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 the 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.