trips to make it through a movie). Most of those movies are being ripped (from my personal collection I legally purchased).

And as far as 239 movies… well, I’ve been seeing basically the same core 15 on the shelves of most stores for nearly a year now. I certainly haven’t seen a selection of anywhere north of 50, much less 239. And have you noticed that most of those movies suck? We’re not getting Cinderella Man, we’re getting Are We There Yet?

Perhaps I did burn myself out on in-theater failure movies by buy too many of them at more than double the cost of the DVD I can play anywhere. Oh wait, that’s not it at all.

Sony, the movie studios, and the retailers may believe that the real issue here is something other than price, but for me the issue was price above all else. I was (and am) willing to spend money on UMD discs because they’re much easier to deal with than ripping DVDs, and the quality is much better. But at $30 USD there wasn’t a chance in hell I was buying a single one. I probably own about 8 , and several of the UMDs replicate movies in my 200+ DVD collection. Some of those were bought on eBay for $8, some in stores for no more than $14.99. Anything higher was just price rape pure and simple and I wasn’t and won’t support that.

But while sales were initially strong — two Sony Pictures titles even crossed the 100,000-unit threshold after just two months — the novelty quickly wore off, observers say. The arrival last fall of Apple’s video iPod only hastened the PSP’s decline as a movie-watching platform.

So let me get this straight… the video iPod came out, proving the validity of portable small video and somehow the PSP video concept still failed? When the iPod revolutionized the MP3 player world, all boats rose with the tide – MP3 player sales overall increased. Shouldn’t the same have happened to the portable video category? I honestly wonder sometimes if Sony doesn’t enjoy failure. Perhaps they have some sort of larger corporate strategy that benefits more from failures like this.

But since I was a loyal Sony user (until recently), I’m willing to help them out of this crunch. Sony, I’m positive you’re not listening to me, since I’m one of those pesky consumers, but here’s what you should know for your After Action Review on video:

  • Price – no question in my mind that a movie without special featuresyou can only watch on a portable device costing twice as much as a normal DVD is a bad deal cost-wise. Since I’m not a Rockefeller, I tend to try not to piss away my money on foolish purchases. UMDs (at $30 was a foolish purchase)
  • Focus – Portable devices need short content. I spend 35 mins on the train each day, not two hours. I want TV shows, not movies. The iTunes music store didn’t start with movies, they started with TV. They’re selling a ton.
  • Format – Sony loves their formats. They spend years and years developing them, and then they love them and support them no matter what – kinda like a mom who still loves her drug addicted jailbird. The UMD format was OK, but maybe it wasn’t the right thing. If ripping is so common, why was Sony not a) paying attention to this trend, and b) responding with a new digital format and content store to purchase? Having a stockpile of cool proprietary formats isn’t as cool as making money. Trust me on this one, you’ll be happy you did.

Benjamin Feingold, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment shows why they’re struggling:

[…] Feingold believes the PSP’s biggest drawback as a movie-watching device was the inability to connect the gadget to TV sets for big-screen viewing, “which would have made it more compelling,” as well as the inclusion of memory stick capability.

First of all… duh! The first time I stood in front of the shelf looking at $30 PSP movies I asked myself the obvious question: “Where else can I play this?” The president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment didn’t think the same thing himself? Or anyone under him? No wonder Sony can’t seem to hit the target.

“I think a lot of people are ripping content and sticking it onto the device rather than purchasing,” he said.

He thinks? This seems like something they might want to research… if they didn’t have a format that they’d rather gnash their teeth on that is. This is a laughable thing to say because it shows clearly that they’re not doing the basic homework of either a) researching or b) interacting with their consumers. If it were me, I’d personally want to know what consumers were actually up to. Call me crazy.

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