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Amy Jo Smith: Recollections From DVD to DEG

As the digital entertainment business celebrates 25 years, so does DEG.

DEG was there at the beginning, and I with it, when the DVD Video Group was formed in 1997 with the express purpose of promoting the first digital entertainment format — DVD — in collaboration with content owners and hardware makers. 

I have so many fond memories and proud moments. Among the proudest was the formation of DEG Japan, where senior Japanese executives met under the guise of the DEG brand for meaningful dialog and to see what worked in their market. They were so self-guided; it was really inspiring to see.  And, more recently, the creation of the Hedy Lamarr Awards to honor women making strides in entertainment and technology, an initiative championed by Marc Finer, who has worked side by side with me at DEG since day one. 

I share these thoughts and a few more of my personal touchstones in an effort to focus not so much on the business details as on the business “flavor.” And that flavor is pioneering, revolutionary, one of art pushed forward by technology, and of a team bonded by common goals and shared experience.

DVD

Warren Lieberfarb

Warren Lieberfarb, the Warner Home Video president known far and wide as the “Father of DVD,” had the vision of putting a movie on a CD, named it DVD and, with no small amount of chutzpah, assured everyone that consumers would buy and collect movies going forward.  I had been in many meetings with Warren, but it wasn’t until I heard him convince a room packed with naysayers at CES 1998 that I finally understood: Warren was a force of nature, and he was going to make it happen. DVD was the most significant disruption the entertainment industry had experienced, and it became the fastest selling consumer electronics product in history.

DVD-Audio

DEG helped launch DVD-Audio at the music industry trade show NARM in San Antonio in 2000. It was amazing to see the jaws of both music enthusiasts and experts drop when they heard classics like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors or Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.  It was music they had heard countless times, but now they were hearing it differently.  It came alive. DVD-Audio’s quality notwithstanding, digital won the race in the music business and DVD-Audio was a casualty as a mainstream format. 

You’ve Got Mail

Over the years, DEG helped promote many popular titles when they came out on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.  One of my favorites was a promotion we did for Warner Home Video’s launch of You’ve Got Mail in New York City, where we passed out daisies in Central Park. My now-husband Jeff walked by and got some flowers.  When we actually met two years later, we realized that our first encounter was me giving him daisies in the park!

DEG Bags

DEG quickly became known for its coveted bags we’d give away at events, particularly the DEG Annual Reception at CES.  The bags were stuffed with dozens of DVDs, then Blu-rays, plus lots of other fun branded items.  I have many memories of the bags, but my favorites are receiving counterfeit bag tickets from attendees trying to score extra bags; walking through Heathrow Airport and seeing an executive from Paramount using the bag (pictured); and visiting the old city in Jerusalem and spying an executive’s teenage son using the DEG backpack!

Emiel Petrone

Emiel Petrone

As DEG chair, Disney’s Bob Chapek asked the Board of Directors to attend CEDIA, the trade show where the coolest home entertainment technologies of the time were displayed. Everyone agreed and found it a meaningful visit, punctuated by a VIP tour of show of the floor by DEG’s technical director, Marc Finer (known to most as “Finer”). Our founding chair, Emiel Petrone of Philips, led an after-dinner run to White Castle for burgers, which became a DEG tradition at CEDIA, despite seeming like a better idea in the moment than it ever did the next morning.  After Emiel passed away in 2004, Bob picked up the mantle and rallied us all to continue the CEDIA midnight White Castle run in Emiel’s honor.

9/11

(Photo courtesy Wiki Commons)

DEG was holding a meeting at Giant Interactive in New York when the attacks of 9/11 happened. We watched in horror as we realized our colleague John Beug from Warner Music lost his wife and mother-in-law in one of the planes. They would turn out to be among 3,000 others who perished that day. Stranded in New York City, I spent the next few days with DEG colleagues. We were all there for each other, giving support. Every year since, Jeff Stabenau of Giant, Gene Kelsey (then of Panasonic), Leslie Cohen (then of Sony Music), Paul Bishow (then of Universal Music Group) and I connect on Sept. 11 to honor the memory of others.

4K

DEG established DEG Japan as a means of flowing more information of emerging technologies to the membership.  Attending DEG Japan’s annual meeting and Blu-ray Prize celebration was always a highlight. It’s been a pleasure to know and work with Tsukagoshi-san, formerly of Disney, and many others.  Each trip was punctuated with a visit to Sony worldwide headquarters to visit their lab. I’ll never forget the moment they showed me 4K in their state-of-the-art theater. Colors and images came alive in a way I’d never imagined.

Board leadership

Over these 25 years, one thing that always strikes me is how the Board leaders, all executives with demanding day jobs, took the time to guide the organization, knowing that doing so would help grow the industry and, in turn, grow their businesses. I’m blessed that they all took the time to mentor and lead me, and that I may call each a friend, not just a colleague.  DEG would not be marking 25 years in 2022 if it hadn’t been for their vision and leadership.

Amy Jo Smith is president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, the leading home entertainment trade association and the descendant of the DVD Video Group, formed in 1997 to promote DVD.

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