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Why Music DVD Isn't a Threat to CD Sales -- Yet

1 Sep, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

The music DVD market is an interesting animal right now.

A lot of the same questions seem prevalent around water-cooler conversations and conferences. Questions like: Do we really need DualDisc? Why not just offer a double-disc package — one DVD, one CD? Or: Why release CDs at all? Why not just release albums as music DVDs if everybody wants audio and video?

I have a simple answer to that last question. Cars.

The music market has always been a mobile one. It's only getting moreso with portable music players like the iPod flooding the market.

Packaged audio can't afford to lose any ground on the mobile front. Yes, an increasing number of cars are factory installed with DVD players. Yes, aftermarket sales of car DVD systems and portable DVD players are growing all the time. But in-car DVD playback ability still has a long way to go before it reaches the car-CD-system ubiquity the industry already enjoys.

Warner Bros. Records has an interesting idea for up-and-coming rockers The Sun's debut album. Blame it on the Youth streets Sept. 27 on DVD only. It's packed with a low-budget music video for each song. The audio content on songs can then be burned onto a CD or downloaded to a portable music player. Solves the car issue, and it's an interesting idea.

But raise your hand if you've ever heard of The Sun.

I never have, and I'm pretty much a garage-rock junkie.

The problem with this whole DVD/digital audio file plan, from a label perspective, is that it provides easy access to non-copy-protected digital files. It's — if you will allow me to channel our illustrious senior editor Holly J. Wagner for a moment — leaving the digital barn door wide open.

Now, Warner may think that's just fine for The Sun, but I just don't see them doing it for Green Day — American Idiot is one of the top-selling albums in the market right now, with heaps of critical accolades, and the punkers are the hottest act going right now.

The Sun DVD scheme is a great idea in theory. It will allow a ton of people to discover this group. Emerging acts have always been quick to embrace digital technology to spread their word. I'm definitely going to at least check this group out. My interest is piqued.

But, in the physical world, the top 100 albums made up 50 percent of the 265 million sales of new album releases last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Nearly 68 percent of all the albums released last year sold less than 100 units; 81 percent of the albums released in 2004 sold less than 1,000.

The fact is, a small amount of huge acts make up the bulk of sales in the music market — and that largely goes for digital, too.

The biggest selling digital album of all time according to SoundScan? American Idiot.

If the major record labels are reticent to even offer MP3 files to any provider other than Apple because Apple isn't sharing their DRM for that digital format, then I highly doubt that they are going to let any of their cash cows out of the barn by following The Sun into the untested DVD-only, free-digital-content field.

And that, to me at least, means it will be some time before music DVD replaces CD as the album of choice.

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