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Scoreboard: SACD 275, DVD-A 145

More than 145 DVD-Audio titles and 275 SACD titles (mostly two-channel recordings) were available in the United States at the end of 2001, and more are on the way early this year, according to Sony Music and the DVD Entertainment Group.

By the end of March, Sony said it and independent music companies will expand their combined SACD selection to 364 titles, up from 275 in December 2001 and 241 in May 2001. Of the 364, 107 will be multichannel-SACD titles, and 196 will be hybrid SACD/CD titles (none of them from Sony). Some of these titles are multichannel hybrids.

In DVD-Audio, 145 discs available in December will grow by at least 50 in 2002, based on preliminary information, the DVD Entertainment Group said. In May 2001, only 56 titles were available.

Of the top music companies, Sony exclusively supports SACD, and Warner exclusively supports DVD-Audio. BMG has said it favors DVD-Audio but hadn’t announced a firm commitment at press time.

Universal and EMI, on the other hand, are sending out mixed messages in support of both formats, in part because decentralized units within each company don’t seem to know what the others are doing.

Last fall, for example, Universal Music Group announced plans to launch SACD but didn’t get specific other than to say it hoped the first titles would be available by the end of 2001. The titles didn’t ship by then, and in the meantime, Universal’s Deutsche Grammophon began marketing two DVD-Audio titles in the U.S. In addition, music industry sources said Universal Music’s parent Vivendi Universal is close to cementing a DVD-Audio license.

In another unexpected development, EMI Recorded Music, owner of EMI Records Group and Virgin Records, also said it is going both ways.

EMI Records Group said it will offer only DVD-Audio titles in the U.S. even though the company announced plans at last summer’s IFA show in Berlin to market around 17 SACD titles worldwide beginning in late 2001. At that time, EMI spokespeople said they didn’t know whether the titles would be marketed in the U.S., and now EMI Records Group confirmed that its SACD titles won’t be in the U.S.

For its part, the Virgin Records unit is going ahead with SACD, but production-capacity constraints will likely push availability of new titles, to early this year from late 2001 in the U.S.

Multiple independent music companies have also lined up behind the formats. Twenty-five of these smaller companies offer SACD discs, Sony Music said. They include Telarc, DMP, Chesky, Delos and Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab.

Independents supporting DVD-Audio include Telarc, AIX, 5.1 Entertainment, DTS Entertainment, Surrounded by Entertainment and Chesky.

Here are more details:

EMI Records Group: Although the company announced plans during Berlin’s IFA event last August to roll out multiple SACD titles, its U.S. arm — EMI Music Distribution— recently announced plans to support only DVD-Audio.

“The focus in the U.S. is DVD-Audio,” said Kenny Nemus, manager of catalog marketing for the EMI catalog group in the U.S. He said EMI Music Distribution, which distributes all EMI Music Group titles, has no plans for U.S. distribution of SACD titles from EMI Music Group.

Five EMI Classics DVD-Audio discs are already available, and several more are due in January, he added. Three EMI Music catalog titles will be out Feb. 12, and 13 more are due by the end of 2002.

All EMI titles will have back-up Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks for backward compatibility with DVD-Video players. They’ll also feature two-channel high-resolution tracks to go with the 5.1-channel high-resolution tracks, Nemus said. For the catalog titles, the suggested retail is $24.98.

Another EMI unit, EMI Classics, has already begun shipping five DVD-Audio titles and plans several more in January, he said.

Virgin Records: The company, EMI Music Group’s independent sister company, also announced plans last August at IFA to market nine more SACD titles to supplement “Tubular Bells.” The titles were to be available in October and November worldwide, including the U.S., but one of Virgin’s two U.S. distributors, Astralwerks, said the titles had been delayed because of production-capacity constraints and weren’t likely to ship until early 2002.

The Astralweks spokesman also said Virgin Records America hasn’t yet decided whether it, too, will market SACD titles.

Virgin also offers one DVD-Audio title, “The Blue Man Group.”

Warner Music: The company plans at least 40 more titles in the U.S. in 2002, with 25 of those from its catalog and 15 others released day and date with their CD counterparts, the DVD Entertainment Group said.