UMD movies are hot. Why?

I'm the type of person who will completely admit when he's wrong. So, I was wrong. Way wrong. So wrong that it's not even possible to be more wrong. UMD movies have taken off. They're so hot, retailers are scrambling to find space for all of the new product. Don't believe they're selling? Movie studios are pumping out product so fast, we'll already see Thumbtanic on UMD by the end of the year.

They don't seem to mind either, with over two million of the discs sold to date. There's a bigger question, and that's why. I went into a Best Buy store last week and scanned the sections. Some are $15, some are $20, and some are ridiculously priced at $30. People buy them, and cost doesn't seem to be a factor.

After an employee approached me (which is impossible not to happen in their store, annoying or not), I decided to see what he thought. It was a rare situation, where an employee actually knew and understood the product, enough to have an intelligent conversation with at least. We seemed to agree on a few points.

1. The first is that parents will do anything to keep their kids quiet. They run into the store, grab what's appropriate, and run off. Price is no object as long as they can have a quiet kid for two hours.

2. People think they're games. With a price point so high, it's not hard to look at Pirates of the Caribbean and think it's a video game, especially if they're uniformed. After all, the PSP is a game machine first.

3. Video quality. These things are undeniably gorgeous. They likely put out a better picture than most people's TVs.

4. Convenience is probably the most obvious of the lot. Grab a small disc and pack it up. You have a game system, MP3 player, picture viewer, and movie format all in one.

If you think about each of those, they can quickly be shot down too. Why would a parent not buy a game instead, especially with playtimes into the 10-hour mark in certain titles? The PSP owners are the tech savvy type, and certainly know what they're doing, so they're buying games they know are games. Even still, it's not enough to sell that many discs by accident. Convenience is great, but why not just plunk down the $80 or so for a portable DVD player and use your existing discs?

That leaves us with video quality, and whether or not $250 is worth it to play a movie format that can only be viewed on a single machine is debatable. Parents aren't going to rush in and plop $30 each car trip, and dropping that much money for the console alone for a 10-year old probably hasn't happened very often.

That left us with even fewer answers and more questions. We dug into the computer to look at some of the upcoming titles, and maybe even pick a few out we ourselves would buy. I noticed Ghostbusters, one of my all time favorite movies, and pointed it out.

Looking at this title, it's coming out on a special edition DVD and UMD on the same day. The DVD comes in a set, with the original movie, the lackluster sequel, and episodes of the cartoon series (not to mention other extras). It was listed as $14.99. The UMD's price? The same, with only the original movie and no extras. I quickly changed my mind.

Another employee came over and the guy I was chatting with told him about what we had found. This new guy pointed out something even more surprising. He cashiered a few nights back on a particularly busy day, and waited on at least three people who were buying BOTH a DVD version of a movie and a UMD (yes, the same movie). This gets even more baffling.

It's safe to say again that PSP owners are the tech savvy type, falling right in the core demographic entertainment companies rely on. With the PSP, you can rip DVDs to a memory stick, the same way you can MP3s. Illegal? Yes, in one of those legal gray areas. Why would someone who bought the DVD buy the other?

There is that chance they were buying for someone else of course. The sales numbers, well, they don't really seem to indicate that. I'm in no position to determine how people spend their money; I'm simply curious, especially considering what they cost. Who are these being sold to, and why? What benefits do they offer a user, at least enough to warrant a $30 purchase?

At this rate, I don't think I'll ever figure it out.

Comments (10)

LKM:

That may sound pretty mean, but I think the people who buy UMDs are the same who bought the PSP: Rich idiots.

Now, before you flame me, not all people who bought PSPs are rich idiots, obviously. The PSP is a good gaming system, and it will only get better, as soon as a few good games start coming out. Which is bound to happen sooner or later. After all, even the Jaguar had some good games. Still, I think most of the people who bought PSPs are the ones who don't really think about what they buy too much, because they have enough money to not bother about a few hundred dollars.

Incidentially, if you don't have to bother about a few hundred dollars, buying the same movie twice so you can impress your yuppie friends by playing it on your PSP may not bother you at all. These are also the peopel who won't bother trying to rip their DVDs, because that takes more time than it's worth to them, especially since it involves figuring out how to actually do it.

There's something else, too: If a studio produces a DVD, it's cheap to also make an UMD, because its content is pretty much a stripped-down version of the content of the DVD. Going from VHS to DVD was a huge step, because it demanded higher-quality movies and additional content. Going from DVD to UMD is the opposite: Lover-quality movies with less additional content. So that explains why UMD movies even exist on the shelves.

However, are UMD movies really successfull in the market? I think not. Stupid rich guys isn't that big a demographic. On June 22, Slashdot had an article in which Sony bragged that they have sold more than 100'000 UMDs. They bragged about this, but if you think about it, it's a huge failure. It means that only about 5% of all PSP owners bought a UMD!

So, even though there are lots of releases, the sales aren't there. Hence, as of now, UMD is still a failure in my view.

However, are UMD movies really successfull in the market? I think not. Stupid rich guys isn't that big a demographic. On June 22, Slashdot had an article in which Sony bragged that they have sold more than 100'000 UMDs. They bragged about this, but if you think about it, it's a huge failure. It means that only about 5% of all PSP owners bought a UMD!

Really, that's as outdated a stastic as you can find. Five movies alone have sold 100,000 copies a piece, and that's only in the US. I used an old estimate at two million, but a recent issue of Home Media Retailing expects the number to be closer to three-four million by the end of August.

There's is TV UMD coming, pro wrestling, anime, classics, and nearly every major DVD each week is releasing side by side. They are hot, and retailers want this stuff. They're just not sure what to do with it.

LKM:
a recent issue of Home Media Retailing expects the number to be closer to three-four million by the end of August.

I'm not sure how many PSPs Sony has sold by now (they sold half a million in the first 2 days), but I think that's still far less than one UMD per PSP.

Mister Gay:

Damn you! I thought you were going to give us an answer.

I have only bought one UMD movie and that was because I wanted to see how good the picture quality is.

But let me tell you, staring at that tiny screen for 2 hours is gonna make you go blind.

And Coyote Ugly? What the fuck?

I'm not sure how many PSPs Sony has sold by now (they sold half a million in the first 2 days), but I think that's still far less than one UMD per PSP.

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't be surprised if games have barely sold 1-to-1 with all the multimedia capabilities. Many people snapped one up when all the emulators hit just for those. Just because sales of the consoles and movies don't match doesn't mean they're not successful. These are $30 movies we're talking about. Profit wise, this is crazy, and it's pikcing up the slack from DVD sales that are finally leveling off.

Keep in mind the first million also got a free movie (and no, sales numbers are not including it). Those people may not be as inclined to rush out and buy another one, either.

LKM:
Keep in mind the first million also got a free movie

Ah, I thought all of the buyers got Spiderman. So a large part of the UMD sales may be people who just wanna see how the movies look because they haven't got one with their PSP.

Ah, I thought all of the buyers got Spiderman. So a large part of the UMD sales may be people who just wanna see how the movies look because they haven't got one with their PSP.

Could be (and it would depend on PSP sales numbers, which I don't have right now), but I think all of these studios would have done market research a little better to determine if sales will stay around before announcing so much stuff.

LKM:

I just read What's Up With The PSP at 1up.com. They claim that while 2.5 million PSPs have been sold world-wide, "only" around 500,000 UMD movies have been sold.

They attribute the fact that even 500'000 movies have been sold to the idea that people aren't buying games for the PSP (due to the fact that there aren't many good ones) and are instead getting movies so they don't have to feel like they wasted the US$ 250 which they shelled out for the PSP.

I read that article too. But it seems those numbers are grossly outdated. Even though we have seen three months (!!) of no blockbuster games, I still can't see buying a UMD Movie to bide the time.

Update from the Digital Press news person:

More Than 8 Million UMD Movies Sold

Game releases may be slow coming, but Sony reports they’ve sold roughly 8.2 million UMD movies. Movie production is being increased to 500,000 daily thanks to popular demand, with new movie releases easily outpacing PSP game releases.

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