UMD’s downfall

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.

Comments on “UMD’s downfall” (feed)

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  1. Also, at least here in Australia, UMD discs cost more than the same DVD. (roughly $40 UMD, $30 for a DVD). For half the resolution, playable on an extremely limited number of devices (ie. one, the psp) and no extra features. I can see why you’d want that – NOT.

    I don’t own a PSP but if I did, I would feel 100% justified in ripping a legally purchased DVD onto it. Pretty certain Australian law is against this however.

    » Michael Henderson on April 11th, 2006 at 15:29

  2. When I put my UMD DISC INDIDE MY PSP it doesnt work

    » Carl Robinson on November 30th, 2006 at 01:12

  3. Jeez. I wonder why blu-ray or should I say, blo-ray wasn’t purposly designed this way. Maybe the hardware makers and movie studios finally realized from UMD that blu-ray would have no chance of adoption if it was propriety like the UMD.

    » TT on May 8th, 2008 at 10:39

  4. I don’t know who it was that invented the invisible consumer law, whether it was market forces or God Himself..Basically it boils down to this.. No open portability, no blank media, no burners for the format, no reasonable prices= consumers not buying. Look at DVD’s. They have been pirated left and right in Chinese countries, theres zillions of ripping programs, cheap burners, and tons of blank media, and yet everyone, including the movie studios are making billions. Look at the UMD, a closed, locked in, overpriced format and virtually no money made, with everyone losing. Even the movie studios are getting a clue. Sony still doesn’t get it.

    » Stud on May 8th, 2008 at 10:45

  5. Yup. Bang Bang hittin your head on a brick wall, Sony hittin his head away, money goin away, people goin away, soon Sony to wither and blow away

    » Brickwall Jackson on May 8th, 2008 at 10:57