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Joone in January; IGN interviews Digital Playground Founder on new details of Blu-ray porn ban,

Porn Valley [IGN.com]- – A good portion of the internet went aflame a few weeks ago when the word went out that Sony was actively blocking adult entertainment from being published on Blu-ray. At the AVN trade show that went down right next door to CES just two weeks ago, Joone, a founder of Digital Playground, the studio most recently known for releasing both X and R rated cuts of the Pirates epic, told a German news outlet that Sony had directly prohibited Blu-ray replicators from working with Digital Playground and other porn producers (story). After the news began to circulate, Marty Gordon, vice-chair of the Blu-ray Disc Association Promotions Committee, stated that, “There is not a prohibition against adult content.”

With conflicting claims from both sides, IGN decided to get the full story from the guy that broke the original news, Joone himself. We took the drive out to the Valley for a sit down chat where we discuss how Digital Playground discovered that it would not be permitted to make Blu-ray releases, learn that the HD-DVD camp provided enthusiastic support, and talk about what we’ll see in terms of interactive content on adult HD-DVDs in the future.

IGN: How did you originally come to discover that Digital Playground was being blocked from releasing titles on Blu-ray?

Joone: As you know, we had originally announced that we were going to support Blu-ray last year. After that we started working hard authoring. There came the time to begin looking for a replicator to make the discs. There aren’t that many replicators out there that do Blu-ray right now. So I started calling them, places here in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany, and they all kept saying, ‘We can’t do it or Sony will revoke our Blu-ray license.’

IGN: Wow.

Joone: So I asked if they could do it on the DL. It’s business, you’re just running discs. But they said no, every Blu-ray disc has a stamp and Sony would be able to tell who made it. So, basically, after talking to all these people, we were basically forced to do HD-DVD.

IGN: And that’s where things stood two weeks ago.

Joone: And then that’s when all this press started coming out, and now today, Sony is saying that, ‘Oh, we don’t discourage people from doing that. Replicators can do whatever they want.’ And I say, great, name me a place that will do it. Let’s not keep it at just talk, show me who will do it. I think they’re just taking a stance of, ‘Okay, we’ll do it,’ but when people call, the replicators will be like, ‘No, we don’t do it.’

I want to do Blu-ray. I want to do all formats. But I don’t have a choice. I want to spend the money. We’re one of the very few companies in this business that can afford to do Blu-ray, but we haven’t had any luck.

IGN: Through the whole process of being blocked, were you in direct communications with Sony?

Joone: I had a person I talked to at Sony, who’s more of a sales-rep. He gets a commission so there’s incentive for him to want to make this happen. I had tried to work with him on UMD as well, and Sony had said that they weren’t going to allow adult content on it. We tried to get an R-rated cut of Pirates on UMD, but Sony Japan said they weren’t going to do it. There was debate about other markets, but by the time it went anywhere the UMD market had gone down and it wasn’t an issue anymore. We talked to other people now and it’s just something they don’t want to touch.

IGN: Marty Gordon issued a statement after yours saying there was no prohibition against adult content. Was that just lip-service?

Joone: I think so. They’re in a war, and they don’t want to look like they’re going to lose on the surface because they don’t have everyone on their side, so they’ll say anything. It would still be great if someone could point me to one company that’s replicating adult on Blu-ray, but we still can’t find any. You’d think after all these interviews someone would call me and say ‘Hey, wanna do Blu-ray?’ But no. They’re doing all this PR like there aren’t any problems, but then when you call it’s a different story.

IGN: There was some debate on the net regarding whether it was actually Sony blocking replication or contracts that the replicators have with the major movie studios. Since that incident where a frame of porn found its way onto Disney discs we’ve heard there are some pretty restrictive rules about replicating adult and mainstream content in the same facility.

Joone: I can’t tell you for sure, but all I can tell you is what I’ve been told by the replicators. They didn’t mention other studios, they didn’t say they have contracts with other studios, they pointed the finger at Sony.

IGN: Directly at Sony?

Joone: Yeah, directly at Sony. They could have said they can’t do it because of Disney, but they didn’t. When you look at it there aren’t that many Blu-ray titles out there. How many Disney titles are there on Blu-ray now?

IGN: Not many.

Joone: So when I talk to these guys I say, ‘I know you’re not running at capacity.’ Because by Christmas there were only 150 Blu-ray titles. That’s not very many. They’re not running millions of titles. I’ve heard the numbers; they’ll run like 20,000 pieces, that’s it. You’ve got machines that are just sitting there, and I’m willing to spend money to run titles. I went so far as to say don’t even put the disc art on there, just give us blanks. Your employees won’t even know what you’re replicating. They thought about that a little bit and then came back and said they still couldn’t do it.

It’s frustrating because I’m a customer and I’m willing to pay. Blu-ray costs so much more than HD-DVD. It’s to their benefit for us to be a part of it.

IGN: Vivid announced recently that they’re going to do a Blu-ray release. What’s the deal with that?

Joone: We’re not sure if they’ve really got a replicator or a $20,000 machine that will let you burn them in quantity. The market isn’t that big so you could spend a weekend burning a few hundred and them bam, you have a Blu-ray title out. I don’t know, they’re saying they have a Blu-ray release but I have yet to find a replicator that will make the discs. As a replicator, your business is to have something to replicate. They should want customers. Within the industry I think of our stuff as the safest to work with. We’re the only company with a cross-over release (Pirates). There’s less of a stigma to it than anything else.

IGN: So was the experience of replicating HD-DVD much easier?

Joone: Much easier. HD-DVD is producer friendly. You can use mostly the same manufacturing and maintain the same pricing. It’s easier for everyone to get into it. For comparison, a Blu-ray disc comes in at about $2.50 replicated from a $5,000 glass-master. HD-DVDs cost about $1.10 and a $2,500 glass-master. For me to duplicate 1,000 pieces, one will cost $10,000 and the other will cost $5,000. For such a new format HD-DVD is much easier to get into.

IGN: Were you at any point in direct contact with Toshiba or the HD-DVD steering committee as this has progressed?

Joone: Let’s just say that HD-DVD really embraced us. A lot. They went out of their way to help us get up and running, help us get what we needed to get product out. They want to remain anonymous, which I promised them, but they were helpful in letting us get our stuff out, as opposed to Sony. Sony is doing a lot of talking now, but I don’t see anything happening.

The HD-DVD guys contacted us after we announced Blu-ray support in January ’06. They came to us and said ‘Look, we can’t do this officially, but we’ll help you with whatever you need, technology, knowledge, we’ll point you in the right directions. We’ll help you do what you need to do to get your content into the marketplace.’ It was awesome. We do our part and they help us with knowledge and advice, the best encoders to use…the same information and support they gave the mainstream they gave to us.

IGN: When did this communication with HD-DVD begin?

Joone: It happened about February or March of last year. Right after we announced Blu-ray support. We worked on both formats well into the summer but then we couldn’t get replication on Blu-ray so we continued with just HD-DVD.

IGN: Were the HD-DVD guys aware that the Blu-ray camp was being difficult?

Joone: Not until really recently. We didn’t want to be in a situation where we’d be saying, ‘If you help us then we’ll only support HD-DVD.’ That wasn’t a position we wanted to be in. The idea was that we’d do Blu-ray and we’d support HD-DVD if they wanted to help, and then let the consumer decide. We didn’t want to be biased or to choose a side. It’s more like we got a bunch of help so we were able to make strides in one format whereas we ended up hitting a wall with the other.

IGN: So, on the basis of everything you’ve learned, the anti-porn stance with Blu-ray was passed down by mandate from Sony.

Joone: Yeah.

IGN: Considering how things have gone, if given the opportunity to make releases on Blu-ray, would you still want to?

Joone: I want the customer to have choices. I don’t want them to be forced into a technology because it’s being supported one way or the other. I want customers to decide what they want to see on a format, not corporations. Customers should decide what’s going to happen.

IGN: Do you think the adult-entertainment industry will embrace the HD formats or will the space be dominated by the high-production-value studios like DP?

Joone: It comes down to your libraries of content. We’ve been shooting, editing, and mastering in HD for three years. The second best company has been doing it about a year, so they only have a handful of titles. Most of the studios will continue to do what they’ve always been doing with DVD releases, and their brand new films may come out in HD.

For the first time ever the industry went into a recession last year, due to the glut of product in the marketplace and all the free porn that’s on the internet. At this point the small to middle tier companies can’t make it because of the internet. Most of these people can’t afford to go the Blu-ray route at this point.

There’s actually one company that replicates about 95% of all the adult content that’s produced in the Valley. They’ve chosen HD-DVD. So when their customers, who are generally technically illiterate, come to them and say they need to do HD, they’ll be told to go with HD-DVD. Everything pretty much points to HD-DVD and adult these days. Even if we find one replicator that says, okay, we’ll do adult on Blu-ray, it’s really hard to get Blu-ray titles done. There just won’t be that many titles. From the customer’s perspective you need to choose the format that will have diverse options.

IGN: How about the issue of the interactive content that’s possible with the next-gen DVD formats?

Joone: We’re early into it, but with every release we’re adding more and more. It’s a huge challenge, actually a lot more challenging than when we started on DVD because the tools aren’t there. We are physically hand-coding the HD-DVD features. The authoring tools aren’t there. Everyone is struggling with it, be it us or mainstream. The difference is on the mainstream side they’re getting help from the Sonys or Panasonics and the like, and they have high-end programmers sitting there and they have hundreds of thousands of dollars to make sure this stuff works, whereas we don’t have those budgets so we have to work smarter. It’s just that the tools aren’t there. You’ve got authors that are used to GUIs but now they have to hand-code things down to exactly where everything is on the screen. It’s pretty insane.

IGN: So do you guys have the animated menus and stuff that overlays the feature while it’s running?

Joone: We’ve got it on our next one. Our first two didn’t have it because we wanted to get something on the market. Our third has it, and our fourth really has it. Each one we’re getting better and better at.

IGN: So do you foresee a time when you’ll be using the picture-in-picture features and interactive bits?

Joone: Oh yeah, it’s great. There are a lot of cool things that we’ll be able to do. It’s just that the authoring side needs to catch up. We think it’ll take a year at least. It’s going to be fun. There will be some interesting stuff. The internet-interactive features of HD-DVD will be cool, but right now no one can make it work. So we’re waiting for the problems to be fixed and for things to develop.

IGN: Thanks very much for your time! We’d definitely like to stay in touch and be abreast of any further developments.

Joone: Definitely, thanks.

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