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DVD Is Music to His Ears

21 Nov, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

John Beug, 55, has been in the music industry since 1972, when he went to work for Lou Adler's fledgling Ode Records label. In the late 1970s, he took a temporary detour into feature films, serving as associate producer (with Adler) of Cheech and Chong's 1978 hit Up in Smoke and subsequently working on such films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jagged Edge and The Wanderers. He returned to music in 1986 at Warner Reprise Records and has since executive produced Eric Clapton's 1995 PBS special, “Nothing But the Blues,” as well as several MTV “Unplugged” performances.

After DVD was launched, Beug was instrumental in several top-selling titles, including Don Henley Live: Inside Job and Steely Dan's Two Against Nature, both of which he executive produced. He's working on Faith Hill's upcoming DVD-Audio release as well as her upcoming NBC-TV special, which airs Nov. 28 and will be released on DVD.

VSM: Music videos never really made it on VHS, but with DVD, it's a different story. Why?

Beug: It's a superior delivery format, and the result is that the consumer wants to have it because it's a better aural and video experience. Random access is also a key factor. If there's a specific track you want to hear, you can go in and find it and call it up, just as you can with a CD.

VSM: Can you quantify this success?

Beug: I don't like to talk numbers, but sales are up dramatically. It's stopped being what we called a 10 percent business -- an artist whose latest record sold 3 million copies could expect video sales of 300,000 units -- and is now evolving into a real business. And it's still growing by leaps and bounds.

VSM: In the early days of music video, some releases were concerts, others were collections of clips. Now we're seeing almost exclusively concerts. Why?

Beug: That's what the consumer wants. The consumer has access to music video clips through a variety of sources, be it MTV or VH1 or CTV. A live concert, or a piece that has a live concert as its core, is more appealing because it's more experiential.

VSM: Special features have become a driving force in DVD-Video. How important are they on music videos?

Beug: They've become a driving force as well. Even on CDs, we're doing Web links and the artists are doing enhancements. And certainly, on DVD-Video there's always purposely created content.

VSM: Like what?

Beug: Let's use Faith Hill as an example. We know we need to deliver a specific number of songs for the broadcast, but we're overshooting two or three additional songs specifically for the DVD. We're also doing some behind-the-scenes making-of footage. Consumers really like to see how things are constructed.

VSM: Are the artists involved in their DVDs?

Beug: Intimately. It's an artistic medium, and they're going to pay just as much attention to that as making a record. Some artists have more of a visual or graphic inclination than others. Linkin Park, for example, has certain members who have a real passion for how they are presented visually.

VSM: Releasing a music DVD is still more selective than a CD, isn't it?

Beug: Oh yes. There's a whole lot of dynamics involved, in terms of who the artist is, what their core audience is, what sort of expenditure is required. Here at Warner Reprise, we release in excess of a couple hundred CDs a year, but only about a dozen or so music videos. And our marketing strategy is such that we try to put them out at the same time, or as close as we can, to a new album, because that way we can market the product in tandem.

VSM: What does it cost to make a music DVD?

Beug: There's no way you can quantify it. It really depends on the artist and on the circumstances. I've heard of artists spending millions of dollars on a music DVD, but not here. You have to remember, this is a business. We're not trying to do things for vanity -- how's that for being tactful? An artist is going to be able to express his vision, but it also has to be profitable.

VSM: Let's turn to DVD-Audio. In the eyes of many observers, it's gotten off to a disappointing start. Critics say the price was too high, the visuals aren't what consumers expect from DVD, and there's also a competing technology, the Super CD, that Sony and Philips are pushing and that some retailers say is confusing their customers. What happened?

Beug: I think what's happening is analogous to CD. The CD was around for years and nothing happened, and then it was a so-called “overnight sensation” because all the right elements connected -- consumers realized the superior quality, the right artists became interested, the labels really stepped up their support.

VSM: So you believe DVD-Audio will ultimately succeed?

Beug: I believe DVD-Audio will be big. Will it be CD big? Probably not, but the nature of the business is different now. You have the reality of downloading music, and you have a marketplace that's much more fragmented. But the reality is that for the consumers who like to physically purchase a disc, DVD-Audio is the superior format. The wonderful thing about DVD-Audio is that it is playable on regular DVD players, and even if you don't get the true 5.1 mix, the sound is still better than a regular CD. So as people streamline their systems with home theaters and focus their attention away from having a television on one side of the room and a CD player on the other, it seems an obvious choice to me.

VSM: Besides pricing, did the record companies make any mistakes when they launched DVD-Audio a couple of years ago?

Beug: Probably, in the choice of repertoire. Just like with CD, there was an initial push to the older, upper-high-end audiophile, because [DVD-Audio] offers 24 bits as opposed to CD, which is 16 bits. But I think the demographic that's really become the most interested in this is what I call the “Fast and the Furious” crowd, the young people who are building street rods out of Japanese Hondas and are putting DVD video players and PlayStation 2 machines in their cars. The fact that car makers are starting to put DVD-Audio players in cars is going to give this format a decided leg up, as is the fact that more and more people are putting home theaters in their homes. I firmly believe DVD-Audio is an adjunct to DVD video, and people who already have one DVD player and are getting ready to buy a second one will be more predisposed to buying one with DVD-Audio capability.

VSM: DVD-Audio can't have much video content because most of the capacity is given up to audio, and the record companies need to be mindful they don't turn it into a video product that legally can be rented. But people complain that they pop a DVD-Audio disc into their DVD player and all they get is a menu or some lyrics.

Beug: We're working to improve the added content. In the near future, you can expect 15 to 20 minutes of video and multiple audio streams, so that in addition to 5.1 you can have PCM-enhanced stereo and even AC-3 compression, which will let you play it on a regular CD player. We're releasing the 30th anniversary of Neil Young's Harvest on DVD-Audio, and Neil went back and remixed Harvest to 5.1. There's also a film that nobody's ever seen of Neil Young sitting out on a field when he recorded Harvest, a little 12-minute film he made 30 years ago about how he made the record, a fascinating piece of film that can only be seen on this DVD-Audio. Here at Warner Reprise, we absolutely believe in extras such as this -- to the point where we won't put [titles] out unless they have extra features. Consumers have gotten accustomed to special features through movie DVDs, and they expect something more.

VSM: What challenges does DVD-Audio face?

Beug: We need to grow with the other labels and educate the artists. We are still in the process of educating the artists about what DVD-Audio is, and the retailer, too. Finally, when we have accomplished this, we need to continue communicating to consumers so they know what this is and have a desire to buy it. Already, what we're doing is working, because the biggest problem we have right now is retailers not stocking enough. People go in and buy multiple titles, and there's not enough depth in repertoire from the other labels, and not enough stock.

VSM: We're starting to hear a lot about DVD music singles. Is this a way to revive the dying audio-singles market?

Beug: No, it's a different business. The singles market is with downloads, and downloads you can buy. But DVD music singles are new and different. If we make a remarkable music video, we might put one or two cuts out as a single, with multiple mixes -- especially with dance-music acts. It's almost like a maxisingle with pictures. We're in discussions on a number of upcoming projects.

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