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Big Fans

27 Apr, 2005 By: Brendan Howard

When fans want a TV show on DVD these days, suppliers scramble to answer the call. But that's not always easy.

The first step is figuring out which shows have dedicated fans.

“Just like in the record business where people wait for every album, there are shows people spent five or six years with every night at 9 p.m,” said Marc Rashba, VP of catalog marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “That's probably why you see the shows selling so well without as much marketing fanfare.”

“These are people looking for that product,” said Ken Graffeo, EVP of marketing, Universal Studios Home Entertainment. “Particularly because the product has never been in the home, it's not like releasing a DVD of a movie out on VHS a long time ago.”

The cost of TV DVD sets also lends itself to targeted marketing.

“A brand-new theatrical film is between $15 and $19. A TV season retails anywhere from $29 to $39,” said Chris Saito, VP of marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment. “It's a bigger investment. That's why the fan component is so important.”

Some home entertainment suppliers conduct research on which shows would sell well, but everybody keeps track of requests, petitions, Internet message boards, fan Web sites and, in the case of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a kind of “Google-meter” that tracks online searches for shows.

When Rashba wanted to know which box art fans liked for a “Party of Five” set, he went to TVShowsOnDVD.com.

“I was leaning toward one direction; the fans overwhelmingly picked the other way,” Rashba said. “We released what they wanted.”

BCI Eclipse employed a similar technique by going to He-man.org to let fans pick episodes for upcoming best-of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” titles (HMR, April 3-9).

TVShowsOnDVD.com founder Gord Lacey said studios are warming to fan participation in building buzz, but he wants to see even more.

“Get the fans involved in the DVD production process, so they've got a vested interest in the product,” Lacey said. “When it comes to release date and all the choices on shelves, they're going to go with the one that involved them as a fan.”

Buena Vista did just that with a fan commentary on the third season of “Alias,” and Lions Gate Home Entertainment interviewed the founder of Moonlighting21.com for a featurette on the upcoming “Moonlighting” set.

“There's more and more pressure to really fill the discs up with extras,” said Garson Foos, president of Shout! Factory, which released an extras-packed special edition of “Freaks & Geeks” that had a “high school yearbook”-looking package with an 80-page book.

Unfortunately, most TV shows were produced before the age of TV DVD, and that means finding material and licensing shows can be rough.

“Sometimes, we need to renegotiate with the creators, ” said Lori MacPherson, VP of brand marketing, Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

Also, having a nice-looking collectible quality to sets is important, which makes the scarcity of material from older shows a headache.

“If you don't have art from the show, it won't come out great-looking in the packaging,” said Kajsa Vikman, marketing director, Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

Then there's the issue of songs used on shows. Rashba explained that each song sometimes requires two to three deals with publishers and performers before they can use it on DVD.

Purveyor of music-packed variety shows like “Sonny & Cher” and the upcoming “Tony Orlando and Dawn,” R2 Entertainment has to be selective.

“Are you going to release every ‘Sonny & Cher'? No, we're not. We can't afford it,” said R2 VP Brant Berry.

But fans can be placated, according to Todd Rowan, VP of marketing, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. For DVD, Fox couldn't afford to license every song on “Roswell,” so the company turned to the talent for help.

“We got the executive producers involved in writing a letter about why they swapped music,” Rowan said.

With other shows, however, Rowan argues music-swapping is a no-no.

“With ‘The Wonder Years' and ‘Ally McBeal,' if music were more reasonable, we'd think about it,” Rowan said. “In a show where the music is an integral part of the viewing experience, where it's a piece of the show's creativity, then [fans] wouldn't be buying the same thing they fell in love with.”

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