Perceived Value

This article first appeared in Neo #50, 2008.

Back in April 2003, I attended the Tokyo demonstration of Blu-ray. I rushed home trilling about the benefits of an entire TV series on a single disc! Except this was precisely what the Japanese TV industry didn’t want. At meetings with expensive biscuits all over Tokyo, people fretted about Perceived Value. It’s all very well, they said, to cram the entirety of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis onto a single disc, but how much can we charge for it? Will our target 16-year-old buyer really drop £100 all at once on that single disc, particularly if he’s never seen an episode beforehand?

This argument, however, was swept under the carpet, because nobody expected it to be an issue. Blu-ray was never intended for that purpose. It wasn’t there to host ten hours of TV, it was there to allow two hours of movie to stretch out and relax. It was, after all, built to store the much higher memory requirements of HDTV.

Now, I’m ready to believe that if I spend a thousand quid on this or that television set, and upgrade my stereo so it has industrial grade speakers, and basically pimp my lounge into some kind of entertainment temple, that I can get the full benefit of, say, a Blu-ray disc of Ghost in the Shell 2. Those high-definition images will be pin-sharp, that super sound will blow my walls out. But not everything is a movie made with digital technology in mind. Is there really going to be anything on a Blu-ray of Casablanca that will justify me buying all those upgrades?

Many distributors have yet to properly realise the potential in DVD, and yet now they are expected to sell us Blu-ray. Some readers of this column may be eccentric and obsessive-compulsive millionaires who simply must own the newest and latest gadget, but what about teenagers who habitually watch their movies on a titchy laptop? Is Blu-Ray going to make that big a difference to them?

And what about the majority of content, like TV anime from older master tapes that simply don’t have that kind of high resolution? Will you really lose any sleep if you “only” have the DVD of Urusei Yatsura? Do you really want to replace your entire movie collection again?

I’ll tell you who’s going to love Blu-ray the most. Pirates.

Last time I was in Beijing, a grimy man with a box of DVDs offered me Brokeback Mountain for 30c. How long will it be before he’s holding the entirety of The West Wing for a dollar? All of Battlestar Galactica on just four Blu-rays? Sure, it won’t be Blu-ray quality, but it’ll be DVD quality, and wasn’t that good enough for the last ten years? The “perceived value” of Blu-ray to pirates may be more than anyone could have predicted.

5 thoughts on “Perceived Value

  1. This is the exact same point I tried to make with the Beez rep at the Anime UK forum. Not only are they wasting their effort just to service a new system that at present few people have and only teenagers whos’ parents have bought them a PS3 could use, leaving Standard Definition DVD’s to wait even more delays. They should release the SD DVD first then release the BRD later.

  2. Sorry, but I have to disagree with you and @Mohawk52 about this whole issue. With the rapid drop in prices for 1080p TVs, me and a lot of my fellow coworkers have made the upgrade to large HDTVs and we love the quality increase that Blu-ray offers.

    I own so many DVDs that storage is a problem, so if it was possible to have, say all my Sailor Moon DVD’s stored on say 5-10 Blu-rays, I’m all for it. Now, whether the younger PSP/I-pod generation will learn to appreciate and pay for higher quality in-home media is another story.

    Now, to the issues of companies not wanting to part with older (lower resolution) shows at a reasonable price. Remember that for the most part a market is supply and demand driven, the current English language anime industry has forgotten this lesson and that’s why they are in trouble, they overpaid for the rights to mediocre or niche properties, and they are suffering for it. No longer are new anime fans adhering to the “anime-crack is cheaper” mindset, once the industry adjusts to this new reality I feel that sales will go up.

  3. I get what you’re saying in the first part of your note, Chris — several people have said to me that my doubts about Blu-Ray will all slip away once I see what it can really do.

    I certainly agree that many modern anime are puzzlingly overvalued. I still fondly remember, and really must write one day, about the time a Japanese distributor handed me a copy of an awful show (let’s call it Schoolgirl Milky Crisis) and begged me to say what I thought about it somewhere public.

    “If you don’t tell the truth,” he pleaded, “my bosses in Tokyo will make me release it here!”

    I wrote a piece about how terrible it was, but his bosses made him release it in English anyway. It was one of the industry’s worst-ever sellers. There is literally no point in converting that show to Blu-Ray, but I bet someone will.

  4. Chris, you have to remember that unless Sailor Moon, or any pre-HD title, was originally produced in 1080p upconverting it isn’t going to make that big a difference to its quality. And you’ve also hit on another gaff. The Young PS3 gang don’t buy anything anyway, unless Mummy and Daddy aprove it. so it’s a hydding for nothing.

  5. okay a few points to make

    1) People would probably be happy with DVD quality versions of battlestar all one on disc. I don’t think the majority of pirates care, which is why you might go round to one of your dodgier mates houses and they’ll be watching a cinema camcorder copy of some movie, they don’t care you can’t see the picture well enough, they don’t care it’s echoing and full of external noise. They paid £5.00 for a poor copy of a film they could have watched for an extra 70 pence at most, but they now have the benefit of watching it repeatedly.

    2) Most anime shows won’t really look better on Hi def than they do on normal DVD, watching in Blu ray won’t allow me to see extra features on Mr-Me-mania’s deformed face. Though some shows might go htorugh a star war’s esque brushing up, maybe the lines will appear sharper, But even so the aspect ratio will be 4:3 too, unless we’re dealing with something that was made with a widescreen or cinematic intention from the start.

    I think the only thinks that may gain from such choices at the moment are movies, final fantasy & Appleseed. Evangelion 2.0 Might make a welcome addition to the new foray along with other CG movies like resident evil: degeneration and vexille. Wall-E (in my opinion, a mediocre pixar movie) was already commended for looking superb on Blu-Ray.

    I’d actually pay to see more game cutscenes be ripped into movies, imagine the beautiful character development of FFX and those gorgeous cutscenes all packed into an 8 hour movie across 4 discs. It’d save you some 60+ hours playing the thing. Just last year I watched 8 hours of Metal gear solid 4 storyline on youtube, it took me 3 days and alot of streaming. Why? because I had played the previous games including the mobile versions of MG1 & 2 included on MGS3:SE. But I didn’t have a PS3. There is definitely a market there too. Resident evil 4 already had a dvd release in japan compromising of most of the main storypoints, condensed into a movie that lasted 90 minutes. Games have done it themselves.
    Shenmue 2 on xbox included a dvd movie containing all the plot from the first game. Xenosaga 2 did the same as the first never came out over here, though that proved to be a bit of a moot point as subsequently the game lead into Xenosaga 3 which also never managed to get released in the UK.

    I seem to have trailed off on my own tangent/wishlist. I say for now keep anime on dvd, VHS allowed to few episodes to be released at a time, and BR may offer too many for your average spoilt Jetix kid. DVD’s already underuse the space they are allocated which is why your average volume of , shall we say “schoolgirl milky crisis” includes the bonus feature of “trailer” and both English and Japanese languages, but subtitles that are exactly the same as the dub dialogue instead of a more literal iteration.

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