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The Music Industry's CD Fixation Is a Lesson in Complacency

4 Aug, 2003 By: Stephanie Prange

In the volatile entertainment business, our audio brethren often show the video industry the way. They were first to transition their business from analog to digital packaged media with the CD. The video industry later followed with its own CD-sized digital medium -- the DVD. As the CD falls in sales, hurt by illegal downloading and consumers dissatisfied with music labels they perceive as greedy, the video business may be able to draw yet another lesson.

During the recent “DVD in 50” conference, sponsored by Video Store Magazine and the DVD Entertainment Group, industry pundit and “father of DVD” Warren Lieberfarb cautioned the video business about becoming too complacent. Likening the music industry to a frog stuck in increasingly hotter water, he noted that music execs didn't have the sense to jump out before the water got too hot. By holding onto the CD, the audio business could be cooked.

I recently listened to the top-selling Led Zeppelin DVD and noted in this column that the sound was actually better than a CD. While it was a surprise to me -- and probably would be to most consumers -- I recently learned that audio execs are aware of, but not too interested in, promoting DVD's superior sound. Could they be fearful of criticizing the CD, which has served them well for so long and through so many wildly profitable years?

The music industry's downfall has been its unwillingness to move beyond the present, to evolve with technology and its consumers. When downloading came along, they fiercely held onto the CD album and its (many say) ridiculously high price. Fortunately, the video business didn't make that same mistake, launching DVD at a value price that offered much more bang for the buck than the VHS cassette -- as well as the CD. The industry didn't deny DVD's superiority; video execs, for the most part, broadcast it.

Conversely, as the DVD rises in popularity, the music business is only tentatively entering these new waters, often launching DVD discs day-and-date with the CD and offering DVD extras discs packaged with the tried-and-true CD. Had the video business held onto the VHS cassette with such tenacity, DVD would have had a much harder time gaining acceptance. Maybe the CD's time has come -- but you'll have a heck of a time convincing the music business to abandon that life raft.

The lesson in this for the video industry is to look for a bigger and better boat. As DVD peaks and new technologies encroach, the industry will need to keep its eye on offering value to the consumer, staunchly resisting the urge to hold on to the DVD. Perhaps high-def discs will be the answer. Perhaps the long-awaited movie download technology will finally take over. What's clear is, unlike the music industry, the video business can't wait until its goose is cooked.

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