Almost a year ago, I briefly mentioned Bandai’s plans to start offering DVD+UMD packs and pointed out that this “deal” is a fine illustration of what DRM is all about: it prevents content portability, thus forcing you to buy the same stuff over and over again. Consumers have understood this on time (or maybe nobody was really interested in watching movies on-the-go), and voted with their wallet: UMD movie sales are absolutely down, up to the point where the big movie production houses have announced (or are about to do so) that they’ll stop doing UMD releases, but stick to DVDs instead.
Possible reasons why the UMD failed as a movie format:
- According to the article I linked to, the studios released too many movies, too fast.
- Not enough demand for on-the-go movies. From the article: “The arrival last fall of Apple’s video iPod only hastened the PSP’s decline as a movie-watching platform.” Make the comparison: expensive, physical UMDs featuring full-length movies you can only watch on a PSP or rather cheap, downloadable movie files featuring TV programs you can watch on your Windows/Mac machine and iPod. (note: I didn’t say I like Apple’s video store initiative – it just seems to “work” better than Sony’s UMD model)
- A business model built around DRM incompatibility. Sony expected consumers to buy the same content twice, but instead, a lot of PSP users simply circumvented their DVDs’ CSS and ripped the resulting VOB files in a format suitable for the PSP (as suggested by the article‘s “I think a lot of people are ripping content and sticking it onto the device rather than purchasing”). Also, the artificial reduction in screen real estate — movie files played from a MemoryStick only play at a smaller resolution as UMD movies — didn’t entice them to buy UMDs instead.
- Region control mess, which makes it impossible to watch a Japanese UMD movie on an American PSP. And that is just one example.
- The proprietary, completely closed format that is UMD. As far as I know, there are no devices other than PSPs capable of reading UMDs, let alone writing to them. Increasing the number of devices that can read/write UMDs would confirm that the now meaningless U in UMD stands for something and position it as a media format worth caring about.