Great innovations take time and MCA's DiscoVision is no exception. MCA Inc. first became involved in the research and development of the video disc system over ten years ago and offered its first public demonstration of the disc itself and the player unit by the end of 1972. Having placed the entire burden of creating both the hard and software of the system on itself for almost six years, MCA decided that it would be more expeditious to enter into a hardware manufacturing partnership with N.V. Philips of the Netherlands. However, MCA continued to perfect its own technology and, as Sid Sheinberg, president and chief operating officer of MCA, Inc., explained, did not want to present the system to the general public until it met MCA's own stringent demands.
"One of the reasons the system took as long as it did to get launched was we wanted to be sure we had a system that would play at least one hour per side. With the development of the CLV form (Constant Linear Velocity), we have achieved a full two hours worth of playing time in the 'straight -through mode.' Although you lose the benefit of choice offered by the CAV form, which includes freeze-frame and slow motion, because the CLV uses up too much space in encoding an hour's worth of material on each side, we felt that the new system would better meet the mass consumer demand," says Sheinberg.
MCA's commitment to DiscoVision is not only reflected in the tremendous amount of time and money that was invested in research and development, but also in an inflagging belief in the importance in the project. MCA plans to back up that belief over the course of the next several years by earmarking even more money into the manufacture of the system. By pressing the discs through a process almost identical to that of conventional records, at 20 second intervals on inexpensive plastic, MCA can pass along those production savings to the consumer.
"We believe that this represents the best opportunity for people in software programming of music, motion pictures and the like to reach the consumer at the lowest possible cost," said Sheinberg. "We're very much interested to see it not only survive but flourish in the marketplace."
Since MCA is the parent company of Universal Pictures, it has a vast catalog of motion pictures to draw from for video disc releases, in addition to films from a number of other studios. But being the parent of MCA Records and all its affiliate labels as well, Sheinberg pointed out that the presentation of music through DiscoVision would be equally significant and wide-ranging as film, if not more so.
"The potential in the world of music for an audio-visual medium might even surpass that of motion pictures. Recording artists have only recently begun to discover and acquaint themselves with the power of the visual medium through the use of video tape, and video discs will open up a whole new world of applications for them," notes Sheinberg.
As a promotional vehicle for records, video discs may well become unparalleled within the industry, according to Sheinberg. He expects that every label will soon be utilizing the system, in addition to retailers and rackjobbers, as a tie-in with product releases.
"We think that the point of sales display potential for the video disc is staggering," he says. "I don't see why every music retail outlet in America shouldn't have an industrial model of our video disc player. Most of the record labels should also have the systems because the video discs certainly have the capacity to be a unique promotional device, incorporating the product which they are selling.
"Because we believe the promotional value of the video disc is that great, we are planning to offer to record merchandisers a limited amount of video disc players. We will undertake the responsibility of mastering and duplication of the discs for every record company, as we are the only ones that can do it at this time."
Initially, half of DiscoVision's product releases will be feature motion pictures, both recent major films and popular classics, and the other half will run the gamut from educational and informational programs to made -for -TV movies and sports highlights. Sheinberg predicts, however, that music will be playing an increasingly prominent role, especially as recording artists begin to take advantage of the medium's use as an original and viable form for theatrical expression of music. "I have no doubt in my mind that product from the recording community made expressly for video discs will be coming in the very near future and probably much sooner than anyone would think," says Sheinberg.
Sheinberg added that one of MCA Records' major recording artists was currently at work on designing a video disc project; but treading on such unfamiliar terrain, slow and careful planning was being taken to insure a highly professional production.
A Lot at Stake
The extensive monetary resources and the diverse interests of MCA, Inc. notwithstanding, Sheinberg asserted that there was quite a bit at stake in DiscoVision. He says that in creating both the hard and software for the system, it is necessary to insure that the manufacture and sales of both ends are equally balanced.
"It's a chicken and egg type of situation; the system does have to be supported. Until we get enough players out there in the marketplace, we can't justify the costs of producing a lot of software. On the other hand, if this thing takes off right away and judging from the response we've had so far in our test markets, that is very likely - we don't want to get caught short on stock for our racks. Naturally, after spending so much time in research and development, we are more than a little anxious to mass market the system and see how it's really going to fare, not just engage in speculation.
"We do believe that we have the best system right now, even though it's more expensive than some of the other systems. Its much like the difference between higher priced stereo equipment and lower line hardware. While stereo outlets most often advertise their inexpensive lines, when customers come into the store, I'm convinced that many of them leave with better and slightly more expensive equipment after they've been won over by the differences in quality."
Part of the difficulty inherent in getting DiscoVision off the ground has been that whole process is still so new that many of the technicians have had to be trained from the ground level up, and manufacturers and marketers are incorporating their past knowledge with newer approaches in dealing with the product.
"We've had to grow our own experts in this area and, at times, it's been a struggle in dealing with all the new research on a day by day basis. It's a pioneering process and I know that it will pay off because we are getting the jump on the market and when other companies become involved they will have to come to us for the information. It's been exciting for all of us."
Sheinberg is looking towards the day when DiscoVision will be at the head of its own industry, operating via self -generated capital and contributing heavily to the corporate profits of MCA, Inc. as an autonomous division.
"DiscoVision has been operating as a separate entity for awhile now but it has been by no means an independent structure apart from MCA," Sheinberg says. "Jack Findlater, as president of MCA DiscoVision, deserves much of the credit for guiding the division so smoothly through the birth phase and we know that he will continue to be a very important part of the company's success as we go mass market.
"There are virtually a thousand and one applications for the system and we are excited with the potential prospects for each and every one. Needless to say, we hope to be working closely with all areas of the entertainment industry, including record companies and the retail and distribution networks, bringing everyone closer together in the process."