April 11, 2007 in Business

BlueRay has a vision for Spokane

Staff writer
 

A player in the technology battle to replace DVDs is coming to Spokane.

California-based BlueRay Technologies Inc. has agreed to purchase a downtown building to house a $12 million environmentally friendly plant to manufacture and distribute Blu-ray discs – a digital medium that offers greater capacity and a clearer picture than DVDs – company officials said Tuesday.

Slated to open as early as June, the plant will become the first U.S.-owned-and-operated producer of Blu-ray discs, company representatives say. It will employ 10 to 20 workers at first, with many drawn from the Spokane area, and may expand to 100 to 150 once distribution functions go online.

The 12,000-square-foot factory, which will also manufacture traditional DVDs, CDs and HD DVDs, will run nonstop and is expected to produce 100,000 discs a day initially, according to Greater Spokane Incorporated.

Company leaders refused to disclose the exact location of the building until the sale is finalized.

“That will be our flagship – the main plant,” said Bobby McGee, vice president of international sales for BlueRay.

Local firm Gibby Media Group of Spokane Valley, an equity partner in BlueRay, will oversee operation of the plant and run an authoring and editing studio, said company CEO and President Lon Gibby.

The production facility is part of a recently unveiled co-venture by BlueRay and the independent film production and distribution company Film and Music Entertainment Inc., of Los Angeles, to offer independent filmmakers a way to distribute their work on the new format.

Major movie companies have taken high-definition disc production abroad, and smaller studios currently must wait to get orders filled, Gibby said.

The plant will also have the ability to produce discs containing music, video games and corporate presentations.

“It’s a really great package that ties everything together,” said Gibby, who is contributing proprietary GibbyDisc software to support playback of Blu-ray discs made in Spokane on Windows-based computers. “Not only the technology, but a disc that is uniquely different.”

Pushed by Sony Corp., single-layer Blu-ray discs can hold 25 gigabytes of data — more than five times the storage capacity of a standard DVD – so they can offer more special features. But they require a high-definition television for viewing, and only certain movie studios, such as Disney and Sony, release titles in Blu-ray because others favor its technological competitor — Toshiba-backed HD DVD.

Locked in a “format war” reminiscent of the early 1980s competition between VHS and Sony’s Betamax home videotape recording format, Blu-ray and HD DVD require different hardware to play. Sony’s PlayStation 3 offers a Blu-ray drive, while Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has an add-on HD DVD drive.

“Once somebody sees high-definition, it’s very difficult to go back to looking at a standard DVD,” said Gibby. “It’s like seeing it for the first time because the detail is so good. The industry is just going to be going crazy here shortly, just like what happened with DVD and VHS.”

HD DVDs offers 15 gigabytes of storage.

Many Blu-ray and HD DVD drives are reverse-compatible, meaning they will play DVD or other discs.

BlueRay CEO Erick Hansen, a DVD pioneer, said he envisions a sustainable facility in Spokane that will also feature a “Disney-like experience” including a facility tour, exhibits about the history of media and an interactive area where children can create music, video games or movies.

Attracted to downtown by its historic, refurbished buildings, low cost of living and by potential tax incentives, BlueRay leaders considered several structures ranging from 20,000 to 120,000 square feet, McGee said.

“It’s beautiful, the town,” McGee said. “So we want to be a part of that, we want to be conscious of your environment, your economy.”

Gary Mallon, technology industry manager for Greater Spokane Incorporated, said BlueRay may take advantage of a city tax incentive that would allow it to defer sales tax on purchasing equipment. It might also use a tax credit for hiring people who live within the Spokane Community Empowerment Zone — a region that includes downtown — and for locating the factory in an older building, he said.

Mallon said the company’s use of clean technology and digital media lends itself to Spokane values.

“It’s actually come to fruition very quickly relative to a lot of our projects,” he said. “The value is going to be tremendous.”

BlueRay has purchased its equipment, which will be in the U.S. in about five weeks, said Steve Werblun, a BlueRay spokesman.

“It should change entertainment technology business in this country, just because we’re doing it here,” Werblun said.

Spokane is also a suitable location because it will be a “safe haven from piracy” compared to disc-production plants abroad, Gibby said. The company can trust the Spokane workforce not to steal copyrighted material, protecting filmmakers’ work, he said.

Gibby Media Group will use a new Blu-ray authoring and editing suite in Spokane to compress material provided by motion picture companies and add interactivity to discs, Gibby said.

The 30-year-old company, which currently employs eight, may need to hire a handful of new programmers, graphic artists and other staff, he said.

The plant will house equipment in the basement, using heat generated by the machinery to warm upper floors, Gibby said. Sales for the joint venture, Edge of Light Media, will be handled by Film and Music Entertainment, and the new company will help distribute discs produced in Spokane.

Film and Music Entertainment Inc. CEO John Daly is known for his role as executive producer of movies such as “The Terminator” (1984) and “Platoon” (1986).

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