Father Of The DVD: Warren N. Lieberfarb, W’65

While many gadgets have inventors, the DVD had a father. Warren Lieberfarb is credited with the vision, persuasiveness, and persistence that took the DVD from an idea—“a high-quality digital movie on a CD” —to the fastest consumer electronic product adoption ever.

In the early 1990s, Lieberfarb, then the president of Warner Home Video, surveyed the digital future of entertainment. While analog videocassette sales and rentals were profitable, Wall Street analysts predicted decline. Lieberfarb believed that by producing a superior digital packaged product, the home video industry could jump out ahead of digital content delivery via cable, satellite, and DSL. Using the resources of his company, he forged a network of alliances among film studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, and technology companies. The result? The alignment of hardware and software to create an inexpensive, high-quality mass consumer product.

Consumers were waiting. Within five years of the first players becoming available, 30 million were sold in the U.S. and 22 million outside the U.S. It took VCRs 13 years to achieve the household penetration that DVDs did in only five. Now the principal of Warren Lieberfarb Associates, Lieberfarb says, “Succeeding in Hollywood necessitates tenacity, perseverance, and willingness to accept a lot of blows.

There’s not only resistance to change due to risk-aversion, but ingrained technophobia. Although the industry is driven by technology in production, post-production, and distribution, particularly in the digital era, there is a limited appreciation on how to evaluate technology alternatives.”

He acknowledges that the revolution is continuing. “Access to content at your schedule, your location, your device will be the next generation of the dissemination of entertainment,” said Lieberfarb. “As someone who loves movies, that’s something I look forward to.” A former Penn Trustee, Lieberfarb is a member of Wharton’s Undergraduate Executive Board.

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