If you haven't noticed by now, I'll clue you in on a not-so-secret secret: DVD-Video releases are hot. Hollywood has certainly noticed, especially with revenues from DVD sales eclipsing the overall take from theatrical releases. Consumers love the new format and are thrilled with the idea of accessing deleted scenes, director commentaries, cast bios, multiple-language playback, subtitling options, surround sound and all the other frills. And new DVD releases are accompanied with an unending amount of excitement and marketing-driven hoopla. Today's kids might not be able to recite the capitals of every U.S. state, but they can sure tell you the street date for new mega DVD releases such as Finding Nemo (November 4) and Pirates of the Caribbean (December 2). People pre-order online; some even wait in line to buy copies the first Tuesday out.
However, in the audio world, the outlook is a wee bit different, and the amount of excitement about new SACD and DVD-A releases could fit in a thimble, with plenty of space left over. I would surmise that a majority of consumers don't even know these formats exist! These are the same people who revel in the experiences of multichannel cinema at their local bijou — and may even have a multichannel playback system connected to their home DVD player — but mention SACD or DVD-A and you'll probably get a blank stare.
Meanwhile, there is one new audio format that consumers have accepted, or at least heard of. The launch of Apple Computer's iTunes and iPods has been phenomenally successful. In a brilliantly staged (and demographically targeted) marketing blitz of TV spots, billboards and print ads, Apple has defined the technology as hip, convenient and cool; and now, cross-platform. Sure, it's lo-fi, but all those people in those ads are having soooo much fun that it's gotta be great.
You see, Apple understands what the record industry has forgotten: Music is for consumers. And to reach consumers, you have to “sell” to consumers. You have to reach out and tell people what makes you different. There's little difference between Colgate and Crest, but toothpaste makers will spend millions convincing you that there is. Ford and GM? Tide and Cheer? If the world is willing to pay for lo-fi downloads through sites such as iTunes and the “new and improved” Napster, how much creative genius would it take to convince consumers to pay a bit more for hi-fi?
This month, there's a flood of new DVD-A and SACD releases coming just in time for the holidays. Unfortunately, more than three years after the launch of these formats, market awareness is so bad that nobody's likely to care.
Can the situation turn around? Sure. But please don't ask the record labels for help; they're way too busy busting kids and suburban soccer moms over illegal downloads to spend time (or money!) educating the public about the benefits of decent sound.