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DVD-Audio Launch Still in Fits and Starts

15 Aug, 2003 By: Jessica Wolf

There's no question among suppliers and retailers alike that it's going to take some time and effort to get consumers to embrace high-definition audio product.

There's still consumer confusion as to exactly what hi-res audio is, and even more confusion over the fact that there are two format options -- DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD (SACD) -- panelists from both the retail and supplier sides said at a music DVD session at the recent VSDA show in Las Vegas.

Robin Hurley of Rhino Entertainment and Warner Music Group said one thing that will hopefully “demystify” the DVD-Audio format option at least is the word DVD.

Consumers are already aware of the higher-quality sound and visuals DVD offers, he pointed out, and have embraced the format for movies.

“We desperately need to compete with the game and movie industries,” he said.

And copy-protection technology is available for DVD-Audio, which could help combat illegal downloading should the format take hold as the choice for music consumers, he said.

Not much has been done on the marketing front for DVD-Audio yet, Hurley admitted. But there are only about 300 DVD-Audio titles in the market domestically and 500 internationally, he said.

“We had to get to a critical mass of titles before we could begin to promote it effectively,” he said.

The DVD-Audio Marketing Council formed early this summer, with Warner Music Group, Silverline Records, BMG, EMI Recorded Music, 5.1 Entertainment Group, Meridian Audio, Dolby Laboratories and Panasonic. And suppliers like Universal Music Group and Warner are pumping DVD-Audio releases into the fourth quarter.

Hurley noted all the ducks that DVD-Audio suppliers will need to get in a row for the format to take off -- getting superstar artists to back the format, releasing DVD-Audio day-and-date with CD releases, and getting product rights sorted out from the beginning.

And suppliers need retailers' help, Hurley said, with merchandising strategies and keeping prices on the same level as “topline CDs.”

“We're trying to remove any reason for the consumer to stop themselves from buying these discs,” he said.

Gary Arnold, SVP of entertainment for Best Buy, said hi-res audio is hampered by the format war. “[Hi-res audio] screwed up to stay in two formats at too high a price,” he said.

Steve Sterling, president of music DVD supplier Eagle Vision, called for more consumer education from both suppliers and retailers.

“We are really concerned that without a really strong, coalesced campaign, the consumer is going to go all glazed-eyes on us,” he said.

Get to Know Hi-Res Audio
In the ongoing battle to demystify the dueling high-resolution audio formats -- Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD-Audio -- for the consumer, Virgin Megastores has come up with a handy take-away flyer shelved near music DVD product. The trendily designed flyer offers shoppers a side-by-side comparison of the two formats and answers the questions: “Why the Fuss?,” “What's the Real Deal?” and “Will I Have to Start My Collection All Over Again?” The easy-to-read flyer tackles technical specs for the two formats, describes the hardware and addresses the ever-important backward-compatibility issue. It even offers some title suggestions. A clerk at a Southern California Virgin Megastore said the catchy flyer has been well received by interested shoppers and often inspires a sale.

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