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20 Oct, 2002 By: Dan Bennett

Here is notice served to baby boomers who thought they were finished as the primary targets of entertainment marketing: Even though the younger generation might have more disposable cash, the new wave of classic TV series on DVD illustrates the video industry isn't done with you yet.

Indeed, with classic TV series from the 1950s, '60s. '70s and '80s making their way to DVD in elaborately packaged boxed sets, the industry is hitting its DVD buyer demographic in full stride.

Familiarity has bred not contempt, but comfort -- and sales -- as people remember and re-create the warm experience of sitting in their living rooms with their favorite TV shows.

In their book The Entertainment Marketing Revolution: Bringing the Moguls, the Media and the Magic to the World, authors Al Leiberman and Pat Esgate describe the natural transition from television to video. Following World War II, the authors say, television was a comfort zone that continued to progress.

“The entertainment industry, sensing the moment at hand, kicked up another notch and cranked out movies, TV programs and music, managing not only to bypass the barriers of Korea, McCarthy and Vietnam, but to actually take advantage of them,” the authors wrote. “All areas of entertainment were quick to exploit the opportunities. [Eventually] the home consumer gained control with Betamax, then VHS, then DVD.

“The bottom line is this: Revenues continue to grow in every single area of entertainment, including those for entertainment marketing, as everyone screams for our attention and media feed on one another in one great big consumer campaign for brand loyalty.”

Studios are happy to give loyalists what they want. Though TV series sputtered on VHS, struggling for space on bargain shelves and earning attention mostly through late-night TV advertising, suppliers are now eager to give buyers the cream of the TV crop.

With complete-season sets of such series as “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” “Friends,” “The X-Files” and “Law and Order” all available -- some doing quite well on video sales charts -- it's apparent suppliers are targeting reasonably sophisticated TV viewers as buyers of such product.

Look, for example, at the three titles Buena Vista Home Entertainment is releasing as its semi-initial venture into the genre. While “Felicity” has a dedicated fan base that ranges from Generation Y to the end of the boomer spectrum, the cult favorite “Sports Night” and the adult-drama “Once and Again,” both critically acclaimed series, are quality fare for mature audiences.

“DVD has opened up marketing avenues for all kinds of programming,” said Lori MacPherson, VP of brand marketing for BVHE. “This includes good television product.”

Buena Vista entered the market when the studio noticed that the TV video selling was not necessarily that with the biggest overall audience, but with loyal followings, MacPherson said.

“When you look at the DVD product that is selling well in this category, you notice it's quality product,” she said. “That's why we decided to start with these three. Each is incredibly well-produced and appeals to different target audiences. ‘Sports Night' might have a slightly more male demographic behind it and ‘Felicity' a slightly more female demographic, but each enjoys tremendous crossover potential.”

With DVD in almost one-third of American homes, MacPherson said, strong cross-sections are apparent.

“In the heyday of VHS, the average consumer bought five tapes a year,” she said. “Now, consumers are buying 15 titles a year, and that's opened the door for product that had no life before DVD.”

Buena Vista, with its Touchstone Television arm, enjoys the advantage of easy rights to series going back several years, true for most of the major studios.

“Once we see how the actual sales go, we'll start planning the next wave of releases,” she said. “We have a lot of great properties to choose from, including ‘Home Improvement' and ‘The Golden Girls.' We also have Miramax as part of the family, and they recently acquired ‘The Osbournes.’

At Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, several iconic series of the 1970s were released this year, including All in the Family: The Complete First Season, The Jeffersons: The Complete First Season and Sanford and Son: The First Season, with such series as “Good Times” to follow.

“We've long had a great TV catalog we've wanted to capitalize on, but hadn't released full seasons because of the limits of VHS,” said Suzanne White, VP of marketing for Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. “Now DVD is so collectible and holds so much, it's much more feasible.”

With few suppliers in this category attached to the urban-title market, “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son” did well at retail, White said. This month, the studio releases Mad About You: Season One on DVD.

“We're doing a direct-response campaign and building some awareness, reminding viewers just how funny this show is,” White said. “We really went to market quickly on our TV titles to take advantage of consumer interest, and we're developing even more potent strategies using added value, but also letting the quality of the original shows themselves stand on its own.”

Plans also are under way for such entries as “Charlie's Angels,” “SWAT” and “Married With Children.”

“We're listening to consumers about what to do down the line,” White said. “We're also tying in to other events, such as when we release ‘Dawson's Creek' on DVD at the same time the season finale airs next year. ‘Charlie's Angels' will come out the same time as the next movie. There are a lot of different marketing hooks you can use on this product.”

Universal Studios Home Video is beginning its own substantial initiative into TV-series-driven DVD, taking advantage of the critical acclaim and substantial cult following of “Law and Order” by bringing out the first season of that series this month.

Again illustrating how the DVD consumer demographic crosses over substantially, the studio is also releasing Baretta Season One and The Best of Baretta, the well-liked TV detective series of the 1970s starring Robert Blake, now facing trial for the murder of his wife.

“We had some television product on VHS, but prior to our merger with USA, a lot of the newer titles were not our responsibility,” said VP of marketing Ken Graffeo. “We waited for the wide level of saturation this product now has in the marketplace and initiated a plan.”

Putting TV series on DVD makes sense, Graffeo said.

“Look at the popularity in syndication of some of this product,” Graffeo said. “It has high reliability. For everything we do, we look at who the potential audience is, and whether that audience has become part of the level of DVD penetration that's going on. There are some real opportunities.”

This year and next, Universal will also release “Battlestar Galactica,” “Sliders,” “Quantum Leap,” “Dragnet,” “Emergency,” “Magnum P.I.” and “The Rockford Files.”

Everyone, it seems, is getting in on the game. Paramount Home Entertainment is capturing demographic segments with such diverse fare as “I Love Lucy” and “Star Trek.”20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, which began the drive to market TV shows on DVD with “The X-Files,” is enjoying success with everything from “The Simpsons” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Warner Home Video has released two best-selling complete-season packages of “Friends,” while HBO Home Video continues to score big with seasonal installments of “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”

With the wealth of newer TV shows bowing on DVD, it appears both baby boomers and new buyers are ready to follow their TV favorites to DVD.

“Fans have a very intense involvement with these shows, and they want to own them,” said Cynthia Rhea, SVP of marketing for HBO Home Video. “It's that kind of relationship.

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