Interview with Toshiba GM, Mark Whittard
At the conclusion of the press conference to announce Toshiba's dissolution of the HD-DVD format in Sydney yesterday (which I attended and live-blogged here), we had the opportunity to ask Toshiba Australia's general manager Mark Whittard a few questions. He was gracious enough after what must have been a hard few days to remain more than happy to give us his time.
TweakTown: Was it naďve to think that Toshiba could go up against the conglomerate of companies in the Blu-ray Disc Association, and expect to win?
Mark Whittard: Well, as I explained back when the formats were first being developed and ratified, the DVD forum approved HD-DVD as the successor to DVD, and that was a 200 member strong forum; it still is today, and that includes the Blu-ray association and all of the studios - the vote was to go with HD-DVD, and those guys went off and developed their own format and kept that under closed discussion. So our view was we were in a position of strength and HD-DVD would prevail, and up until recent events in the marketplace we were doing very well.
TT: Do you think Toshiba's aggressive pricing, in the U.S. especially, scared off other manufacturers from producing HD-DVD players?
MW: I don't think so, because there weren't many manufacturers supporting HD-DVD that were considering entering the market; they already had. A few of the Blu-rays had twin players, Samsung and LG for example. There were a few brands bringing out their own HD-DVD players, and they were already in the market. The strategy behind the price drops in the U.S. and here in late January was really to try and regain market share that we had lost, post the announcement by Warner.
TT: And I guess, in hindsight that can be seen as a 'fire sale'. Was that at the time a legitimate…
MW: Look, you could say it was a fire sale, but it wasn't. It was a legitimate strategy to get share back, and we did, just not as much as we expected. As I said, in the U.S. the share went from just under 10 percent to back above 30 percent, but not back to where we were before Christmas, which was 50 percent.
TT: How long do you suspect the current inventory will last in terms of retailer's stock, and your stock?
MW: I'm not up to speed with the total channel inventory at the moment; we are having discussions with retailers over the next few days about this. Look, it depends on the strategy that we formulate with each of those retailers. It depends on whether they decide to package it with something, or go with different marketing of the product and the inherent value in the product. But we would expect to sell through those by the end of March.
TT: Do you have any firmware upgrades planned for existing models in the near future?
MW: I believe there was a recent one…
MW: Yep - 2.8, and we will continue to bring them out as required. We're committed to that.
TT: But none in the near future?
MW: I don't know. I can't answer whether there is any planned at the moment. But we publicly accept to bring updates to the market.
TT: The movie redemption offer, [for consumers who purchase a HD-DVD player], I think the current one ends in April?
MW: Yes, end of March.
TT: That will be continuing?
MW: Yes, people can still redeem their movies.
TT: Toshiba always indicated that the consumer would decide the fate of the formats - put it out there and they would decide. Do you think ultimately the studios and retailers decided?
MW: Yeah, look that's an interesting question. I think certainly the studios and retailers added significant influence on the consumers, so therefore you could argue that they swayed the consumer, but ultimately the consumer still makes the decision to purchase the product and I think the combination of the two is still driving the consumer towards Blu-ray.