The Editor's Spin: There Goes the Neighborhood
Posted Apr 1, 2001

April 2001|So where were you when they announced the Great Sonic-Daikin accord of 2001? I'm not sure if it compares to the Nixon-Mao détente, the Begin-Sadat summits at Camp David, the might-have-been 1976 Lennon-McCartney reunion appearance on Saturday Night Live, Elton John and Eminem at the Grammys, or catching George Wallace and Ella Baker in a passionate liplock, but I sure as heck didn't see it coming. Looking back on that spine-tingling moment from a safe editorial distance—nearly three hours—I've got to say, like Nixon "opening" China, it makes a lot of sense. Good fences make good neighbors, but sometimes removing them entirely makes good business.

It also reflects good business sense triumphing over dissent. For all the bad blood that's bubbled between these two companies in the past—remember when the Prodigal Sonic crossed the Redwood Highway and never looked back?—Sonic and Daikin have given this industry yet another shining example of hatchet-burying in the name of high profits. Old enemies and crosstown rivals Cedar and Rimage made great allies once they established a comfortable co-existence of Cedar's office-oriented CD dupers and Rimage's industrial-strength producing pros. Until very recently, Sonic has primarily sold Mac-oriented DVD authoring solutions for its high-end offerings, while Daikin's DVD business has concentrated on the Windows space. There's some nice tier-toggling going on here, too. Sonic has done a remarkable job of appending its entry-level DVDit! authoring software to every encoder, video editor, and prosumer PC under the sun; these days they're partnering more indiscriminately than the University of North Dakota hockey program (http://www.und.edu/org/bridges/gifthorse.html), and in Sonic's case, it's good business and good judgment. Meanwhile, Daikin's least expensive offering, ReelDVD, takes aim at a somewhat more sophisticated market that complements DVDit! nicely, particularly as a sold-separately solution.

Then there's Sonic's new DVD technology chief. Why is it that everywhere I go, some guy named James Taylor seems to dominate the public consciousness? Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, you couldn't get away from the guy, even though he'd fled his hometown long before he ever signed a record contract. Years after his run of hit singles had run out, every seven-inch he put to wax flooded the airwaves in 919 country. Even leaving the state and ol' JT's omnipresence behind was kind of a Catch-22, since it made "Goin' to Carolina in My Mind" the insinuating soundtrack to every offhand reminiscence you might have.

But we're not talking about senescent popster Sweet Baby James here. The coup de grace for the authoring community-at-large is that DVD's designated demystifier will take a significant leadership role in the venture. In particular, Jim's experience as Direct Show point man at Microsoft should prove advantageous in future product development for the entire line, as guaranteeing consistent and effective ROM drive playback under Windows remains one of the lingering, vexing challenges of DVD development. Software decoding, oft-maligned for its rapacious appetite for system resources, seems to help a great deal in this area, as it eliminates decoder-host system interoperability issues. But other occasional stumbling blocks remain on the Mac side, especially with OS X. It will be interesting to watch the unified Sonic-Daikin brain trust make the most of Apple's cannonball plunge into DVD, even as Apple itself joins the fray with iDVD and its fuller-fledged stablemate, the DVDirector-derived DVD Studio Pro.

But, how will the emergence of a Daikin-Sonic juggernaut affect the rest of the DVD authoring field? Much of its impact will depend on how Daikin and Sonic re-position their products in the aftermath of the merger. We've seen a great deal of fairly analogous consolidation in CD-R premastering software. When Adaptec (whose software business is now called Roxio) acquired Incat's Easy CD Pro and Corel's CD Creator, it made perfect sense to combine the two products, since they were direct market competitors with complementary strengths: Easy CD Pro's power and versatility and CD Creator's ease of use. Later on, when Adaptec acquired CeQuadrat's WinOnCD, their objectives were twofold: use it to establish a European market presence, and then get it the hell out of the way. Neither path seems clear for Daikin and Sonic, although their products' relative reputations somewhat resemble Easy CD Pro's and CD Creator's, respectively. But the competition is less direct, so key products like Scenarist, Creator, Fusion, ReelDVD, and DVDit! seem likely to survive. So in the high, middle, and low echelons of the market, Spruce, Intec, Apple, and Pinnacle (which recently acquired Minerva's Impression) should at least be vying with the same products for a while. How they may develop as a result of the merger is a different story.

The most recent coupling in CD-R software involved Veritas and Prassi Europe. Prassi Europe was a small company with a big technology brain and much less marketing muscle than its longtime nemesis, Adaptec/Roxio. Prassi Europe had barely been able to keep the aggressive Adaptec legal team off its back. But with multimarket software behemoth Veritas backing the PrimoCD line now, the game stands to change considerably. Not so with the unification of the Sonic-Daikin product lines; still more brains than brawn in these parts. But Scenarist should see strengthened marketing, albeit on a smaller scale.

So we may see no cataclysmic changes in the DVD authoring game as a result of the Sonic-Daikin accord. But it's a fascinating turn of events all the same, as we behold the formerly immeasurable distance between Old and New Town Novato rapidly dwindling to a few friendly steps. As Sonic's new DVD technology chief (or at least his namesake) might say, "I've seen fire and I've seen rain." Of course, we've all seen fire and rain.