About a week ago, I was talking to the former editor of Home Entertainment Magazine, Geoff Morrison. Geoff is one of the best young writers in the AV business who is a trained video calibrator, has retail experience from Circuit City back in the day and has worked as a writer for Home Entertainment, Home Theater Magazine and elsewhere. He had mentioned to me that he was at a local convention called "Blue-Con" which was organized for the advancement of Blu-ray as a format among other goals. Geoff went on to talk about one of the panelists who was talking about the idea of on-demand intellectual property for Blu-ray. In other words - he is suggesting that the studios are asking consumers which movies they want to see next based on commitments or pre-orders.
This idea is pure gold.
Making a Blu-ray isn't cheap but it's not $1,000,000 either. If you know you have 5,000 enthusiasts lined up to buy the movie at a reasonable price - you know as a studio that you likely will make your money back. With the right marketing, supplemental materials, packaging and added value goodies - you could have a home run on your hands. From a business standpoint - what you are trying to avoid is investing in a stiff. Ishtar likely doesn't need to be released on Blu-ray any time soon but Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness might quietly sell 100,000 copies to cult fans.
Why Isn't Music Sold On Blu-ray by the Major Labels?
The discussion quickly led to my long-standing question as to why the major record labels don't sell music on Blu-ray. Geoff can't figure it out either. DVD-Audio and SACD were downright stupid formats in retrospect. They were dueling formats that had little to no meaningful support in terms of titles offered. Consumers feared picking the loser of a VHS versus Beta battle. Consumers rejected the expensive components and the nine (count 'em NINE) cables needed to hook up a player. They rejected the need for a new receiver and/or AV preamp. With no catalog support to go with Dark Side of The Moon or Fragile of The Black Album - early adopters were left at the altar with their remotes in their hands wanting for more in HD audio - especially in 5.1 surround. Amazingly, Blu-ray solves all of these concerns and others. Blu-ray players are cheap - priced well under $200 today. Blu-ray has 30 percent market share. HDMI on Blu-ray copy-protects the material. Unlike SACD, Blu-ray has video on the disc. Blu-ray is many times larger a disc format than either SACD or DVD-Audio and can pack HD caliber 24 bit 7.1 channel audio for movies.
What Blu-ray could do for music would be insane if any studio could figure it out. Think about what's possible:
• A disc packed with 5.1 or 7.1 HD surround at 24 bit 96 kHz (maybe 192 kHz) resolution.
• HD video supplementals at 1080p resolution.
• Tricky HD video screen savers for home theater users that would bring a visual element into the musical experience (think iTunes).
• The chance to sell more screen savers and photos via BD-Live and other online retailers.
• Audiophiles could get HD resolution files that are copy-protected but are at seven times higher resolution than CD. There's room for 24-bit stereo and surround sound on a Blu-ray disc. 24-bit audio trashes CD resolution 16-bit audio. It also trashes analog and everything else. It's audiophile heaven.
• An additional disc (a CD perhaps) that could be added to the package complete with lower resolution tracks for iPods and computers would be easy and affordable to offer.
• Download codes for Apple or other services could be offered as part of the package.
• Special promotions for concert tours only for people who use the online interface of the Blu-ray player to access special offers, tickets, live concert sound and more.
The argument that each and every corporate suit still in the music business today gives back to me includes:
• They say nobody can hear the difference and that downloads are good enough.
That's total bullshit and anyone who cares about music knows it. An
85-year-old woman with a hearing aid can hear that a 24-bit master tape
quality album sounds better than a CD. Hell, I will pay for the blind
study if the majors agree to do the project when this myth is debunked.
• The labels say nobody wants to buy their music collection over again.
This is another barge overflowing with festering bullshit as 1,100,000
people bought Dark Side of the Moon on hybrid SACD even when the format
was a failure. People are buying their movie collections over again on Blu-ray and unlike all but the most classic, cult-favorite movies - people can listen to music over and over again.
• Consumers will steal the music.
This objection is paranoid bullshit as the files on Blu-ray are
copy-protected to the satisfaction of movie studios. That should be
good enough for struggling record labels. HD music files on Blu-ray
would be huge and nearly impossible to put on peer-to-peer systems
because of bandwidth issues. Moreover, the CD version of everything
ever recorded is sitting out there waiting to be stolen - why not add
enough value to music to make it worth buying again?
• The artists won't approve the mix.
During the DVD-Audio and SACD era, getting artist approval was a
legitimate problem, but thanks to Napster, a recent economic recession
and the success of Apple's iTunes - artists today will look at things
differently going forward. Labels should offer specifically high
royalties on back catalog Blu-ray sales and make artists, estates and
their management an offer they can't refuse. Selling a $14.95 Blu-ray
is more profitable for everyone involved than selling a crappy
resolution download that you could steal if you wanted to anyway.
the entire SACD and DVD-Audio catalog (likely 3,000 plus titles) that
could start a back catalog and tens of thousands of top-level records
sitting out there waiting to be resold, the majors could and should
come off their high horse and stop asking $250,000 to $1,000,000
upfront for boutique record labels to sell their music if they don't
want to be in the audiophile business. That's not a model that works.
Dark Side, Jazz at the Pawn Shop, Brothers In Arms, Kind of Blue and
every back catalog record in between are long paid for or written off
already. Majors should pick partners that can run with selling their
back catalog on HD disc formats as a new business model because the
25-year-old Compact Disc is not secure and offers little value in an HD
If people can't figure out what titles to master first? Ask the
consumers like the expert at Blue-Con was suggesting. They will tell
you that they are ready to buy their music over again on one last
silver disc and Blu-ray is it. One player. One disc. HD, surround
sound, audiophile sound and more for a fair price equals a recipe for
success, because audiophiles themselves are not a viable market to sell
music too - but music lovers are. The mainstream consumer knows what a
Blu-ray is and likely has a player to play it on. In fact, if the
majors had any real balls they would cease making CDs to sell and only
sell Blu-ray versions of their music with a CD enclosed as part of a
$9.99 to $14.99 Blu-ray record. Trying to price an album at $17.99 like
some of the majors do at retail won't work. Consumers demand more
value, HD content, more supplementals and more goodies for less money.
Give it to them and don't be surprised to see a multi-billion dollar
business being born again. Hell, the customers will even give you the
roadmap of how and what to sell to them. The question is: are the
majors smart enough to try something like this? I'd bet strongly
against it, which is exactly why domestic music sales are 2/3rds of
what they were in the early 1990's when the music business was selling
back catalog music on CD for 85 percent of their total disc sales.