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Direct Response Goes Retail

17 Aug, 2004 By: Thomas K. Arnold

While the big Hollywood studios strengthen their hold on the booming TV DVD market with more and more “complete season” sets of hot current and classic TV series, a Portland, Ore.-based direct-response company is quietly mining its own niche: DVD compilations of popular talk and variety shows from the golden years of television into the 1970s.

“The lost art of the variety show is really a slice of pop culture that most of us have lived through and remember,” said Brant Berry, VP of Respond2-Entertainment. “Families watched these shows together and grew up with them, and it's great to be able to revisit those special moments.”

Over the last four years, Respond2Entertainment has released seven DVD packages and single discs highlighting the tube appeal of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Sonny & Cher.

The company's approach is two-pronged: a direct-response campaign through TV infomercials and Web sites, followed by distribution to traditional retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart, Target Stores, Best Buy and Tower Records and Video.

“We were originally strictly direct-response, but consumer demand was such that we felt it was time to take the product to retail,” Berry said. “The Johnny Carson campaign ran on TV for three years before it went to retail [in October 2003], at a time when the TV genre really started to explode.”

Berry said R2 has sold about 700,000 copies of The Ultimate Collection Starring Johnny Carson, a three-disc set also available as a four-cassette VHS package.

Respond2Entertainment is an outgrowth of an ad agency, Respond2, that had cut a deal with the Carson Entertainment Group to market vintage “Tonight Show” episodes on DVD and VHS.

“We did so well that our CEO, Tim O'Leary, decided to strike out on his own with an entertainment division in February 2002,” Berry said. The company's subsequent DVD offerings include two other three-disc sets, The Bob Hope Ultimate Collection and The Sonny & Cher Ultimate Collection, as well as several single discs, including Bob Hope: Laughing With the Presidents, a compilation of sketches from the late comic's TV specials.

Next up for R2: The Sonny & Cher Christmas Collection and Bob Hope: Hope for the Holidays, both arriving in stores Oct. 5, and the three-disc set Bob Hope: The Vietnam Years, coming Oct. 26.

A direct-response campaign for “This is Your Life” episodes, in partnership with Ralph Edwards Productions, is due in November, followed early next year by compilations of Tony Orlando and Dawn's 1970s variety show and Rodney Dangerfield's HBO and ABC specials.

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