Amazon and Microsoft are joining forces in an alliance that, on the surface, might be a boon to independent filmmakers. The bottom line, though, is that the deal is designed to bolster the chances of the HD DVD format's survival.
On Monday, the companies announced the "1,000 HD DVD Indies Project," which the industry giants developed to lower the barriers to entry for filmmakers to produce and distribute movies on HD DVD. Jointly sponsored by Amazon and Microsoft, the project will provide free authoring and setup services for up to 1,000 selected indie titles.
Specifically, indie filmmakers can produce and distribute their movies through an Amazon manufacturing-on-demand division called CustomFlix, which produces and ships DVDs only as they are ordered.
"Programs like this one from Amazon lower barriers to entry for independent artists and provide audiences with increased access to high-quality, high-definition content," Christian Vesper, senior vice president of programming, acquisitions, and scheduling for Sundance Channel, said in a statement. The Sundance Channel will be reviewing the high-definition features for potential broadcast on the network.
A Boost to HD DVD
Although indie filmmakers certainly stand to benefit, the initiative is one way Microsoft is attempting to keep Sony and the Blu-ray camp from walking away with the format war spoils.
The press release announcing the alliance sings praises for HD DVD. "From a technical standpoint, we found that the HD DVD format fits our business model perfectly," Dana LoPiccolo-Giles, cofounder and managing director of CustomFlix, said in a statement. "With retail shelf space at a premium, our model eliminates the risk of carrying inventory and immediately expands the number of great HD DVD titles available to consumers."
Amir Majidimehr, corporate vice president for the Consumer Media Technology Group at Microsoft, also touted HD DVD's benefits to indies. "The use of Microsoft technology and authoring expertise will ensure that all the HD DVD titles offered by Amazon have impeccable quality," he said, thanks to the "VC-1 codec and innovative interactive scenarios with HDi."
Undoubtedly, the timing of the announcement is no accident. The Video Software Dealer's Association conference is coming up later this month and it is likely that there will be announcements about titles that audiences didn't see in multiplexes coming out on HD DVD.
Richard Doherty, an analyst at Envisioneering Group, called the Amazon-Microsoft alliance "clever." It's good for Amazon, it's good for Microsoft, and it's good for the independent film community that is on a quest to get its productions in front of more audiences, he said. With HD DVD players on the market at $299, this could be one way to expand that audience.
"This alliance is playing to the strengths of HD DVD. It's to be saluted," Doherty said. "It would be a lot harder for Blu-ray to support 1,000 films. The upfront mastering costs and replication costs are higher for Blu-ray. And indie films tend not to need 50 GB of storage, which is Blu-ray's strength."