March 15, 2005

SOUNDING OFF, Vol. 4

Viable Option or Expensive Overkill?

Los Lonely Boys.jpg

Looking at the New DualDisc Format

With the record industry in a constant scramble to find ways in which to combat illegal downloading as well as boost sagging sales, a slight tweak in technology has been offered that seems to be right in tune with the mutual desire of labels and consumers for different content.

But will the new DualDisc format amount to nothing more than spending extra money for minor extras?

DualDisc was unveiled last August by independent and major labels, such as EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group. A DualDisc is a CD that's playable on both sides, much like vinyl records. One side has music, the same as any other CD. The other side contains DVD content, which often includes myriad options, such as enhanced versions of the album, artist interviews and music videos.

The discs play in standard CD players for the music side, while the DVD side plays in DVD players as well as game consoles and DVD-Rom drives. To clear up any confusion as to which side is which, the discs are clearly marked and color-coded.

Going hand in hand with the rollout of DualDiscs is an extensive marketing campaign that, according to an industry source, will create a new brand of playable media. Major music retailers are displaying signs as an effort to educate the public about the advantages and perks of DualDiscs, and certain stores go as far as to have DualDiscs placed prominently in their storefronts, effectively serving as bait for curious consumers.

The question remains: What's the real motivation to buy DualDiscs? So far, Sony/BMG has released the bulk of the available titles, with a limited number of releases coming from other major labels and independent distributors.

The main focus of Sony/BMG's early February run was to reissue the most recent discs from such artists as Velvet Revolver, Avril Lavigne, Destiny's Child and Los Lonely Boys, just to name a few. This is a questionable move because the albums are all doing well in their original format and were, with the exception of Los Lonely Boys, all 2004 releases.

Are consumers expected to plunk down more money almost a year after Velvet Revolver's Contraband was released to get a few music videos and 5.1 Surround Sound? Granted, there are some dedicated fans out there, but are there enough willing to take a chance on this new format?

As for Los Lonely Boys, Sony already has released a bonus version of their debut album with a DVD. This sets the stage for immediate backlash due to rampant over-saturation.

Jennifer Lopez.jpg

To offset the skepticism surrounding new versions of old CDs, the latest albums by B2K's Omarion, Judas Priest and Jennifer Lopez were released at the same time in both the standard CD format and DualDisc. Pricing for the titles were reasonable, and the added content (interviews, videos) hasn't been aired to death -- yet. This batch of DualDiscs should be a better indication of how the consumer will take to the format, as all three artists have different levels by which to measure success. Omarion's album is the solo debut from a successful R&B "boy band" veteran. Judas Priest's album is a reunion effort from a legendary metal band with a loyal following. And Jennifer Lopez's album is the first from the superstar since 2002.

If the intention going forward is to cut down on the reissues and focus on pushing DualDisc as a first-run, new-release option, then the labels need to market the extras in such a manner and not as an afterthought. All it may take would be an exclusive first pressing of DualDisc, with no other standard CD available until roughly a month later -- just as companies have done in years past with limited-edition versions of new releases. Another idea would be to price the DualDisc equal or even lower than the standard CD for the first week. In either case, this may require additional stickering of the product, but it has the potential to grab the consumer's attention, not only for that release but for others down the road.

Time will tell if the DualDisc format is the answer to the problems plaguing music retailers, or if it's just another consumer option. It's obvious that the industry is committed to giving it a good start and trying every possible way to provide additional value to consumers. And if the intent is for DualDiscs to be the new premium way to appreciate music, then the labels had better pull out all the stops to make sure that is the case.

-- By Mike Madden

Sounding Off, a music opinion column, appears regularly on www.medleyville.us

Posted by medleyville at March 15, 2005 08:53 PM
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