In the 12 months since Blu-ray emerged victorious over HD DVD in the battle for high-definition format supremacy, BD-Live has gone from having huge potential as a key sales and marketing feature to becoming a footnote on the spine of a handful of Blu-ray movies. And despite the fact that some studios like Disney are actively pursuing the technology, its implementation still feels like a random collection of ideas that lacks cohesion and focus. And sadly, it doesn’t really look like things are going to change any time soon.When the format war ended, BD-Live was little more than a pipe dream with a lot of potential – no Blu-ray players other than the PS3 were equipped with the necessary hardware to support BD-Live. In fact, it wasn’t until the middle of last year that we started seeing hardware that was BD Profile 2.0 capable. Instead there was a lot of confusion – brought on by the Blu-ray group themselves – between Profile 1.1 (Final Standard Profile) and Profile 2.0 (Full Profile) and their respective capabilities. It was only in the latter stages of 2008 that sanity started to occur and the majority of Blu-ray players released were Profile 2.0 capable.
Even so, it was June when the first movie capable of BD-Live was released in Australia. The movie was Men In Black, and the bonus, digital content was in the form of “a BD-Live multi-player Interactive Trivia Game, as well as exclusive downloadable theatrical and home entertainment previews and a FAQ about BD-Live functionality”. In other words, nothing very exciting. In fact, plugging in the movie today, there’s no BD-Live trivia game, the exclusive trailers are for movies like Monster House and Open Season and the previews all seem old and out of date as well.
But in the scheme of things, Men In Black was small fry. A testing of the waters, if you will. The first major new release Blu-ray release featuring BD-Live was Iron Man, and it proved so popular that it crashed Paramount’s servers. On offer: An Iron Man quiz. Or more precisely, a selection of quizzes testing your knowledge of various aspects of the film. But the catch for this seemingly interesting approach to live online content is in the menu – alongside the option for knowledge quizzes are the unselectable options of creating your own quizzes, selecting the highest rated quizzes and other user-generated content themes. And that’s disappointing, especially considering that there’s been no update to the bonus content since the film was released last year.
Of course, here in Australia, we’re lucky if we even get the BD-Live content at all. Warner Bros, in particular have shunned BD-Live in Australia so far. Even their crowning glory of 2008, The Dark Knight, lacked any BD-Live content for the Australian release. Of course, the US release featured an online discussion with Christopher Nolan, which ultimately proved how much the technology is struggling to find its feet.
Perhaps the problems stem from the fact that unlike the Blu-ray format itself, BD-Live has no standard, no rules on what it can or cannot be. That leaves each studio to come up with their version of how BD-Live should be implemented, and that creates problems. Disney, for example, has jumped on the BD-Live bandwagon, announcing that all their classic releases will feature the online component. The first release to feature it was Sleeping Beauty, and it was in the form of online chat while watching the film, online trivia and the ability to embed a short video from a webcam into the film.
Sony, on the other hand, have tried a few different tacts. Starship Troopers 3 lets you insert a still photo of yourself into certain scenes of the film, which are poorly animated and distracting. 21, on the other hand, lets you play interactive Blackjack with other viewers around the world.
Universal pictures sees BD-Live as a jack of all trades. Cindy McCulloch, marketing director at NBC Universal believes that BD-Live content could be anything, including “deleted scenes, movie trailers or on-set interviews; Interactive features such as polls and games will be available to play or save on your player for later; setting up a buddy list and share your favourite clips and content with your friends; or create your own video, audio and text commentary and chat live while you watch the film.”
But not everyone looks at BD-Live as a worthwhile feature. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks doesn’t believe BD-Live is something can enhance their films, considering their target audience is generally too young: “It’s not our audience – if you think about our movies, they’re mostly films for the family. In particular they’re films that parents purchase for children.”
Perhaps the best implementation of BD-Live so far comes not from a movie, but from John Mayer‘s Where The Light Is Blu-ray concert release. Instead of a gimmicky implementation like live chat with John Mayer, or a game, or being able to put your photo on stage with the singer himself, the BD-Live content is a backstage recording of one of his songs. Of course, once you’ve downloaded the song, there’s little incentive to use BD-Live again, but expanding on that idea (exclusive video blogs from the tour, more backstage clips) could be the shot in the arm BD-Live needs.
Still, the majority of studios are committed to providing discs with BD-Live content. And while its current implementation may not be all that desirable, well-maintained or even entertaining, it’s important to remember that the technology is still in its infancy. The real question is whether or not one we’ll see the studios create a truly engaging way of offering bonus content online for the Blu-ray format at all. Obviously we’re hoping that they do – as the default high-definition medium now, Blu-ray’s success hinges on the extra value it can offer consumers.