There's a lot of UHD Blu-Ray fans at AVS. And that makes sense: It tops quality by a wide margin. But I think the belief in the format is very misplaced.
Here's the bullish case for long-term availability:
-- There are still LPs
-- There are still CDs
-- Lossy, crappy MP3s more or less destroyed the physical, packaged sound business but there are still LPs!!!!
Here's the bear case:
-- People most don't pay for quality.
-- Yet streaming has good quality that most people find excellent.
-- And it's far more convenient.
-- There is no meaningful 4K rental market. There has never been a packaged video medium in the U.S. that has survived without robust rental availability.
-- Worse, rental is dying period. It's not just a 4K problem, it's a "you can't rent too many places anymore problem."
-- In the U.S. last year, sales of packaged video products fell another 14.5%. That's on the heels of a 14% fall in the prior year. It's a small acceleration percentage wise, but off a rapidly shrinking base that's a "yikes" moment. The total for sales is now 17% of what DEG calls Home Entertainment spending. (That's sales, rentals, streaming.)
-- The total for disc sales is now 1/3 of total box office. It was much higher a decade ago by ratio.
-- BluRay revenue has been flat between 2011-16 (more or less). It's almost certainly fallen since (Source
-- I don't have numbers handy but that $4B is still probably about 1/2 DVD. Yes, DVD. BluRay has taken an increasing piece of the pie annually, but unless something step-wise happened in past 2 years, it's probably on the order of 50:50. Obviously, UHD BluRay is a tiny fraction of that.
A realistic forecast:
-- Nothing is going to increase sell through of media. Especially when major brands like Samsung aren't even promoting the format.
-- Sales of media will fall by 12-20% annually for the next 5 years. A bullish case is that sales are $2B in 2024. Bearish? <$1B.
-- Let's say BluRay has 80-90% share of disc sales by then, so ~$800M-$1.8B.
-- The good news? That could mean BluRay itself stays flattish through the 5-year period. That's not actually likely -- BluRay sales are falling, fewer blockbuster hits on disc, fewer titles overall, etc. (Source
-- Of whatever total remains, it's likely UHD will have an outside presence because of higher buy rates
-- But we're talking 50% HH penetration for disc players in 2024. Maybe 10% for UHD BluRay (?). At $2B and 70MM HHs, that's about $28 per HH that still buys discs. The sobering math there is the average BluRay home will be buying ~1 disc per year. Many will be buying zero, which is pretty awful for the future.
-- Still, it's not hard to see $500MM in UHD BluRay sales in 2024, with perhaps $100-200MM as a lower bound? Today, brick and mortar rental (i.e. like Blockbuster, not Redbox) is $315MM annually.
-- So 5 years from now, if UHD BluRay still is produced, it'll be comparable to the volume done in brick and mortar video stores today!
Of course, things could end sooner
-- One or two major studios dropping support for UHD BluRay begins a death spiral. --
That Chinese consumers are the growing part of the movie industry and don't use disc players much (at all?) could cause priorities to shift.
-- Streaming is going to continue to improve rapidly
. Better sound (please!), nonsensical support for 8K (inevitable).
-- It's much easier for Amazon/Apple/Walmart to add support for a new sound or video innovation than to get a disc format produced. Existing player devices can often be upgraded, and new ones often cost ~$50 while remaining automatically backwards compatible.
Rather than say definitively UHD BluRay is doomed soon (it probably is already doomed, but for enthusiasts that might not matter!), it's safe to say
-- There will not be another movie disc format introduced. No one will support this at studios or in CE.
-- UHD BluRay will be the "hanger on" but it might be DVD that survives last due to the larger installed base.
-- By 2025, it will be challenging to find standalone UHD BluRay players for sale from any major maker. Used Xboxes will be desirable (!)
-- The studios will eventually look at these sales as rounding errors. If they come up with better selling techniques (rent spend convertible to ownership as a ubiquitous feature e.g.), valuable extras (I'm thinking Atmos not deleted scenes), etc. then disc sales will decline much more rapidly.