Some tech urban legends are hard to dispel. Years ago, it was thought the lack of support from adult-entertainment content producers toward Betamax was the reason why Sony ( SNE) lost the video format wars in the 1980s. It's true that Sony didn't work with adult content producers, and the Betamax standard certainly was wiped out by VHS. But that's doesn't necessarily cement a cause-and-effect relationship. However, a similar causation theory has been recently making the rounds that the adult-film industry will drive the next-generation DVD battle between the Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats. And the idea has seemed to gain some credibility because of Sony's refusal to work with the adult entertainment industry. So does that mean the Sony-backed Blu-ray standard will go the way of Betamax? Not likely. This time around, Sony could be making the right moves. The Internet changed the way adult content is viewed and delivered, and what's more, by taking the moral high ground Sony may actually be securing Blu-ray's future. Sony has received much recent flak for its decision to not work with adult-content producers. While it hasn't said it won't allow adult-entertainment content on the Blu-ray format, it has damned content producers by not cooperating.
Its disc-replicating subsidiary, Sony DADC Global, won't handle adult-film titles, and that forces producers to find another way to reproduce their content in bulk onto Blu-ray discs. But even if many of those producers move to HD DVD, here's why it won't really matter: In the 1980s, tapes and the neighborhood video rental store were probably the only way to get to adult content. Now much of it is viewed online. The Internet has made it easy and anonymous to get access to movies that are too embarrassing to request in person. While Blu-ray or HD DVD may offer greater clarity, the big question is, how much does the average viewer want to sacrifice Internet anonymity for the pleasure of walking into a seedy video store in person to rent a hi-def disc? There's another reason why Sony could be doing the right thing. The company also needs to protect its PlayStation franchise. Sony has tied the fate of its PlayStation franchise to its bet on the Blu-ray standard. Without the Blu-ray disc player, its PlayStation 3 video-game console would be a lot cheaper. At the same time, the consoles are the primary delivery vehicle for the Blu-ray players. "Sony is trying to demonstrate they care about the home environment and what type of content can be played on a PlayStation 3," says Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research. "Its kind of patronizing that they would do such a thing, but it will appeal to parents who worry about their kids playing video games and what kind of content is available to them."
And Sony's public announcements notwithstanding, it isn't completely giving up on the adult-entertainment industry. The Sony-backed Blu-ray Disc Association is trying to broker peace. "There is not a prohibition against adult content within the Blu-ray Disc Association," said Marty Gordon, vice chair of the BDA U.S. Promotions Committee and vice president of Philips Electronics' ( PHG) Hollywood Office. "The BDA is an open organization that welcomes the participation of all companies interested in using and supporting the format, including those that represent the full spectrum of genres in the content industry." This way, Sony gets to have its cake and eat it too. Sony can continue to publicly not support Blu-ray but hope that the Blu-ray lobbying group can work out a better relationship with adult-content producers. It's also worth remembering that what really won the day for VHS were cost, recording time and licensing issues with Sony. Betamax tapes could record content for about 60 minutes, while VHS tapes were three hours long. While bulkier, VHS tapes were perfect for recording movies, and the industry took to them. VHS tapes were also cheaper to produce -- they cost less than half of what it took with Betamax. When adult-entertainment producers opted for VHS, they signaled the winner in a battle whose conclusion seemed clear. As with the videotape standoff, whichever DVD format consumers deem as the most user-friendly will ultimately take the commanding lead; the adult film industry will follow the leader.