Last week in a Manhattan Levi’s store I noticed an old advertisement.
General Electric, Levi’s, and STEREO. All on the same bill. Two massively powerful consumer companies partnering with ….a file format? Did Levi’s just make a file format sexy?
The last time our nation experienced a massive sound innovation as sexy as stereo was over 50 years ago. While we continue to innovate and introduce new video formats every 5-10 years, we’ve been experiencing music in this same stereo format for over 50. It’s time consumer’s experienced an upgrade in their listening experiences.
SD to HD
Perhaps one of the greatest shifts we’ve seen in media format over the last 20 years was the shift in television from Standard Definition to High Definition.
HD television saved the NHL
Remember the NHL lockout of ’04-’05, said to have begun over a dispute between the players union and NHL regarding salary caps and season length? NHL viewership during the 2003 season was at an all time low. The average viewership of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final was at 2.9M viewers, making it one of the least watched Stanley Cups in NHL history. In the 2005-2006 season following the strike, the NHL streamed one game in high def. In the 2006-2007 season they streamed two that way. By the 2007-2008 season all games were streamed in HD and we saw a skyrocketing of NHL viewership. With view counts of 3.1M, 3.5M, and 8.7M, the top 3 most watched Stanley Cup games in NHL history to date occurred in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively.
Hockey wasn’t alone in experiencing this change. The NFL and television sitcoms as well as streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu were all jumping on the HD train. After the 2007-2008 NHL season, HD became a standard in consumer media. Not only were live television and sports were broadcasted in HD nationwide, but mobile devices began outputting their own form of HD content (the iPhone, released in 2007, played no small part in the spreading of the HD gospel). Once adopted by bar televisions, smartphones, and the porn industry, no one had any interest in returning to flat SD video.
Consumer Creation in HD
Even more crucial for the HD movement than consuming content in HD was creating content in HD
For any new media format to truly succeed, the consumers to need to be part of the conversation. Giving consumers the opportunity to capture their lives in HD was huge. When consumers gain access to these tools, they educate themselves, they experiment and help push the limits of the format and use it to its greatest potential. Moreover, armed with the ability to capture in this new way, they begin to see their visual worlds differently. Clearer home videos mean clearer memories.
Sound is due for an HD upgrade
And I’m not talking about HD radio or whatever that marketing gimmick was. I’m talking about more than just clarity. I’m talking about a fully transportive aural experience. Thanks to the power of smartphones and the accessibility of wireless headphones, now more than ever, we are equipped to change the way we record and hear the world.
If we’re not careful, we could be heading for an ultimate low in consumer audio quality. Scarier still: we’re raising a generation of listeners who will most likely hear Dark Side of The Moon for the first time out of their mono smartphone speaker via Spotify. Since vinyl stereo records in the 60s we have been slowly degrading the consumer sound experience. Streaming music sites are degrading the audio quality of their tracks for faster playback on your on your phone, but it will only get worse unless we speak up and demand better sound.
The problem with sites like Spotify and YouTube degrading audio quality is that they are the source. No matter how nice your stereo receiver or speakers are, you’re still hearing streamed .mp3s out of a piece of software. This form of sound regurgitation has become so mainstream that we need companies like Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, who are trying to fix audio quality at the source, not just the speaker.
This upgrade is necessary. We just need the right vehicle.
There are many companies trying to bring this new immersive audio to the fold, but none of them are keeping consumer creation in mind. In order for a change to be successful, consumers need to feel a sense of ownership. If we give it to them only to consume, they won’t truly understand its necessity. Give them the opportunity to capture the sound of their lives in HD and you’ve got a movement.
From One Ear To Another,