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Music Labels Should Sing A New Tune

21 Nov, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

This week we did a big question-and-answer interview with John Beug, the Warner strategist who is a key figure in DVD-Audio.

He makes some compelling arguments as to why DVD-Audio should fly, but I still respectfully disagree, despite the format's obvious superiority to the CD.

That said, I do happen to believe a successor to the CD is on the horizon. It's called DVD-Video.

Here's what I think will happen: No matter how many extras the record companies put on DVD-Audio, they will never live up to consumer expectations. The difference in audio quality is not so great that consumers will run out and buy new DVD-Audio-ready players, particularly after they've already bought a DVD-Video player in the recent past. Instead, they'll slip their DVD-Audio into the drive, stare at the lyric sheet or handful of still photos for a few minutes and wonder why they didn't just buy a regular CD.

If consumers buy anything that's called a DVD, they're going to want visuals — bright, clear, moving visuals. That's where music DVD-Videos come in — ideally, a hybrid that can be played on regular CD players, in the car and at home, with no visuals, or on a DVD player with visuals — visuals that last as long as, and go with, the music, like a live performance.

The technology to do this exists — Artisan did a great job two years ago in releasing a bonded DVD-CD hybrid in which Blair Witch I was on one side and the soundtrack was on the other. Why not apply this to music, particularly on live albums, with the full concert on the DVD side and the audio tracks alone on the CD side?

I know, I know — if there's too much video, it's no longer considered a sound recording and that means it can be rented — a concept the record companies positively abhor.

But I think as time goes on and CD sales continue to slide, the rentability factor is going to look more and more attractive compared to the alternative, which is ceding the audio business to downloading.

Already, three classical labels have said they are no longer going to release operas on CD, only on DVD-Video.

It's an idea that might sound radical, but one that should definitely be explored further.

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