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News in Brief - september 2003


Taiwan’s Acorp Electronics has reached a deal with the Tsinghua Tongfang Group in China to form a joint venture by merging their subsidiaries to develop the market of DVD recorders and players. One of the concrete steps is to merge Acorp’s overseas subsidiary – T-Top – with the Chinese partner’s plant and business operations in Shenzhen. It will be responsible for producing the main boards and cards for the DVD players, recorders, and other products. The back-end assembly will be done by the Tongfang plant to turn out 200,000 sets of DVD products per month. The new company aims to quickly take over 40% of the DVD market share in Taiwan.

Apple, a longtime supporter of the DVD-R format, is adding support for DVD+R and DVD+RW into the Macintosh operating system with Panther, the new version of Mac OS X. Apple is only adding support for backing up data and has not yet added support for the format into its media applications, such as iDVD and iTunes.

Sony recently launched an optical data storage system – the Professional Disc for Data (PDD) – that uses blue laser technology to offer rewriteable and write-once capacities of 23.3GB per disc. Each disc is built into a cartridge unit. The product is aimed at high-end data storage applications, and Sony is touting it as a successor to 9.1GB MO drives. Sony is already planning a second-generation machine that ups the capacity to 50GB and the data transfer rate to 18MBps, for delivery in 2005. The first drive will ship this summer for around $3000. Discs are $45 a unit. A third-generation unit, due some years down the line, will double capacity and throughput again, to 100GB and 36MBps, respectively, Sony says.

LearnKey, publisher of self-paced training courseware, announced training support for Microsoft Producer for Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003, available on DVD. Producer 2003 is a free add-on for Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003. It allows business users and content professionals to create engaging rich-media presentations by synchronizing audio, video, and PowerPoint slides and images. www.learnkey.com

Included in the Mac OSX upgrade (codenamed Panther) are some key changes to its DVD player. DVD Player 4.0 features built-in support for 5.1 surround-sound audio tracks. It can also display closed-captioning information in a separate window, which you can move away from your video. Plus, DVD Player now supports full-screen presentation modes on Macs with multiple monitors, and it lets you bookmark spots on your DVDs for quick reference.

Yoko Ono has produced Lennon Legend, a new DVD of John Lennon's solo work. The DVD features 20 Lennon compositions that have been illustrated with a mix of restored promo clips, new animation and previously unseen footage of the couple. Videotapes, home movies and newsreels and other footage of the couple in performance, at home in New York City and at the beach, have been included. The title, a companion to a 1998 album of the same name, will be released October 27 in Britain and on November 18 in the US.

German theatrical distributor Solo Flim Verleih has concluded a wide-reaching deal with EuroVideo Bildprogramm for the rental and sell-through video/DVD rights to sixteen of its titles. The package includes such films as The Good Thief, The United States Of Leland and 11:4 as well as the current release Jester Till (Till Eulenspiegel ) which has already attracted over 400,000 admissions since opening on September 25. Commenting on the deal with EuroVideo, Solo Film's CEO Peter Heinzemann said that his company "is certain that, together with EuroVideo, we will reach an optimal marketing of our titles in the whole exploitation chain for the German speaking area."

A spinoff to hit real-time drama series 24 is being considered by Fox Home Entertainment. It could feature an all-new cast and taking place in real-time. Each series would be eight-hours long and released directly to DVD. Around 1 million copies of the full 24 season 1 and two boxsets have been sold worldwide so far.

Postman Pat and his famous black and white cat Jess are back on their rounds with the first brand new episodes in nearly a decade released on DVD and Video by Right Entertainment on 10th November. Postman Pat's Magic Christmas' features two half hour specials, Postman Pat's Magic Christmas and Postman Pat and The Greendale Rocket, which have been brought to life by Entertainment Rights in conjunction with the BBC and the award winning Cosgrove Hall Films. The video and DVD launch is supported by an extensive advertising and public relations campaign.

According to IDC, with an expanding consumer and professional appetite for high-capacity applications, stand-alone and PC-attached DVD recorder purchases are expected to grow from five million in 2002 to 19 million in 2003, a more than-threefold increase over last year. IDC further anticipates that the DVD recorder market will grow to over 100 million units in 2006, including over 60 million PC DVD burners.

A group of nearly 60 US lawmakers launched the International Anti-Piracy Caucus in an effort to pressure foreign governments to adopt more stringent copyright protections. The lawmakers – led by Senators Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.), and Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) – hope the new caucus can help convince other governments of the importance to the United States and local economies of protecting intellectual property. Caucus members named Brazil, China, Pakistan, Russia and Taiwan as target countries.

To date, Warner Home Video has generated worldwide sales of well over $400 million from Friends on DVD, with more seasons yet to be released.

Music giants BMG and Sony Music are putting deal talks into high gear, hoping to beat rivals to the punch in a race to get a music merger across the finish line, The New York Post reported. Now that Time Warner is focused on striking a deal with EMI Group that would give the British music company majority control of the Warner Music division, BMG and Sony are working feverishly against the clock to put together the framework of a deal to bring before regulators.

LCD Editions, one of the largest French independent home-video publishers, has acquired worldwide rights for a collection of 40 theater plays titled Au théatre ce soir, that it has already distributed in France. One title, Ce que femme veut, has already sold over 120,000 DVDs.

John Gaydon, director of international acquisitions for music video publisher Eagle Vision, says he goes to markets like MIPCOM to look for archive material with an international flavour for use in a DVD. The main problem he encounters is that, to date, many rights holders at the market have failed to appreciate the need of DVD distributors for a clear rights chain. “I am looking for, at the minimum, Europewide deals and worldwide, at best, but producers of, say, a concert shot in Spain of international acts, have quite often sold all rights to their territory to broadcasters to finance the programme."

UK-based content provider Chrysalis Distribution secured DVD deals at MIPCOM for its television action series Ultimate Force. Series 1 was picked up by the AK Company of Japan. Carlton Visual Entertainment bought UK DVD rights to the second and third series.

Ariel Veneziano, Alliance Atlantis’s head of motion picture distribution, has had responsibility for DVD releasing added to his remit. Based in London, he will oversee the licensing of disc deals for the company’s hit teleseries CSI: Crime Scene and the Oscar-winning documentary Bowling For Columbine, among other titles.

The next series of Aardman’s British animation series Creature Comforts has been acquired for DVD releasing by Granada International. Multi-territory deal excludes the UK, US and Australia.

Shipments of DVD players in Japan during the first half of 2003 rose 66% to 2 million units, according to JEITA, the Japan Electronics and Information Technologies Industry Association. VCR shipments fell more than 35% to 1.5 million units. The trade body forecast that the global market for DVD players will increase by 19% in 2003 to some 54 million units with VHS machine shipments dropping 14% to 30 million units.

The Motion Picture Association (of America) says the number of counterfeit DVDs seized in the first half of 2003 in the Asia-Pacific region hit 4.3 million units, up from 2.4 million in the first half of 2002. China, Taiwan and Hong Kong accounted for the majority of the seizures.

The move by the major studios to eliminate the rental window and to introduce a system of two-tier pricing, single-date releasing in UK DVD releasing is almost complete. Buena Vista is the sole holdout and the company still allows rental stores a period of exclusivity before retail copies are released. And now non-major distributors are expected to follow the big players with day-date releasing. Indeed, Momentum has become the first independent video distributor to abolish the video rental window.

Nexpak’s space-saving DVD pack Thinpak has been selected by Philips for its DVD+R and DVD-RW media products. The Dutch packager can now produce up to 6 million Thinpak units a month from its various plants.
The Consumer Electronics Association survey US homes and found that more than 40% had DVD drives in their home computers as at June 30, 2003. Some 60% had CD drives. The survey also showed that 10% of US home could record to DVD.

DVD’s percentage of total video retail sales in the UK has zipped from 47% in the first half of 2002 to 66% in the first 6 months of 2003. So says the British Video Association. In the first half of the current year, all video sales were up 33% to 77.7 million units but DVD volume was up 86%, VHS down 13%. Rental transactions were in retreat during the period, down 14% to 77 million.

DVD hardware sales in the US during the first 6 months of 2003 hit 10 million, up 44% on sales to consumers in the first half of 2001, per the DVD Entertainment Group. A record 427 million DVD units were shipped in the period to June 30, 2003.

In Sweden, VHS retail fell by 20% in the first half of 2003 while DVD retail moved up by 49%. Total retail market increased by 13%. Per industry sources, DVD rental in Denmark and Norway accounted for some 50% of rental transactions while in Sweden it accounted for 44% of the business during the first half of 2003. With VHS data loaded in, the total rental market in Sweden and Denmark fell by 3%. But in Norway it increased by 4.45%.

At the Amsterdam International Broadcasting Convention September 15, Sonic Solutions showed a new version of its DVD-Audio Creator software, a system for professional DVD-Audio title production, that the company says adds significant performance enhancements and new features designed to enable audio professionals and mastering studios to streamline their DVD-Audio title production. (Full story in Product Launches).

Taiwanese source report that shipments of recordable DVD drives are reaching new highs with optical storage drive makers in general enjoying growth in the sector. In addition to shipment volumes, the relatively high average selling prices of the DVD drivers also contributed to revenue growth. Lite-On IT, Behavior Tech Computer (BTC) and BenQ all announced double digit increases in August business.

Sony’s head of its entertainment operations Sir Howard Stringer says that more than 50 new movies had been stolen and made available on the internet before their official release dates, in the first six months of this year alone. The growing threat is online movie piracy from broadband-connected homes, he said. Speaking in Paris, Sir Howard said that around 500,000 illegal copies of recently released films were being traded on the internet every day, a figure that is expected to increase with the growing penetration of broadband-equipped homes. The executive noted, too, that the music industry is estimated to have lost $7bn to piracy over the last two years.

Philips won five additional key customers for its Nexperia DVD+R/+RW turnkey reference design. Leading DVD manufacturers – Changhong, Skyworth, Argus Electronics, Syber and Xingqiu – are leveraging Philips' proven DVD+R/+RW reference design to introduce their DVD recorders quickly into the emerging consumer audio/video market. Philips was the first company to offer a complete reference design for DVD+R/+RW digital video recorders. Since its introduction in Q4 2002, Philips' complete system solution has been providing the industry's foremost manufacturers with all of the technology and software necessary to introduce robust and mature DVD recording devices in compliance with the preferred format, DVD+R/+RW.

Unofficial word is that Apple is letting it be known they have sold over 10 million tunes since the iTunes launch 4 months ago – on course for the sale of some 30 million tunes in its first year of operations in ther US alone.

Sony is said to be about to deliver to developers the initial batch of portable PlayStation development kits (or emulation software). The console itself isn't expected to be unveiled until the E3 event next May. With the ability to play DVD quality movies as well as play graphically sophisticated videogames, the PSP looks to be the most versatile and powerful portable on the market - if Sony can deliver the unit at a comparable price to GBA, as it's previously pledged, it's difficult to see how this handheld can miss.

With some trade estimates of the global demand for DVD player controller ICs predicting it will reach some 5 million units per month during the peak season, Cheertek, a Taiwan-based optical storage chip supplier, expects to start volume production of its DVD player single-chip solutions integrating servo and MPEG2 decoder chips in September. The company is also looking to launch an advanced solution that further integrates an RF (radio frequency) IC, with upgrades to the MPEG-4 standard, in early 2004.

A film of the 2002 Royal Albert Hall tribute concert to former Beatle George Harrison will be given a limited worldwide cinema release in November prior to a release later in the month of a DVD version. All profits will to the Material World Charitable Foundation founded by the ex-Beatle in 1973. The Concert for George will premiere in cinemas in London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo before the release of the two disc DVD on Dark Horse Records. The concert featured his former bandmates Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as well as Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Ravi Shankar, Joe and Sam Brown, Billy Preston, Jools Holland and Jeff Lynne.

Comic book publisher CrossGen on September 16 is to offer five of its comics on DVD via retail stores in the US. Price tag will be under $10. In a novel production, cameras move from panel-to-panel on each page. Actors read the word balloons and thought bubbles. Sound effects punctuate the action. One comic will take about 22 minutes to read. CrossGen said the move was being made "to get kids interested in the medium." Typical comic book readers are in their 20s or older.

Hans-Joachim Kamp, head of Germany’s Consumer Electronics Federation, said at the IFA in Berlin the German industry expects a 1.4% rise in sales revenues this year to Euro19.3 billion. "Living room entertainment is become the engine to growth," he said noting that DVD recorders and flat TV screens were boosting business in Germany.

TimeSys, a US seller of Linux for embedding in various computing devices, has joined the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum. Meantime, it is understood that MontaVista Software plans a similar move next week.

Reports indicates that Taiwan-based Lite-On IT and BenQ have secured OEM orders for 4x speed DVD+RW drives from Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Hewlett-Packard, respectively, signalling local producers’ strength in competing for the market currently dominated by Japanese companies such as Pioneer, NEC and Ricoh.

Palm Pictures, a British production-distribution filmery run by Chris Blackwell, is set to make original movies for direct-to-DVD distribution. The company will announce its film slate in October but it is understood that it is planning up to 10 titles. Those films aimed at the home entertainment market will range in budget from $250,000 to $6m.

Sonic Solutions has announced a public offering of 920,000 shares of its common stock at a price of $15.00 per share, for gross proceeds of $13.8 million. The offering is being underwritten by Adams, Harkness & Hill, Inc.

Ulead Systems, which developed VideoStudio and DVD MovieFactory software, is to license DivX technology from DivXNetworks in order to use the MPEG-4 based video codec in its upcoming video editing products. Ulead will promote DivX technology to its OEM customers and will also distribute DivXNetworks' products using its worldwide distribution channels.

Toshiba has linked with Korea’s Samsung Electronics by signing September 22 a memorandum of agreement to integrate their optical drive businesses. The firms will establish a separate joint venture to develop and sell various types of CD and DVD drives. The jv, which will give the two companies a combined global market share of 22%, will be administered in Japan. But Samsung will own 51% of the new company, versus Toshiba’s 49%, and it will have its base of operations in Korea. The company is expected to generate about $1.8 billion in annual sales.

RW Products Promotion Initiative (RWPPI) and the Recordable DVD Council (RDVDC) agreed to jointly conduct compatibility tests on products that support recordable DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM from September. Compatibility tests will be anchored by the RWPPI Round Robin Test and RDVDC Compatibility Working Group. Tests will start with 4x speed DVD-R, 2x speed DVD-RW and 3x speed DVD-RAM.

UK retailers are shunning XCopy Xpress, the US-developed DVD copying software from 321 Studios which the company is attempting to launch in Britain. The stores have answered the hands-off call from the Motion Picture Association of America which has supported legal action against 321’s move. Originally on sale at Amazon.co.uk and set to launch at the nation-wide PC World stores September 17, XCopy Xpress has been withdrawn from sale by both retailers, following legal advice.

The European Commission turned a deaf ear to complaints about two-tier pricing in the British video trade. Scottish MEP Sir Neil McCormick told the Commission that small retailers in DVD rental are experiencing ‘oppressive conduct’ from the big distributors in the industry and asked the EC to consider an enquiry into pricing policies that tend to squeeze out small retailers. The EC replied: “It would seem that the effects of the alleged restrictive practice are likely to be felt essentially in the United Kingdom market. This would imply that, in the interest of an efficient enforcement of competition rules, the United Kingdom competition authorities would seem to be better placed to deal with such a case.”

Amid a rental slowdown, the buzz from the US is that the Blockbuster chain is looking to diversify and is exploring a possible merger with Columbia House, the DVD and music direct-marketing retailer. Cobination could create a formidable retailer of DVDs to compete with mass merchants that have helped fuel DVD sales with discounted prices. Blockbuster is said to be trying to transform its video-rental business as it seems, consumers are buying low priced DVDs instead of renting them.

Seagate Technology is supplying the hard drives for Toshiba’s HDD & DVD recorder, RD-XS31 – the first DVD multi-drive video recorder. Seagate's hard drive handles up to 104 hours of recording time for TV shows. It also provides the cache storage that allows programs to be archived to DVD-RAM, DVD-RW and DVD-R formats.

Infodisc Technology held a ground-breaking ceremony September 16 for a blank DVD disc factory in the Hwaya Technology Park in Linkou, Taiwan. Occupying a 3.3-hectare site, the factory will be developed in three phases, with investment totaling NT$30 billion. Building construction will be completed by the end of next May, with space for 70 production lines. Equipment installation and trial production will begin next June, and blank DVD disc capacity could reach 30 million units per month before the end of 2004

Anti-piracy body FACT, which has been operational for two decades, last week took possession of 3,000 DVDs imported from China – and passed the 1 million discs siezed landmark. Operation Malign, started this year, has proved that close working relationships with Customs, courier companies and the Asia Pacific Programme benefits from a unified fight against piracy. So far this year, FACT has seized nearly three times the total amount of optical discs seized in 2002 and 10 times the amount seized in 2001. This year FACT has seen a 100% increase in the seizures of VHS tapes – a counterfeit product that was in decline in the early part of 2003.

InterVideo says its WinDVD Creator movie-making software will be bundled with all new HP notebook PCs. The first system shipping with WinDVD Creator is the new Pavilion zd7000 Series Widescreen Notebook PC, which is available with a DVD+RW drive.

The next British Video Association Awards is set for March 4, 2004 at the British Genius Site in London's Battersea Park. The ceremony will honour the video campaigns of the past year. Awards categories include Marketing Initiative Of The Year, Rental Success Of The Year (independent and multiple), Top Rental Distributor Of The Year, Industry Initiative Of The Year and Industry Individual Of The Year.

Next month, one of America’s oldest independent video labels, Inspired, is to launch in the UK. It will trade as Inspired Distribution Ltd and will base in London. The label was founded 75 years ago as Peter Pan Industries by the father of the company’s current president and CEO, Donald Kasen, who recently renamed and re-launched it. The PPI labels have releasede thousands of titles in the fitness, well-being, children’s music and books, films and other categories.

Speculation in the UK business press is that EMI is preparing to bid for Warner Music. The British music group has revealed its plan to raise €300m (£211m) in the bond market. This follows the news that EMI is also to launch a $243m (£151m) convertible bond. The company has not confirmed its ambitions towards Warner Music, valued at £600 million.

Overheard at the IBC fair in Amsterdam: "DVD has revolutionized trade show presentations. Rather than having to stop, rewind and start a tape, vendors can go forward to any section of a DVD and target their sales pitch to a specific individual or audience. It has transformed the way we do business. Just the navigation alone has done for sales presentations what the CD did for music."

Time-limited DVDs, such as the disposable discs Disney is trialling in the US currently, may be overpriced at $7 per, according to industry observers. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart are selling cut-price DVDs at a lower figure and a regular rental costs just $4. Discount stores, supermarkets and even drugstores are said to be stocking up on lower-priced DVD movies to lure customers in a downbeat economy.

On-line retailer DVDEmpire.com, and 5.1 Entertainment group, which runs the Silverline, Immergent, Electromatrix and MyUtopia labels, have teamed up to promote DVD-Audio. Purchasers of one or more DVD-Audio discs from DVDEmpire.com, will receive a free copy of 5.1 Entertainment’s Super Sonic Surround Sampler, which features six tracks from Silverline’s most recent and popular DVD-Audio releases. Tracks on the sampler are presented in high-resolution 96kHz 24-bit surround, and there is a DVD-Video compatible Dolby Digital layer.

Apple Computer has released a Pro Application Support update which it recommends for all users of Final Cut Pro, Cinema Tools, Compressor, LiveType, Soundtrack, and DVD Studio Pro.

Iomega has unveiled a drive that will read and write numerous DVD formats. The drive will span the range of CD and DVD technologies, including CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW, putting it into direct competition with Sony's drive. (more in Product Launches)

MCE Technologies, a peripheral maker for Apple computers, is about to ship a 2x DVD-Recordable drive upgrade for the PowerBook G4. The drive can burn DVD-R media at up to 2x speed and DVD-RW media at 1x speed, and it can burn single or double-sided DVD-RAM media at up to 2x speed as well. (more in Product Launches)

A yearly survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicates that by 2007 digital industries will be worth over $22 billion in Australia. The continent’s media and entertainment industries’ use of digital technology is growing at one of the fastest rates in the world. The rise of the DVD in Australia is a good example of the pace of the industry's growth. "50% of Australian households can play a DVD," a spokesperson said. "Last year there was a 73% increase in purchases of DVDs and video, of which the vast majority was DVDs.”

According to UK trade publication Music Week, one major record label is considering making all its singles into DVDs. Companies invest many thousands of pounds in promotional videos and are keen to justify the expense, so DVD singles are seen as a good way of adding value.

With delivery expected by March 2004, the Italian government has ordered LaserCard optical memory cards from Drexler Technology Corp. for its national ID card. The digital ID card program called Carta d'Identita Elettronica (CIE) represents the first use of a digital national ID within the European Union. The cards have been developed in cooperation with various agencies of the Italian government to meet the requirements set in the decree announced three years ago for the program. The services for which the CIE card will be used may include healthcare, voting, social security, transportation and education.

DVD Audio is poised to take over from CD and tape as car manufacturers are increasingly building into their upscale models the higher digital sound format. “All the marketing research says that when people are asked where do you listen to music more, in your home or in your car, the answer is the car,” says Elliot Scheiner, a Grammy-winning recording engineer who has teamed with Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. on its ELS Surround Sound system that will makes its first appearance in a car next October.

Supported by a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign in the Region-1 arena, MGM is to release November 18 the first 20 James Bond films in three special-edition sets ($124.96 each). Volume 1, comprising seven titles, was released in October but will be repromoted and released together with the second and third volumes. Each title gets has extras, including commentaries, documentaries and various featurettes, music videos, theatrical trailers, storyboards and other material. MGM said all Bond titles, except "Die Another Day," are scheduled to go into moratorium on January 19 2004 for an indefinite period.

Indonesia, which ranks third behind China and Vietnam in the global list of copyright offenders, has responded to pressure from the World Trade Organization and introduced a new law aimed at clamping down on copyright piracy. Copyright violators could face jail sentences of up to seven years or fines of more than $500,000.

According to results from a March 2003 Panasonic-sponsored IDC study, strong consumer demand for stand-alone DVD recorders is positioning the already hot recordable DVD market for long-term growth. The claim is that in 2002 the Panasonic brand captured more than 50% market share in for DVD recorders in both Japan and the US. For the first two months of 2003, Panasonic captured over 60% market share in DVD recorders sold in the US. Sales of DVD recorders to consumers in 2002 grew more than 100-fold over the comparable period in the previous year, according to The NPD Group. Sales of DVD recorders in the US are expected to reach 1 million units in 2003.