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TV on DVD is the Perfect Fit for Viewers' Hectic Lifestyles

17 Jun, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The TV on DVD phenomenon, studio leaders concede, caught them by surprise. “Complete season” sets of contemporary as well as classic series continue to be released at a frenetic clip.

The latest studio speed racer to enter the fray: Universal Studios Home Video, hungrily eyeing all the opportunities for programming made possible by its studio parent's recent acquisition by NBC.

Indies, too, are stepping up their efforts in the game, with Image Entertainment preparing a lavish new high-definition package of the entire “The Twilight Zone” series — “complete season” boxed sets are slated to roll out beginning Dec. 28 — and First Look Entertainment dipping its artsy toes in the TV arena with “Unsolved Mysteries.”

The other day, as I was talking to a friend about the upcoming second-annual TV DVD conference (shameless plug alert: it's set for Oct. 19 at the Wyndham Bel Age in West Hollywood), he asked me what I considered to be a surprising question: “How long will it last?”

I told him what I'm going to tell you: This is not one of your flavor-of-the-week trends, but a vital new industry capable of not only regenerating itself, but also of changing the way consumers watch TV.

Let me explain both points together, because they really are interrelated. We're never going to reach the point where the market is saturated with TV product, simply because each year there's a new season. Classic TV series sell OK, but the really big sales numbers come from top-rated contemporary programs like “C.S.I.” and “The Sopranos” that are still going strong on the tube. Shortly after a season ends, it winds up in a DVD package — and there are plenty of fans, me included, who have never seen a single episode on broadcast or cable TV. We like to watch our favorite series on DVD, when, where and how long we choose. Maybe the timing isn't convenient, maybe we suffer from adult ADD and can't stand wasting our time watching commercials — in any event, we follow each show as rabidly as regular viewers, just on DVD, one or two steps behind. When a new DVD season comes out, we're glued to our screens just as religiously as our TV-watching counterparts are when the fall TV season starts. And when it's over, we're just as impatient for the next season to come our way.

In the future, I only see people like me increasing in number. We Americans have become increasingly time-pressed. Our workloads haven't gotten any easier with the advent of cell phones and e-mail and PDAs — to the contrary, they've gotten harder. On top of that, we have children with full social calendars and aging parents who need attention as well. We can't be tied down to watching “Alias” every Sunday night at 8 p.m., and DVD lets us schedule the viewing time and brings the added benefit of no commercials.

We're already seeing minitrends develop in the still-burgeoning TV DVD market. Miniseries. Hallmark Hall of Fame specials. Old variety shows like Johnny Carson and Sonny & Cher, through a mail-order company called Respond2Entertainment.

Lately, a flurry of reality-TV shows have come out on DVD, including “Cops,” “Big Brother” and “Survivor.” To me, that's the ultimate salute: disposable TV is being archived, bought and collected.

What's next — DVDs of vintage TV commercials? Don't laugh. Already, smart programmers are including period TV spots and promos on DVD collections of classic TV shows. And since March, two suppliers, GoodTimes and Koch, have actually released compilation DVDs of commercials: World's Funniest and Cleverest Commercials from GoodTimes and Hit Celebrity TV Commercials from Koch.

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