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DualDisc Holds Promise

29 Mar, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

The music industry is getting the picture — literally. Visual elements are helping the slumping audio business, with both the music DVD and the DualDisc, which incorporates video, making inroads among consumers. Label executives see both as bright spots for an industry bedeviled by flat sales and a continued surge in digital downloading.

“It's growing rapidly because there are new people adopting the format,” said Paul DeGooyer, VP of home video for Warner Strategic Marketing, one of the leading suppliers of music DVD. “Once they experience it, they get very passionate.”

A just-released survey from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) shows that while CD shipments to retailers rose a slight 5 percent in 2004 from the year before, music DVD shipments soared 66 percent. The music DVD segment now accounts for 5 percent of the overall recorded-music market.

DeGooyer's not alone in his optimism. Some of the music industry's best and brightest are holding out hope that music DVD will provide them with a packaged media bulwark against digital downloading — either as a standalone product or as a key component in the DualDisc, a unique hybrid with CD content on one side and a DVD on the other.

“The real promise is it's getting more people to look at music than we ever thought possible,” DeGooyer said. “They buy the DualDisc because they want the music, and then all of a sudden they have this other amazing content.”

Looking forward to DualDisc
Despite a slightly rocky start in its official launch to market last fall, the DualDisc is benefiting from increasing high-profile releases and more mainstream media coverage.

All the major labels — EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group — as well as independents like 5.1 Entertainment/Silverline Records support the new format.The biggest challenge, label executives and retailers agree, is consumer education.

Already, DualDisc is an easy sell, said Fred Fox, EVP of merchandising and marketing for Trans World Entertainment.

If the price of a DualDisc and a regular CD album is within a couple of dollars, the consumer will always choose the DualDisc version, Fox said. At Trans World, DualDisc displays get prime store placement, and the chain has invested a lot of time and energy educating its staff about the product.

“We're bullish on DualDisc,” Fox said. “We think it's a great value proposition for the consumer.”

The labels estimate about 1 million DualDisc albums have been sold since the format's launch last October.

The first DualDisc-only release hits the market from Sony Music/Columbia Records with Bruce Springsteen's Devils & Dust April 26.

“I think that's a testament to Sony's commitment to this format,” Fox said.

Still, it's going to take more releases from high-profile, newer artists to really keep the momentum going, said Paul Bishow, VP of marketing for Universal Music Group.

DualDisc releases from Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Judas Priest, Good Charlotte, Duran Duran and Dishwalla, among others, hit March 1. A slate of DualDisc titles will be released in Europe this spring — the first non-domestic releases for the format.

“As more and more artists get involved in the production of Surround Sound and visual content that they know will be used on a Dual-Disc, I think they're going to take this to a level that really allows them to have a new showcase for their talent,” Bishow said.

Getting technical with DualDisc
While there have been initial concerns about the reliability and playability of the CD side of a DualDisc, Andrew DaPuzzo, director of audio sales for replicator Sonopress, insists the non-standard CD side of Dual-Disc is playing just fine in nearly all CD players.

The CD side of a Dual-Disc is thinner than a standard CD and is non-compliant with CD standards, which is why it can't officially be called a CD.

One problematic playback device for the CD-content side of DualDisc are DVD-ROM drives, which is one reason the RIAA requires that the DVD side of the discs contain the same music content as the audio side, according to DaPuzzo.

DualDisc's biggest competition is likely to come from the labels themselves as they also release double-disc CD+DVD packages such as Warner Music Group's recent reissue of the R.E.M. catalog.

The “other” music discs
What about those other discs — DVD-Audio and SACD?

The competing high-resolution sound formats have failed to pick up as much steam as labels may have liked. There are about 2,500 SACD titles in the market, less than half of that for DVD-Audio, according to HighFidelityReview.com. Reported estimates put total units shipped for the two combined formats so far this year at 600,000 units, about the same as vinyl records, according to Audio-VideoRevolution.com.

“We still think the market itself [for high-res audio] is somewhat nascent, but as more consumers become exposed to it and we continue to see double-digit growth in the installed base of home theater systems, we see more opportunities,” said Brian Towne, VP of the consumer/Pro Audio division for DTS Entertainment.

EMI Music and DTS Entertainment have recently created a “DTS Signature Series” on DVD-Audio. Releases from artists David Bowie, Simple Mind and The Thrills arrive next month.

Trans World is still selling DVD-Audio and SACD, Fox said, but it's definitely a small market.“The consumer never really understood [high-res audio],” he said. “There wasn't a good education program, and not all the labels got behind educating the consumer.”

Other bright spots for high-res audio though, especially for DVD-Audio, is that prices on DVD-Audio players are getting much closer to the price tag of DVD hardware. Also, Acura has installed DVD-Audio in two of its models.

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