Column from November 13th, 2000 issue
Executives at EMI and Warner Music seem to be finally conceding that their merger deal isn't going to come to anything and that they're not going to get rich overnight off their stock options. Looks like the deal is going to be abandoned. The European Commission blocked the deal, and once concessions had been made, the company suits didn't think it had enough value left in it - clear proof they were doing something because it would make a quick buck, not because anyone ever thought it was a good idea. Warner will now look at (I'm sure you can all predict what's coming next) "digital delivery of songs, looking at how to exploit the opportunities created by the merger of parent Time Warner with America Online". Note that they used the word "exploit".
But more than that, after screwing about for months, both Warner Music and EMI could now become takeover targets for the ultra-aggressive BMG which seems to want to the biggest media group by the end of the year. BMG is already looking at EMI and some think it might just go after Warner Music instead. Then you've also got a possibility that Sony might sell off its music business, and you have the potential for the music industry to be dominated by a new monster. Strange thing is though, biggest is not always best, and the head honcho at BMG must have a physical deficiency (ahem!) that makes him want to build big substitutes! Or maybe he just got picked on in the playground at school.... Either way, BMG wants to be big, big, big, but it just seems to be on a feeding frenzy and just grabbing anything that moves (like Napster and probably doomed CD Now) just doesn't make proper sense!
Another thing that's happened quite recently, that I've still quite to understand the implications of, is that Microsoft has bought Pacific Microsonics (PMI). That's the guys that the developed the very admirable HDCD (High Definition Compatible Digital) system that's used by some studios both in the recording and mastering of CDs. It's all very well the music industry searching for new formats like they were the holy grail, but if you've a HDCD capable CD player and good system, it is surprising just how good "ordinary" CD can sound....
So what the heck is Microsoft going to do with that technology? All it's saying right now is that it will "incorporate PMI's pioneering technology into future offerings for the PC and make it available for a wide range of consumer devices". That doesn't tell you a lot, but it is interesting that a PC focused company is actually embracing something that IMPROVES sound quality and doesn't degrade it like all the on-line delivery formats everyone wants to promote at the moment - that at least is refreshing. As part of the Microsoft camp, maybe we'll see HDCD spread a bit more widely, and if they could develop a home system for recording in HDCD format I'd buy it!