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Is UMD dying? Sony ponders TV hook up

UMD under threat as lack of major releases hamper US sales, Sony plot TV hook up and digital distribution answer

Recent disappointing sales of UMDs over in the States have forced Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and some of its main partners -including Paramount and Warner - to cut back on its schedule of new releases. In response, Sony is pondering a link between your PSP and TV, while it waits for its digital distribution service to kick in.

Speaking over on the estimable Video Business Online, Sony Pictures president Ben Feingold said Sony was reducing the number of new UMD releases in the US due to poor overall sales, but its solution is to make UMDs play on your home telly. "It would be a huge boost to if we can arrange for the [UMD] disc to play on TV players," said Feingold. Sony will be trying to whip up support for the idea by going out and pitching it to the major distributors in the next couple of months.

Over in the US, top selling UMD titles shift around 100,000 copies, although it's widely accepted by the industry that your average, run-of-the-mill UMD title will sell between 40- and 50,000. Apparently, the US performance has been affected by a distinct lack of compelling new titles recently and piracy may also be a factor, as well as PSP owners simply ripping their DVDs straight to memory stick for viewing.

March will see the US launch of Sony's Connect digital media store, which will allow PSP owners to download movies direct to their PSP and then watch them without a disk, bypassing the UMD format altogether. Digital distribution could be the saviour for the PSP's movie playback, as it will undoubtedly face increased competition from HD-DVD and Blu-ray, which are set to make a huge splash this year.

Given a choice it seems unlikely anyone would pay for multiple versions of the same movie - and would you really buy a UMD when you could have a high def DVD version of the movie for a couple of quid more? Sony would be wise to opt for an iTunes style solution, where you could download a UMD-formatted version of your favourite movie from Connect, for a reduced price.

Sony certainly will need to take some positive and radical steps to revive the format, with retailers apparently suffering a lack of confidence and even major partners like Warner admitting the format is under pressure. "We are re-evaluating our position on any future releases [on UMD] at this time," said Jeff Baker, Warner's senior VP. "We're disappointed with consumer demand."

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