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Next-Gen Disc Will Take Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

31 Oct, 2004 By: Kurt Indvik

“Time marches very fast in the digital world,” said Warren Lieberfarb during last week's DVD Forum conference in Santa Monica, Calif.

As the so-called “father” of DVD in his former life as president of Warner Home Video, Lieberfarb ought to know, as DVD pretty much is the poster child for the digital era as the fastest-growing consumer home electronics product ever.

Lieberfarb's concern, one shared by many in Hollywood, is that if the packaged media business does not respond quickly to the growing penetration of broadband, high-definition programming and the digital download delivery of movies with a new and exciting alternative of its own — that is, a single high-definition disc format — then packaged media risks being left on the side of the digital superhighway as DVD begins an inevitable flattening of its growth curve.

Bob Chapek, president of the DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group and head of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, said in a presentation at the event that in fact it's going to take more than nifty new technology to win the battle; it's going to take marketing, marketing, marketing.

And I agree, because until the price of a high-definition player comes down to mass-market level (less than $200 and then some), most consumers will be asking, just how much better is this high-definition product going to be than DVD? And, of course, along with this, the consumer electronics industry is going to have to make great strides in getting more high-def TVs into homes, and consumers are going to have to be exposed to more high-definition content which may, or may not, impress them. This is a lot of dominos that have to fall.

The leap from VHS to DVD in terms of visible quality, not to mention the sleek platform it came on and its price at introduction, was a no-brainer, not to take anything away from the tremendous efforts made by the content and hardware industries that worked together in unprecedented fashion to launch DVD.

I'm not so sure the next-generation product can make as great a difference in its offering to consumers, many of whom have entered the market as DVD owners only in the past couple of years, which means it won't be as easy a sell.

Now you add on to this the prospect of a dual launch of competing formats in Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD, and we risk “confusing and aggravating” the consumer, said Chapek, who will vote with his feet and stay away from the high-definition choice altogether until a true standard emerges.

At this point, from where I sit, I think this is inevitable. Two formats will be launched, and studios will either take sides to force a tilt in one direction or the other or publish in both. At that point it will become the consumers' choice, and that choice will be influenced greatly by software support, price and, yes, the marketing support the format receives.

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