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Tube and DVD Happily Married

30 Sep, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

The fall TV season is here, and as has become the norm, new episodes are arriving hitched to TV DVD boxed sets.

How tightly married the DVD date is to the new-season launch depends on the show itself, said Ken Ross, EVP and GM of CBS Consumer Products.

“With major hits that are existing shows like ‘CSI,' it's less important [for the DVD to be very close to the new season],” he said. “Shows that are on the first or second seasons, those are the ones where you are better off really trying to coincide with the buzz of the new season.”

That was especially the goal for “Everybody Hates Chris,” Ross said. The show, based on comedian Chris Rock's pre-teen life, made quite a splash and garnered cheers from critics on the small-audience UPN Network last season.

The sophomore season of the comedy premieres on the new CW Oct. 1, while Everybody Hates Chris: The First Season DVD streets Oct. 10 from Paramount Home Entertainment. There was a close collaboration between the network and the DVD supplier/producer, Ross said. Advertising, network and Web promos for the new season include a tag for the DVD release and vice versa, he said.

NBC's breakout sitcom “My Name Is Earl” also followed that new-show pattern. “Earl” opened its second season Sept. 21, just two days after the complete first-season set streeted from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

For other more established shows, studios often leave a window of room for “marathoning” or catching up on missed episodes. ABC's big three — “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey's Anatomy” — all arrived in second-season sets about a month before their respective broadcast premieres. (The season opener of “Lost” airs Oct. 4).

Warner Home Video released highly collectible fan favorites Gilmore Girls: Season Six and Smallville: Season Five fairly close to the respective launches of these show's current seasons, a one-week window for “Gilmore Girls” and about two weeks for “Smallville.”

“We have had great success in timing releases to the start of the new season while ideally allowing some time for current or new series fans to catch up before the beginning of the TV season,” said Rosemary Markson, VP of TV marketing at Warner.

People are accessing TV content in lots of different ways these days, marketers said. In addition to DVD, digital downloading is becoming more popular. However, the packaged option is often the most versatile and permanent. Still, the DVD and the digital download both serve the episodic TV consumer, said Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of media networks and president of the Disney-ABC Television group, speaking recently at the Merrill Lynch Media & Entertainment Conference.

“‘Lost' and ‘Desperate Housewives' are two of the biggest hits on TV, but the average viewer only saw six episodes from their [most recent] seasons,” she said.

Across the board, on average, viewers only catch four episodes per series during the broadcast run, she said.

And then there are the granddaddies, shows such as Comedy Central's “South Park.” The irreverent animated series celebrates its 10th season beginning Oct. 4. On the DVD side, though, releases are a bit behind the series. The Complete Eighth Season just hit DVD Aug. 29 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

To kick off the new season, Comedy Central prepped a DVD treat for the show's intensely loyal and slightly twisted fan base with South Park: The Hits Vol. 1, streeting Oct. 3. It's a mix of recent favorites handpicked by creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, such as last season's oft-discussed Scientology episode, “Trapped in the Closet,” as well as the short that spawned the series, “The Spirit of Christmas,” which has never before been on DVD.

The DVD department and the network have been working for months on a “perfect storm” of comedy-laden promotions — on-air, online, on billboards — to push the “South Park” message, said Steve Raizes, senior director, adult brand home entertainment, for Comedy Central.

The special volume is designed as a gift for the hardcore “South Park” fan, as well as a teaser to maybe pique casual or lapsed fans who may run across the DVD at retail, Raizes said.

It's a beautiful viral universe, with TV DVD driving ratings and ratings driving TV DVD sales, he said.

“For the franchises, it's very important; DVD is a huge opportunity we try not to miss,” Raizes said.

“We are almost always going to be right there on DVD when there are new episodes to get the fan base most riled up.”

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