I’m working on a longer research note on DVDs and CDs, but this excerpt suddenly became relevant, in light of a few WSJ and NYT articles yesterday.
Here’s an early look at (hopefully) next week’s release:
D R A F T
"It may be instructive to look at the pricing model of DVDs for insight into what has happened in the CD market. In case you were unaware, the film/TV industry uses a very different pricing strategy than the music biz.
Studios release far less product each year then the labels, with major film releases numbering in the 100s versus 25,000 or so annual CD releases.
Films have a model where they typically are released from the highest revenue generator down to the lowest. Another way to describe that progression is a dynamic pricing structure going from highest paying users to lowest. Starting with theatrical release (movie theatres), moving next to pay-per-view, and than premium cable (i.e, HBO). After the premium cable run has begun (or ends) is when typically DVDs get released for sale (or rental) to the public. Eventually, movies make their way to basic cable, and lastly, to broadcast TV. (Somewhere in the middle is overseas release, but for our purposes, that’s more of a parallel track).
DVD sales do not rely on a static pricing model. They are initially released at a price point consistent with expected demand. After a short period of time, prices drop, and in some cases, significantly.
A few recent film and TV examples may be instructive. The Seinfeld Collection (Seasons 1&2, and Seasons 3&4) were originally released before Thanksgiving (November 29, 2004), and sold for $49.99 at retail. As the Christmas holidays approached, prices were no less than the $44.99 level. Shortly after the holidays, sales as low as $39.99 were seen. Towards the end of March, Amazon (AMZN), Target (TGT) and Circuit City (CC) all advertising both sets for $29.95 a piece.
Pricing is a combination of popularity (demand) and age (supply). The older a release is, the more its available on the secondary markets. Let’s look at a few recent animated films: Older movies, such as Shrek, Ice Age and Antz are all $10 today. More recent films, such as Finding Nemo or Shrek2 are $14.99 and $15.99 respectively. Films fresh out of the theatres, such as The Incredibles, are $20.
Traditional films (live action) are priced similarly. Older releases such as School of Rock, Titanic, or Forest Gump are $7.50. We see more recent features such as Kill Bill 1(and Kill Bill 2), Lord of the Rings, Bourne Identity, Gladiator, and Master & Commander sold for $10.
But its not just a function of age: Certain older titles never seem to drop below $10 — recently films of acclaim like Pulp Fiction, or Saving Private Ryan, or older classics like Ben Hur or Ten Commandments — despite their age. Its a function of popularity and hence, demand.
Ironically, many of the films mentiooned here now sell for less than their soundtracks. Two hours (or longer) of a movie, plus additional audio commentary, a documentary of the making of the film, outtakes, special features etc., all cost less than a mere 45 minute audio only songs from the film.
We’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating: Consumers have very quickly figured out that CDs are a peculiarly weak value propostion. Is it any surpise that CD sales have slid while DVDs have grown explosively? How is it that the widespread availability of films on Bit Torrent haven’t dented their sales? A simple possible explanation is pricing structure.
By pricing DVDs strategically, the film and television industry captures marginal sales and maximizes revenue. The only comparable pricing structure in the music industry are budget CDs. These are typically much older than the DVD price discounts (6 months versus many years). Even worse, they are packaged differently, specifically marketed as “budgetline” — with less desirable cover art and labelling. (There’s nothing quite like sending a message to your price sensitive clients that you are 2nd rate consumers, and we hardly value your business).
Compare the differening approaches the two industries take. DVD sales are dynamically priced. Sellers are aware they have price sensitive consumers. They offer the exact same product — albeit on a less timely basis.
CD sales are static, maintaining the same price over the life of a disc. On those select discs when price discounts do occur (budget line), the industry purposefully makes changes to make the product less desirable.
DVD sales in the secondary market have grown dramatically, paralleling the explosive growth of DVDs themselves. But the ongoing discounting process continues, with prices sliding as low as $5 per DVD. This dramatically reduces the impact of the secondary market.
More on this, and an some interesting conclusions via our study of secondary markets, next week.
An Ever-Shorter Leap From Theater to DVD
By Jen Chaney
The Washington Post, Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page N03
For Those of You Who Wonder How That TV Show Began
By DAVID KOEPPEL
NYT: March 21, 2005
What’s on the Flip Side Of That CD? Increasingly, a DVD
The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2005; Page B1
The Music Goes on Side A and the Flip Side Is a DVD
By ROBERT LEVINE
NYT: March 21, 2005
Here’s something enormously gratifying: A front page WSJ article about why Radio sucks.
The reporter even got the cause & effect right. Satellite and iPod’s successes came about because Radio was so bad. Even my whipping boy, The 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act, catches blame. You can also see the impact of the Wired article (mentioned here earlier in the month) on the overall flavor of the piece.
While I place a lot more emphasis on the actual reasons for the migration away from radio, this piece is very much in the Big Picture spirit. As someone who has been kvetching about this for years, I am very pleased to see this front page WSJ coverage.
One thing I note as missing is a discussion of the long term generational effect, and the threat to a possible radio recovery: Since 1996, radio’s decay has led to an entire generation of listeners who have essentially written off radio (at least, when it comes to music).
The other key issue: Radio as a source of new music, and its relationship to the labels. (Not really discussed). It used to be part of the draw — a relationship with a trusted DJ who plays music you like, combined with introducing you to new songs (trust is the key component in granting someone taste-maker status).
I do not see how merely imitating the iPod’s shuffle feature will do the trick. Walk along the beach this summer — there are hardly any radios blaring — a peaceful
easy feeling eerie quiet, and lots of white headphone cords.
We discussed the The Hamburger Helper Effect previously. What will undo a complete shift of media consumption habits of an entire generation of listeners? Can the broadcast industry recapture these lost ears? (I dunno). If they can, then what will they have to so in order to bring back their lost audience?
1) Is it
even possible; b) how they might accomplish that trick?
I’m not sure that anything short of a massive unwinding of radio concentration, and a return to local managers, program directors, DJs and playlists will undo the damage. Even then, you have to win back the listeners who felt betrayed and abandoned.
The 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act provides us with yet another example of the law of unintended consequences . . .
Hit by iPod and Satellite, Radio Tries New Tune: Play More Songs
After Mergers, Bland Sound Left Giants Vulnerable; Fewer Ads, Added Variety Engineering a ‘Train Wreck’
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, March 18, 2005; Page A1