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Cable Connects to DVD

7 Feb, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

Cable programs make up a hearty helping of TV DVD product sales and have helped drive the genre's growth.

Content providers like HBO Home Video got into the game early and aggressively with shows like “Sex and the City,” “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under.”

“It certainly seems the earliest successes [in the TV DVD market] came from either cable or networks outside the big three,” said Cynthia Rhea, SVP of HBO Home Video.

Almost a third (30 percent) of the unit sales from the top 30 TV DVD sellers for 2004 came from DVD releases of programming that originated on cable, according to Nielsen VideoScan data.

Warner has top market share in the TV DVD arena, and a good portion of that comes from the cable programs it distributes, like HBO and BBC, particularly HBO. Of the top 20 TV DVD sellers under the Warner umbrella last year, 13 were cable titles. Seven of these titles were “Sex and the City” DVD releases.

Paramount Home Entertainment, with No. 2 market share in the TV DVD genre, can attribute most of that to cable programming, like surprise hit Chappelle's Show: Season One from the Comedy Channel. Of Paramount's top 20 TV DVD sellers last year, 16 were from the supplier's distribution relationships with cable providers like Comedy Central (“South Park”) and Nickelodeon (“SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the Explorer.”)

The DVD aftermarket allows cable content suppliers to tap into a larger consumer base.

“There's a very high awareness of shows that air on HBO, but a limited number of households with access to the product,” Rhea said. “The gap between the two is where DVD can really come into play.”

Tony Lynn, SVP of program entertainment distribution for Showtime, estimates there are 80 million households in America without access to Showtime programming.

That's where Showtime has found an active DVD-buying audience for shows like “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word.”

While the DVD aftermarket is now part of the overall matrix of a show when production decisions are being made, it's not necessarily a make-or-break proposition for a new show.

“It continues to be an ancillary market,” Lynn said. “DVD is still secondary, but with series, in the not-too-distant future, we may see [DVD] revenues that can match the production costs. That would mean the network was getting the program for free.”

BBC Home Video as been in the video aftermarket since the 1980s and is one of the few suppliers to have found some success in VHS sales, said Burton Cromer, VP of consumer products for BBC Video. But DVD has opened up a whole new opportunity for BBC programs, he said. The recent Emmy Award-winning hit “The Office” has performed very well on DVD, but BBC also can depend on perennial sellers “Absolutely Fabulous,” “Black Adder” and “Fawlty Towers.”

There's no hard evidence to suggest that a show's popularity on DVD actually translates to increased subscribers when a new season hits, HBO's Rhea said. But, like network programming, there is a marketing symbiosis between the DVD aftermarket and current airings on TV. HBO saw a boost in Sex and the City: Season One sales on DVD when the show began airing on standard cable channel TBS this year, Rhea said. And HBO is stickering new Deadwood: Season One DVD product with airing information for the new season, she said.

Showtime used the DVD medium as a way to hype one of its newest series, the critically acclaimed cop drama “Huff,” by including free DVDs of the premiere episode in 850,000 issues of Entertainment Weekly the week before the program aired on Showtime. “I think we experienced some lift and some tune-in on the basis of that promotion,” Lynn said. Showtime also is using DVD to put in a strong bid for Emmy consideration for “Huff.” The cabler announced last week it would send DVDs containing the entire first season of the show to Emmy voters.

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