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The Blu-ray Disc journey - number of releases down in 2014 to 2,035 titles

During the first year of Blu-ray Discs' commercial availability in 2006, there were 135 titles released, according to data from home entertainment tracking service 'The DVD & Blu-ray Disc Release Report.' And every year since, there's been a steady climb in retail releases on the format: 297 in 2007, 705 in 2008, 1,061 in 2009, 1,393 in 2010, 1,888 in 2011, 1,919 in 2012 and 2,098 in 2013. That trend changed in 2014, explains Chris Tribbey in this analysis for Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA).

Less than a decade into the format, Blu-ray saw its first-ever decline in releases: after 2,098 titles were released in 2013, only 2,035 hit retail in 2014. Both new theatrical releases and catalog titles saw a decline. New theatrical releases dropped from 462 in 2013 to 424 in 2014, while catalog dropped from 462 in 2013 to 424 in 2014 (after peaking at 537 Blu-ray releases in 2011). The publication defines new theatrical releases as movies that hit theaters 1997 (the first year of DVD) or later, and catalog as any film released before.

The decline in the number of releases doesn't necessarily translate into a decline in the format's popularity with consumers, however, according to industry analysts. "I measure the success of the format by the number of people who own Blu-ray players, how many people rent or buy Blu-rays, and how much they spend," said Vincent Moy, entertainment industry analyst with research firm The NPD Group. He said that NPD has seen "consistent year-over-year increases on all three of these measures, indicating Blu-ray Discs are not only alive and well, but growing in popularity."

The number of Blu-ray titles released is less important than how many of the discs actually sold, Moy said, and the Blu-ray buyer tends to be among the early adopter crowd: younger, well-educated males with disposable incomes - the type of consumer many might assume are moving away from physical disc. "It's DVD buyers who reflect an older, less tech savvy consumer by comparison," Moy said.

Victor Matsuda, chairman of the global promotions group for the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA), echoed those thoughts: teens and young adults represent about half of the Blu-ray buying audience, he said, and part of the reason is the studios? commitment to combo packs, where DVD, Blu-ray and a digital copy of the film are packaged together.

Matsuda did acknowledge the slow-down in Blu-ray releases: "The publishing of catalog on Blu-ray certainly seems to have plateaued, but you've seen a lot of downsizing at the studios, where they're being more careful with the number of their releases," Matsuda said. "There are fewer releases in theaters, and direct to video is down as well."

But Bill Hunt, editor of home entertainment news service, said the problem with Blu-ray - and disc in general - is more complicated than downsizing. He said it's a large-scale shift to digital and away from physical disc by he studios that's the problem. He pointed to the news earlier this month that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment would be discontinuing disc releases of The Simpsons, the longest-running scripted TV show in America.

"That's the kind of the thing that drives people crazy. They start buying a favorite TV show on Blu-ray, and then the studio just stops putting it out," he said. "I hear from a lot of readers that a lot of what people would like to buy, the major studios just aren't releasing on disc."

The 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger film True Lies has never seen a Blu-ray release. James Cameron's 1989 The Abyss hasn't either. Neither has one of the most popular American TV shows of all time, The X-Files. You can buy them all today via digital outlets, but by not releasing them and many others like it on Blu-ray, the studios are shooting themselves in the collective foot, Hunt said.

"If you make a really good box set you can charge $50, maybe $90, but you'll never, ever be able to charge that much for a download," he added. "Once you can download a title in 1080p, nobody will ever download that title again. You're ending the whole motion of people purchasing content, and it's the industry cutting off its own leg."

Adam Gregorich, administrator with online home entertainment community Home Theater Forum, said the decline in Blu-ray Disc releases is just a symptom of the times: the studios are focused on digital, and have farmed out much of their catalog product to independents.

"The main studios - with some exceptions - have mostly given up on catalog," he said. "Most of the catalog released now is coming from Shout! [Factory], Kino [Lorber], Twilight Time, Olive [Films] - where the main studios are willing to focus on new to home video releases, and open up their catalog for others to take care of it for them."

Independent distributors like Criterion, Shout! and Twilight "have done a great job matching the right titles with the right titles with the right consumers, knowing they can definitely move some units," Hunt added. But "The major studios have no interest in doing that whatsoever. They've shaved their staffs down so much, and they're farming things out - I can't tell you how many fans would love a Tombstone or The Rocketeer special edition. But they're not going to do it."

However, the slowdown in Blu-ray releases shouldn't be equated with the demise of physical disc, NPD's Moy stressed. "Combo packs help viewers future-proof their collections, and give greater flexibility for changing tech situations," he said.

For information on MESA, visit:

Story filed 04.05.15

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