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TV DVD Grows Up

24 Feb, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Television remains hot in home entertainment for 2006, despite shelf-space crunches, less original and catalog content, and increased competition from downloads on portable media devices.

HBO Video and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment have gone to the well, repurposing episodes of “Sex and the City” and “The X-Files,” respectively, in arc-themed four-episode SKUs and slimmer-packaged season re-releases.

Some experts contend the quality of TV DVD earmarked for release this season pales in comparison with last year, underscoring studios' need to mine deeper into classic TV.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment March 7 will release on DVD the first season of “Police Woman,” starring Angie Dickinson, as well as “Gidget,” “The Flying Nun” and “I Dream of Jeannie” March 14.

“We are digging into the '70s and '80s to maintain the category,” said Ralph Tribbey, editor of The DVD Release Report.

Tribbey said last year's 30% to 40% growth would be hard to duplicate, based on a more modest single-digit growth projection this year.

“We are still looking at 15 new SKUs entering the marketplace each week,” Tribbey said. “That's a lot of choice.”

To further cultivate such hit TV shows as Fox's “24” and ABC's “Lost,” producers have created adjunct programming (available as bonus material on DVD) to extend storylines and feed alternative distribution channels. To guarantee a steady flow of this material, producers have engaged talent upfront to contribute to these ventures.

Mike Meadows and David Naylor with The DVD Group, a Los Angeles-based producer of TV DVD, said studios and producers believe TV DVD has to include more compelling material due to the surge in episodic downloads.

The DVD Group's previous TV DVD work is extensive: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “E.R.,” “Friends,” “Gilligan's Island,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Las Vegas,” “Nip/Tuck,” “The West Wing” and “Wonder Woman,” among others.

They said TV DVD season sets are moving beyond just behind-the-scenes material and are opting instead for extended episodes exclusive to DVD and special series introductions.

“If the talent cooperates, we've found the studios are willing to spend a little bit more on the bonus material,” Meadows said. “We are asking the talent to do something unique for the DVD, not just the TV show.”

Fox sent extra crews to the set of “Prison Break” to shoot additional storyline footage, commentaries and action-sequence set-ups.

“It allows the fan to go beyond what they see on the broadcast,” said Todd Rowan, SVP of marketing for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. “The talent may have been hesitant before, but they understand the TV DVD medium now.”

Lionsgate in December released The Biggest Loser: The Workout, a fitness DVD based on the NBC weight-loss reality show. The DVD has become the No. 1 fitness video, according to the studio.

Producers shot seven workout routines on the show's set, which consumers can follow to emulate the experience of the show's contestants.

For The Triangle, which originally aired on the Sci Fi Channel last year, Lionsgate will co-op 10 spot ads for the March DVD release during the series' rebroadcast.

“We are releasing the DVD in lenticular [3-D] packaging,” said Kajsa Vikman, executive director of marketing for Lionsgate. “We will continue to do things like that.”

With saturation of TV DVD fare and shrinking shelf space reaching critical mass, producers are making boxed sets better-looking and putting them on a diet.

The days when a TV DVD release could include a few special features and expect the public to line up at retail are over, according to Paul Brownstein, producer of the popular “Twilight Zone” and “Dick Van Dyke” DVD franchises.

“People are waking up to the realization that [they] don't need a third season of ‘Father Murphy' on DVD,” Brownstein said. “The challenge is getting the stores to reorder it.”Brownstein said it's rare to find retailers stocking more than the most recent season on shelves.

“It is just staggering,” Brownstein said. “How do you separate yourself from the pack?” Giving boxed sets a makeover is one way. Streamlined packaging takes up less space and gives re-released boxed sets a fresh look. Other sets have interactivity add-ons such as books, voice-activated covers and character-based packaging, like “The Simpsons” Homer and Marge heads and “Star Trek's” space-age design.

“We are not sure how long this high tide will last, but we are riding it as long as we can,” said Laurie James, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's director of TV marketing.

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