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Blu-ray Playing Dirty in Hi-Def Format War?

The European Union’s antitrust regulators think they smell something fishy in the high-def format war that has pitted HD DVD against Blu-ray. Many movie studios have decided to exclusively back one format or the other, and the European Commission believes that anti-competitive tactics may have been used to influence those decisions.

Blu-ray’s prevalence among Hollywood movie studios seems to be the cause for concern. Sony Pictures, Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Lionsgate and MGM all release titles exclusively on Blu-ray discs, leaving Universal as the only major studio to produce HD-DVD exclusive releases. The major movie-rental chain Blockbuster also recently announced that it will only offer Blu-ray discs. While exclusivity agreements in themselves aren’t outlawed, the way they were arrived at, as well as their specific terms, may be in violation of European anti-trust laws.

The Commission sent letters movie studios last month asking them to produce documentation of their agreements with format developers, giving them until this Friday to respond. If the resulting correspondence raises red flags, the Commission will launch a full investigation to find out whether any laws were violated.

Although the inquiry is being conducted by European regulators, the results may have implications for the entire worldwide industry. A ruling against Blu-ray’s exclusivity deals could force studios to support both formats, providing even more fuel for the fire in the ongoing format war.