On June 23 1998, the music video for Ray of Light was released by Warner Reprise Video as a limited edition video single of 40,000 VHS copies. It sold 7,381 copies within its first month of release, becoming one of the best-selling video singles of the Nielsen SoundScan era. Madonna’s previous video single release, Justify My Love, which predated SoundScan, was certified quadruple-Platinum by the RIAA (for shipment of over 200,000 copies).
The reason behind Ray of Light being issued as a video single were twofold. Madonna was very pleased with the outcome of her first collaboration with director Jonas Åkerlund and her record company felt that there would be enough interest to warrant its commercial release. Secondly, Warner’s marketing team correctly sensed that the song’s then-experimental sound would be a tough sell at radio, so the decision was made to pull out all the stops to ensure the release outperformed on the sales chart. Another prong in this strategy was the inclusion of album outtake Has To Be as the b-side to the two-track single, while excluding it from the maxi-single in an attempt to persuade fans to purchase the single in multiple formats. The strategy proved successful, with the song’s number-five debut and peak on the Billboard Hot 100 mainly due to its sales strength. According to Billboard, the music video single boosted its first-week sales by roughly 7%, helping it to secure its place in the top-five.
Shortly after Ray of Light‘s release as a video single, Billboard magazine published an article musing on whether renewed interest in the relatively obscure format could ever prove lucrative for the music industry. A video buyer for a major retail chained remarked:
“Madonna’s Ray of Light video single is a success because she has a fervent fan base. There are very few artists with videos that consistently get people’s attention, but Madonna is one of those artists. It’s too early to tell if there’s a true market for video singles. Right now, it seems like record companies are trying video singles to see what happens. I think we’re going to see the lines becoming more blurred in how audio and video singles are marketed.”
Indeed. Within the next five years (and two Madonna video singles later), the emergence of online file sharing would obliterate the physical singles market in North America, and video streaming sites would soon spell an end to the prospect of marketing music video singles as a physical format. In digital form, however, music video singles may be selling in larger numbers than ever due to increased availability through iTunes. Strangely, however, sales of music videos through iTunes are not reported to Billboard and no longer count towards a single’s chart position (reportedly due to iTunes’ monopoly on digital sales of the format), while streams of music videos through sites like YouTube and Vevo are used in Billboard’s chart methodology.
On November 26 1987, Who’s That Girl – Live In Japan was released on VHS and LaserDisc by Warner-Pioneer Video, exclusively for the Japanese market. Recorded in Tokyo on June 22 1987, the show initially aired as a television special in Japan in conjunction with Madonna’s sponsorship agreement with Mitsubishi. The special was the first ever television broadcast to make use of Dolby Surround Sound technology.
Elements of the Japanese release were also incorporated into the international 1988 release of the Who’s That Girl World Tour, Ciao Italia: Live From Italy, which was also released in Japan on LaserDisc in 1988 and on DVD in 2001. Meanwhile, the complete Live In Japan release has since been deleted from circulation.
On July 25 1990, Blond Ambition Japan Tour 90 was released on VHS and LaserDisc by Warner-Pioneer, exclusively to the Japanese market.
Recorded in Yokohama, Japan on April 26 1990, the show had originally aired as a live television special in Japan. Due to high winds impacting the outdoor stadium during the concert, no stage curtains were used in the performance, allowing viewers the ability to see some of the normally hidden set changes in the darkened background.
It was the only official VHS release of the tour worldwide due to a sponsorship contract which granted Pioneer rights to issue the tour exclusively on LaserDisc in other regions. For this reason, copies of the Japanese VHS were in high demand from fans in other countries that shared the Japanese NTSC video format, with imported copies selling for approximately $100 USD.