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27 Apr, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

Analysis paralysis is nowhere more evident than with certain analysts who cover entertainment content, distribution and technology. Instead of familiarizing themselves with the random contours of day-to-day consumer behavior – which, after all, is the sine qua non of what flies and flops in the marketplace – these analysts (accent on the anal) crunch numbers and talk mostly to industry insiders, each of whom has an agenda to advance. That methodology is fine and necessary but not in the absence of good ol’ one-on-one encounters with consumers and their fickle habits.

Take the observation I read in Red Herring (Jan. 30, 2001) of one Schelley Olhava, an analyst with International Data Corp.: “The question is whether people will pay money for this kind of DVD. If you want to watch a rock video, do you really want to interact with it?”

She was referring to the FirstPerson Immersive Video technology of a company called Enroute Imaging. The best way to describe this next-generation video enhancement is that it does for sight what Dolby Surround does for sound.

Video Store Magazine had the privilege of hosting a demonstration of Enroute’s surround sight innovation, by the inventor and Enroute co-founder Paul Cha, at our recent Hollywood Summit I at the International Recording Media Association Forum in Palm Springs, Calif.

The defining demo that Cha presents is of a rock concert in Japan, where the camera can zoom in on individual band members as well as pan 360 degrees to take in the entire arena audience as well.

Equally ingenious is Cha’s user interface and marketing strategy. It’s called PlayStation 2. Almost as if in response to Olhava’s skeptical comment, Cha told the Hollywood Summit audience of studio execs that he is aiming at the PS2’s target crowd of 15 to 30 year old. They think nothing, he noted, of plunking down $60 for a video game (hopefully, the studios in attendance didn’t go back with any ideas on DVD movie pricing inspired by Cha).

Plus, the console’s joystick control makes it user-friendly to navigate onscreen images. As Cha consistently points out, for the PS2 audience using his unique technology, “the learning curve is almost zero.”

Would PS2 consumers, though, pay $40 or more for a PS2-specific DVD concert encoded with the Immersive Video features, versus $20 for a vanilla DVD of the same concert? We should get to find out later this summer: Cha hints he has a killer app in such a DVD, featuring a major performer (perhaps a Brit?) whose fan base conveniently coincides with PS2 players.

Further rebuking Olhava’s rear-view suspicions that there’s only one way to watch a DVD is a reply I received from my longtime industry friend Herb Dorfman, president of Steeplechase Entertainment. He replied to a recent Working Weekend (“Just Watch Me Watch a PC,” April 6, 2001) with the following thoughts:

“I think watching movies on a PC, mostly a laptop for me, is a great idea! I have never watched as many movies as I have since my laptop was equipped with a DVD player. VHS tapes never allowed for reasonable portability. Hence, I have a substantialDVD collection that rivals my 12-inch vinyl collection (that took me 15 years tobuild) and is much more important to me than my VHS collection in terms ofinterest.

“The easier, and more varied it can be for the entertainment consumer toenjoy the entertainment product, the more likely that consumer will be to continue the process.

“I make no distinction between a $25,000 Surround Sound system in the mediaroom or my $1,500 laptop. It's all great. Watching The Man With TheGolden Arm on DVD on a recent flight to New York was considerably more enjoyable then watching an altered airline version of Rocky and Bullwinkle!

“The DVD convenience factor keeps pace with my Palm Pilot and my cell phone and is a much more interesting and captivating then either of those can't-do-without tools of our trade.

“Bruce, DVD rules. The more ways I consume this media the more I want to consume. If I am a model for a DVD consumer, we have a hell of business opportunity for this maturing industry and VOD can't deliver my DVD bonusfeatures!”

Gen Xers like Cha and baby boomers like Dorfman and this reporter share a desire to break loose from the ties that bind us to fixed, passive entertainment options.

As the home entertainment business trains its close-up lens on the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in mid-May, the year’s real main event will take place on store shelves this fall. Currently available PlayStation 2 from Sony will square off against tough new challenger Xbox from Microsoft, an autumn arrival. Both offer DVD playback and modem options.

The play-by-play analysts should be asking if Sony can graduate PS2 to the family media room as a full-function entertainment device that goes beyond games, and if Microsoft can dominate the set-top as it does the desktop.

Excuse me, but I have to make a phone call. “Hello, Nintendo, anybody home?”

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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