DVDs prop up a faltering CD industry

New on DVD

Movies: on screen, DVD / Video

January 15, 2004|By Dave Larsen | Dave Larsen,COX NEWS SERVICE

Video may have killed the radio star, but DVD could be the salvation of the struggling CD industry.

Music-themed DVDs are arriving in ever-increasing numbers, either as bonus discs included with new CD releases or as stand-alone DVDs released in conjunction with a CD.

The British band Coldplay recently released Live 2003, a two-disc set featuring a DVD and CD, both recorded in concert in Australia. The chart-topping Diary of Alicia Keys is available as a music-only CD or with a bonus DVD of exclusive concert and backstage footage. Greatest hits CDs by Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and Sheryl Crow, among others, were released concurrently with concert DVDs.

What's the reason for the rising trend? Look no further than the bottom line.

Sales of CD albums, which constitute 96 percent of the recorded music market, were down 2.1 percent in 2003. CD sales fell to 635.8 million units from 649.5 million in 2002, according to industry figures. In contrast, DVD music video sales jumped 104.5 percent, to more than 19.5 million units.

Record labels are turning to DVDs to combat rampant Internet piracy. Bonus discs provide content that can't easily be downloaded. They also help to justify high CD list prices, which late last year conglomerates such as Universal Music Group started reducing by as much as 33 percent in an attempt to increase retail business.

"I think that the record companies all see the need to add value to the product," said John Huffman, owner of Gem City Records in Dayton, Ohio. "It's so easy to burn stuff or rip it off the Net, what have you. It's something that all the record companies have kind of recognized simultaneously, and we're seeing a lot more DVDs arrive with product, or as stand-alone, where they're just releasing concerts on DVD."

Huffman said that music DVD sales at his store have been "tremendous." Gem City's top-selling DVD of 2003 was Sheryl Crow's C'Mon America 2003.

"Every week since its release it has been in our top 10 sellers for the week, which is unusual, because we sell a lot of CDs," Huffman said.

Most new concert DVDs make use of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound home theater systems to better re-create the experience of a live show.

Given the explosive popularity of DVD technology, record companies are testing the waters with two new formats, Super Audio CD (SACD) and DVD Audio (DVD-A), which improve upon the sampling rate and sound of standard CDs. But neither of the conflicting formats has taken off.

CD albums with bonus DVDs have become increasingly common since the 2002 release of The Eminem Show, which included a limited-edition DVD with concert and interview footage.

A number of new releases are priced the same with or without the bonus disc, Huffman added.

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