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A&E Home Video on Cult TV Series Buying Binge

8 Apr, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

Diehard fans can't get enough of their favorite TV shows, and that has sparked a cult TV show acquisition binge at A&E's consumer products division.

“We've had the radar out. We've been lucky to get a lot of the stuff we have,” said Kate Winn, A&E director of home video consumer products. “We went off looking for quality programs that matched with the A&E brand and have collectability.”

The supplier is readying five series for home video release (via supplier New Video), starting with the BBC comedy “Mr. Bean” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” later this month and continuing with the first two seasons of “Homicide: Life on the Street” in May, “Profiler” in June and “Victory at Sea” in August. What does such a diverse selection have in common?

“It's a level of intelligence that you can expect from A&E programming. You will be entertained, but you will also learn. You don't feel like you wasted two hours watching brainless TV,” Winn said. “It has to be high quality, something that has real legs, something that people don't want to watch one episode and throw away. They want to collect it and watch it again.”

Creating collectables means attention to detail in the shows, the bonus materials, packaging and merchandising.

“When we are putting them together, our mind is on an end-consumer regardless of how you experience it [ownership or rental],” Winn said. “That's reflected all the way through. It's in the packaging and the attention we give to the artwork. We are just trying to give people that really nice feeling they had the first time they experienced these things.” Bonus materials raise the series' value to collectors, for a number of reasons. “They can really enjoy them in a new way because of the bonus features,” Winn said. “Not only do they get to watch ‘Homicide,' they get to watch it with Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana talking to them.” On that set, the series is also presented in the order the co-creators intended, instead of the order they first aired when network executives were testing scheduling.

“Fans like to feel that connection to the creators,” Winn said. To establish that connection, the A&E staff takes its cues from the fans themselves via fan Web sites.

“We do a lot of research on the fan sites. Generally, we get a feel for programs, what's out there, and the fan base,” Winn said. “What the fan sites are really good for is giving us some insights for bonus material. We get a feel for what is meaningful to them. The ‘Dr. Quinn' [fan] site was really excited about a ‘Biography' on Jane Seymour, so we put it on there as an extra.”

While A&E still offers some series on VHS, many are going to be DVD-only releases.

“Look at something like ‘Mr. Bean.' We are giving consumers the entire 14 episodes of ‘Mr. Bean.' You just couldn't put all that on VHS,” Winn said. “Consumers wouldn't want something that big, and retailers would say, ‘You are taking up too much space in my store.’

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