The Meaning of Success

April 05, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

It figures that just as I get around to writing something about the "success" of the UMD format, the news is leaking into the mainstream media about its imminent demise. Oh well - timing is everything, and mine wasn't that good.

Actually, though, the death of the UMD format proves one of the points I made yesterday. How? See if you can follow this reasoning. It's not convoluted, but I'm not sure it's strictly intuitive.

Part of my thesis yesterday was that kids and teens love portability, and therein lies the core of their fascination with the PSP/UMD. However, for anyone over the age of 18 (or thereabouts), the PSP is a useless gadget for movie watching. (Every adult I know who owns a PSP uses it for gaming, although it's not as popular as Nintendo's Gameboy.)

Thinking about it, it's logical that UMDs aren't selling well. Consider that their target audience is kids in the 8-18 age range. For the most part, these are not individuals with a large base of disposible income. Those in the lower portion of that bracket rely on an allowance. (What's the going rate these days? $10 per week? I used to get a buck.) Those in the upper portion may have part-time, minimum wage jobs with a weekly salary of between $50 and $100. At $20 per title, UMDs are too pricy for those possessing such thin wallets. With no adults buying them, except as gifts, it's surprising there's any market for the discs.

The bottom line, as I see it, is not that UMDs are a failure in all aspects, but that they are a financial failure. The concept works. Kids and teens love them, but they can't afford them. Sony's error, in this case, was pricing the product out of the range of the primary demographic. If UMDs sold for $5 each, stores would have trouble keeping them on the shelves.

This bump in the road isn't going to damage the trend towards minaturization. As I mentioned yesterday, there are plans afoot to make movies available on cell phones, and the iPOD is already a popular video watching device. And that brings me to another topic. Which is the preferred method of owning a movie: a hard copy (DVD) or a soft copy? Therein, I suspect, lies the next home movie battleground - and one that could render the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD struggle moot.