Amy Jo Smith (photo by Bobby Quillard)
March 30, 2022
As the digital entertainment industry turns 25, so does DEG.
DEG was there in the beginning, and I was with it, when the DVD Video Group was formed in 1997 for the express purpose of promoting the first digital entertainment format – DVD – in conjunction with content owners and hardware manufacturers.
I have so many great memories and proud moments. Among the proudest was the creation of DEG Japan, where senior Japanese executives met under the guise of the DEG brand for meaningful dialogue and to see what worked in their market. They were so self-sufficient; it was truly inspiring to see. And, most recently, the creation of the Hedy Lamarr Awards to honor women who are making strides in entertainment and technology, an initiative championed by Marc Finer, who has worked alongside 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 details of the business as on the “flavor” of the business. And that flavor is pioneering, revolutionary, that of art powered by technology and of a team bound by common goals and a shared experience.
Warren Lieberfarb, the president of Warner Home Video, known far and wide as the “Father of DVD”, had a vision to put a movie on CD, named it DVD and, without any bravery, assured everyone that consumers would buy and collect films in the future. I had been in many meetings with Warren, but it wasn’t until I heard him convince a room full of naysayers at CES 1998 that I finally understood: Warren was a force of nature and he was going get there. The DVD was the biggest disruption the entertainment industry had ever seen and it became the best-selling consumer electronics product in history.
DEG helped launch DVD-Audio at the NARM music industry trade show in San Antonio in 2000. It was amazing to watch music enthusiasts and pundits alike gasp when they heard classics like Fleetwood Mac’s . Rumors or that of Joni Mitchell Both sides now. It was music they had heard countless times, but now they heard it differently. He came alive. Despite the quality of DVD-Audio, digital won the music race and DVD-Audio fell victim as a consumer format.
You’ve got mail
Over the years, DEG has helped promote many popular titles when they have been released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. One of my favorites was a promotion we did for the launch of Warner Home Video You’ve got mail in New York, where we distributed daisies in Central Park. Jeff, my current husband, stopped by and bought flowers. When we met two years later, we realized our first encounter was me giving her daisies in the park!
DEG quickly became known for our coveted bags that we give away at events, especially the annual DEG reception at CES. The bags were filled with dozens of DVDs, then Blu-rays, and lots of other fun branded items. I have lots of memories of the bags, but my favorites get counterfeit bag tickets from attendees trying to score extra bags; walk through Heathrow Airport and see a Paramount executive using the bag (pictured); and visit the Old City of Jerusalem and spy on an executive’s teenage son using the DEG Backpack!
As DEG chairman, Disney’s Bob Chapek asked the board to attend CEDIA, the trade show where the coolest home entertainment technologies of the day were on display. Everyone agreed and thought it was a meaningful visit, punctuated by a VIP floor show tour by DEG Technical Director Marc Finer (nicknamed “Finer”). Our Founding Chairman, Emiel Petrone of Philips, led an after-dinner run at White Castle for burgers, which has become a DEG tradition at CEDIA, although it seemed like a better idea at the time than it did. never been the next morning. After Emiel passed away in 2004, Bob took up the torch and rallied us all to continue the CEDIA Midnight White Castle Run in honor of Emiel.
DEG was having a meeting at Giant Interactive in New York when the 9/11 attacks happened. We watched in horror as our colleague John Beug of Warner Music lost his wife and mother-in-law on one of the planes. They would be among the 3,000 others who perished that day. Stranded in New York, I spent the next few days with colleagues from DEG. We were all there for each other, supporting each other. 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 tune in on 9/11 to honor the memory of others.
DEG established DEG Japan as a way to convey more information about emerging technologies to members. Attending the DEG Japan Annual Meeting and Blu-ray Award Celebration has always been a highlight. It was a pleasure to know and work with Tsukagoshi-san, formerly of Disney, and many others. Each trip was punctuated by a visit to Sony’s global headquarters to tour their lab. I will never forget the moment they showed me 4K in their state of the art theater. The colors and images came to life in ways I never imagined.
Over those 25 years, one thing that has always struck me is how the leadership of the board, all executives with demanding jobs, took the time to guide the organization, knowing that it would help the growth of the industry and therefore the growth of their businesses. I am blessed that they all took the time to guide and guide me, and that I can call each a friend, not just a colleague. The DEG would not celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2022 without its vision and leadership.