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What DVD-Audio Could Learn From The Marketing of DVD-Video and SACD Print E-mail
Saturday, 29 June 2002
The high resolution audio format war continues with no clear cut winner as of the summer of 2002. Sony is making strides in the world of tasty SACD stereo titles geared towards Baby Boomers and audiophiles. Warner Brothers (WEA) remains focused on 5.1 mixes for music which appeals more to home theater enthusiasts and the GenX-GenY audience.

No matter which side of the fence you are on (that’s assuming you have picked sides – yet), if you ask consumers, almost all of them say the same thing. They want to see more worthwhile high resolution recordings hit the shelves before they get started with a new music collection. In the past few months, some major labels have been lowering the price of developing artists (see article here) but at $6.99 for a CD full of music, the profit margins aren’t anywhere near as high as the music industry is accustomed to. As a way to stop the bleeding in the second soft year in a row for music sales, lower prices for new acts isn’t such a crazy idea. However if the music industry wants to continue to develop new artists and formats they are going to need to figure out how to get more money from each software sale. The movie studio’s home video departments have this problem figured out. For $24, you get a full feature movie (that you are unlikely to watch more than twice or three times) loaded with subtitles, commentaries, deleted scenes, multiple surround sound formats and more. People line up all over the world to buy millions of copies of a good new DVD-V title in its first week on the shelves. That is despite copy protection and playback zones that makes transporting DVD-Video discs from other parts of the world difficult. With few exceptions like Eminem and ‘N Sync, you don’t see long lines for people buying CDs as they did a few years ago.

The way to success for DVD-Audio or SACD is to add significantly more value to the disc at a fair price. Imagine, for example, if DVD-Audio discs came with two physical discs at a $19.95 retail price. One disc could be a surround mix like today’s DVD-A discs and some SACDs but the other disc could be even a DVD-Video disc loaded with added value goodies. Perhaps to address the inherently difficult issue of surround sound mixes for DVD-Audio – labels could release hundreds if not thousands of back catalog stereo mastered titles in higher resolution stereo much like the SACD camp’s plan. One audio option could be 24 bit 96 kHz stereo (like on DTS 5.1 CDs and DVDs) for backwards compatibly with DVD-Video players. Another option could be a remaster with an even higher resolution stereo mix of stereo for those who have DVD-Audio setups using the analog outputs into their stereos.

This solution for DVD-Audio, which might be accomplished by the SACD supporters first, addresses getting a critical mass of titles on the street sooner than later as well as the often political process of remastering classic archival stereo material into surround. This is not to say that no one will ever want to master The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd into surround. AudioRevolution.com certainly encourages them to do so, but the high res DVD-Audio stereo idea gives consumers looking for a better sounding back catalog titles a reason to re-purchase an old favorite on a new format now that works on their DVD-Video players even if they don’t yet have a surround sound system. SACD, with its stereo bent and "preferred format" status with media giant, Universal Music Group, has some obvious advantages in the eyes of the public right now. Down the road, DVD-Audio’s bent towards surround sound (SACD can also playback beautiful surround sound yet nearly all titles today are stereo) will appeal to a younger and more viable record buying audience known as Gen X and Gen Y. Then factor in DVD-Audio’s backwards compatibility to DVD-Video, a wildly successful new media, and you have to look at how you can parlay DVD-V’s success into DVD-A or SACD. The trump card could be added value content on a second disc to make either format loaded with entertainment value in ways that make CDs look silly. It could determine a winner if there are enough titles with enough value.

For DVD-Audio loyalists who say releasing titles in high resolution stereo targeted for DVD-Video players is ‘selling out", you might argue the media conglomerates are taking a page from the Microsoft success story. We buy the titles we know and love on one of the two new formats and get hooked on the additional audio performance. Then the labels, a year or two later, come out with the authorized surround sound master version of your favorite record and we are tempted again. You mean to tell me any self-respecting audio enthusiast is not going to buy Dark Side of the Moon in 24 bit stereo that would play on any DVD player? Sure they are. Just as the same people will be in line to buy the Alan Parsons (the original engineer on the album) remixed surround sound version. The risk is, if we have the same old 16 bit CD on the market for the next few years, people will find something else, like DVD-V’s, satellite radio, MP3s or video games to get excited about.

There is no clear cut winner in this format war yet. In fact the aggression between the formats is causing one big loser – the big five media conglomerates – who are suffering through another year of lower sales, even more rampant piracy and dwindling profit margins. That is not to mention the effects on us, the most loyal music consumers. We are most definatley loosing out in this format war too. There are billions of dollars in sales per year up for grabs to the winner of this conflict. We, the consumers, sit with our platinum cards being swiped for $24 DVD-Video movies and video game titles costing $50 per title. It should become enormously evident that consumers are willing to part with alluring amounts of their hard earned cash but not for lousy titles on a 20 year old, lower resolution format.

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