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High-res Discs Miss The Holidays Because of Marketing To Wrong Demographic Print E-mail
Wednesday, 31 December 2003
SACD and DVD-Audio discs were far from the rage this holiday season, as consumers focused their spending on digital cameras, videogames, DTV and DVD-Video. The reasons for the stunning audio formats not taking off are many, but one of the most noteworthy is the fact the discs are marketed to 50-plus-year-old baby boomers. With titles from the likes of the Eagles, Bob Dylan and Santana, both awesome-sounding high-resolution audio formats hope to lure older consumers into changing the way they listen to music. Clearly, this is a lofty goal.

Considering what it takes to make a stereo system play surround sound, perhaps the labels are barking up the wrong tree by marketing to baby boomers so one-sidedly. While this demographic is the biggest in U.S. history, they are not nearly as technically savvy as their children (who make up the second-biggest demographic) nor are they overly willing to change gear or replace their music collections again. Baby boomers remember vividly when CD came out as they repurchased their entire music collections on a digital format. It is hard to blame aging consumers for not flocking to stores to buy DVD-Audio and SACD yet. Home theater and HDTV remains red hot with consumers. DVD-Audio and SACD are complicated to connect and even more difficult to install. Most A/V stores don’t push the gear, because their salespeople are more “order takers” than ambassadors of great sound. Record stores, even in major retail markets like Los Angeles and New York, rarely have dedicated DVD-Audio and SACD sections, and their sales staffs often do not know the difference between a DVD-Audio music disc and a DVD-Video movie. In a recent poll taken as part of a sweepstakes on AudioRevolution.com, a question was asked to entrants as to which DVD-Audio title was their favorite. The overwhelming winner was “Lord of the Rings” – a DVD-Video disc. Both formats have a long way to go to make themselves well-known technologies. For A/V enthusiasts who have tasted the sweet fruit of high-resolution audio in surround sound, the marketing problems both formats are suffering from are truly frustrating. These consumers simply can’t understand why labels are putting out more titles. More titles would help, but the release of more relevant titles is a far more important issue. An executive in the audio/video business recently pointed out that zero of the top 100 records on Billboard’s list were available on DVD-Audio or SACD. This needs to change if consumers are to start to drive the demand for these new formats.

All is not lost for high-resolution audio. DVD-Audio has a foothold in the car market, where DVD-Video has recently become a very hot commodity. The auto market is where satellite radio, another new audio format that competes with DVD-Audio and SACD for mindshare with consumers, is making huge progress and earning over one million new subscribers. The fact is that people trade in their cars (and thus their car audio systems) more often than they upgrade their home A/V systems. Another place where new formats can thrive is in the PC. Tech-savvy people change their PCs nearly every year, and if those machines can play DVD-Audio and or SACD, it will give them reason to try the new formats.

In the end, the record labels have to do a better job of supporting the new formats with titles that matter to the right audience. If the majors all agreed to remaster their 25 most successful new pop albums for DVD-Audio or SACD in high-resolution surround sound, the format would have a chance to speak to younger audiences and baby boomers alike. Deliver stunning audio in computers and cars by the millions and consumers will catch on in a big way. The investment needed from all of the major labels would be in the tens of millions, but the return on investment would potentially be in the tens of billions. Sony Music has made a major effort to release blue chip, back catalogue titles for their SACD format and enlightened audiophiles have raved about their work with the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. Teens and GenXers are less impressed as they download current and back catalogue hit songs by the tens of millions from a number of the pay-per-download sites like Apple’s iTunes.

If by chance labels wait for consumers to figure out the advantages of SACD and DVD-Audio without a big push from the labels, they may realize that consumers will sell out audio quality for convenience of downloadable formats. This paradigm is very dangerous for music, in that if SACD or DVD-Audio doesn’t become a standard for high-resolution audio very soon, labels may never again be able to sell prerecorded music on a physical disc the same way as they have for years. With Internet radio booming, satellite radio now included in millions of new cars and DVD-Video commanding more consumer attention than any popular album, the record business has a big problem on their hands. It is imperative that the major labels make one of these formats a success, or their business may never be the same.

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