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SPT's Culver Takes Direct Route to DVD

2 Aug, 2006 By: Nellie A., Jessica W.

Sony Pictures Television is becoming the first major television studio to enter the direct-to-DVD market for series.

The company has launched Culver Entertainment, focused on developing and producing drama, comedy and animated series exclusively for DVD and international distribution.

The first project under the Culver Entertainment banner will be a new animated Spider-Man series. The first 13 half-hour episodes of the show are expected to be released next year.

SPT president Steve Mosko said the launch of Culver Entertainment, named after the Culver Studios where it will be housed, is part of the company's overall strategy of finding new ways to reach the consumer directly.

Culver Entertainment is a creative way for the Sony's TV department to generate programming, said David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, North America.

The home entertainment division will work closely with the TV production side on the new releases, he said.“Essentially, we are reversing the windows,” Bishop said. “Home entertainment will be seeding the market with the DVD releases for future syndication on television.”

The DTV titles are slated to hit next year, likely timed to the arrival of Spider-Man 3 in theaters.

The idea for forming the division came out of conversations Mosko had with Sony's home entertainment and international TV divisions, which were interested in creating more original content for the domestic home video market, for international TV buyers as well as for Sony's international TV channels.

Domestically, the series first will be released on DVD, which could be followed by a secondary sale to broadcast and cable networks for reruns or original episodes as well as in syndication and to broadband and other digital outlets.

SPT also is said to be exploring a nontraditional DVD distribution channel, like enclosing the discs in magazines or in cereal boxes.

SPT's production and programming co-presidents Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg will oversee Culver Entertainment, working closely with Sony's home entertainment and international TV units.

SPT has been entrepreneurial about the traditional series development process in the past couple of years, self-financing the development and the production of pilots internally at the studio before taking them out to the networks.

"We took it to the next level," Mosko said of forming Culver Entertainment. "We take projects we're passionate about, and we look at other ways to go directly to the consumer."

The studio is in conversations with advertisers who are interested in partnering with SPT for marketing, packaging or sponsoring the DVD releases, Mosko said.

The budgets for the direct-to-DVD series will be comparable with the budgets for network series. For example, the budget for the new Spider-Man animated series is on par with the money spent on the most recent animated series featuring the web-slinging superhero, which SPT produced for MTV.

The direct-to-DVD model has been profitable for the film studios, especially for sequels to blockbuster movies, including Universal Pictures' "American Pie."

SPT is taking a page from that model with recognizable franchises like "Spider-Man."

And while the DVD business overall has leveled off after seven years of explosive growth, SPT's success with such series titles as "Seinfeld" and, most recently, "The Boondocks" has been encouraging, Mosko said.

"The TV product is still selling," he said. "It's still a great business."

Nellie Andreeva is a writer for The Hollywood Reporter.

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