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TV DVDs Expected to Be the Hot Ticket in Q4

21 Oct, 2003 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Mark Dana can't wait for the holidays. He's got a new hobby, collecting TV series on DVD, and he's letting everyone know what he doesn't yet have, but desperately wants.

The complete fourth season of “The Sopranos,” which hits stores Oct. 28, is at the top of his list. So are season three of “The Simpsons,” season two of “C.S.I.,” both boxed “Oz” sets and the complete second season of “Six Feet Under” -- which hasn't been announced but that Dana, a physician living in Carlsbad, Calif., fervently hopes will be available by Christmas.

“That's such a great show,” he said. “If it comes out after the holidays, well, I guess I'll just buy it myself.”

If DVD's been the most popular holiday gift the past two or three years, TV series on DVD are the hot ticket this year.

“I love it,” Dana said. “I can watch what I want, when I want to. I can power through several episodes in an evening, I can catch up and revisit whenever I want to, and maybe best of all I don't have to sit through any commercials.”

Sales of TV DVD Triple
Apparently lots of people feel that way. According to Video Store Magazine market research, sales of TV shows on DVD nearly tripled from $300 million in 2001 to $870 million last year, or 10 percent of total consumer spending on DVD. This year, spending is likely to top the $1 billion mark.

“In less than four years, we've created a megamillion-dollar business -- and what amounts to a new syndication window for quality TV programming,” said Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing communications for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, a pioneer in the TV-on-DVD category.

“Every retailer we talk with says TV on DVD will be the big fourth-quarter story,” said Henry McGee, president of HBO Home Video. “The business continues to build and build, with no end in sight.”

Industry analyst Tom Adams said TV shows are “the ideal type of programming to appeal to DVD collectors.”

“Everyone watches TV, and everyone has a favorite show or two,” said Adams, president of Adams Media Research of Carmel Valley, Calif.

Adams just finished a study on the TV-on-DVD phenomenon and found that “complete season” boxed sets of popular contemporary TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “The Sopranos”are the most lucrative, typically selling upwards of 500,000 units, about what a top rental VHS title used to do in the pre-DVD days.

“They're $50-plus per set, so they generate the most money,” Adams said. “A lot of people don't discover a hit show until after it's been on for awhile, and then they want to see what they missed. And then there are the fans, who have been on board since day one and have kind of a proprietary feeling about the show.”

DVD's compact size and superior quality makes collecting TV shows a lot more rewarding than in the VHS-only days, Adams noted. “DVD is archival,” he said. “It's just the perfect collector's item.”

The top revenue generator to date, according to Adams, is the acclaimed TV miniseries “Band of Brothers,” an elaborate six-disc package that retails for $199.98. Since its November 2002 release, the HBO release has generated $109 million in net DVD sellthrough supplier revenue, more than most hit movies.

Other top sellers Adams identified include seasons one, two and three of “The Sopranos,” with respective sales tallies of $65 million, $55 million and $47 million, and the complete first season of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's “The Simpsons,” with an estimated $48 million in net DVD sellthrough revenue.

Tapping a Loyal Fan Base
Fox has released 11 of the year-to-date's 20 top-selling TV-on-DVD releases. Ironically, the list is topped by Family Guy Vol. 1, an animated series from Seth MacFarlane that was canceled after just three seasons.

“The success of ‘Family Guy' proves a couple of things -- it's not just films that find their ultimate audience on DVD, and if you effectively tap into a loyal but dormant fan base, you can reinvigorate a property and bring it back into the popular culture,” Feldstein said.

For his part, MacFarlane is pleased as can be with the DVD success of “Family Guy.”

“I don't know if it's the result of an inferiority complex, but I am certainly shocked and surprised every time I hear it's doing as well as it is,” MacFarlane said. “It just doesn't seem to be stopping, and it's pretty astonishing to me and everyone who worked on the show.”

Fox this year also has scored big with complete season sets of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Simpsons” and “24.” The studio learned early on that boxed sets of complete seasons are the way to go, having played a key role in launching the complete season trend when it released a boxed set of the first season of “The X-Files” in May 2000.

“Originally, our focus group research told us that people wanted to own their favorite episodes, but my favorite episode is not necessarily your favorite episode,” Feldstein said. “And the robust nature of DVD makes it easy to include every episode in a compact and attractive way.”

Jeff Baker, VP of franchise marketing for Warner Home Video, agreed. He noted that Warner initially released “best of” compilations of “Friends” episodes and “sold in excess of a couple million copies.”

“But it seems the consumer wants to buy the complete version and also likes the upgraded audio and enhanced content that isn't readily available on TV,” Baker said. “You're basically dealing with a collector mentality, and having a complete season of episodes as they aired, in succession, appeals to that.”

Supply Growing
Other suppliers with strong presences in the TV-on-DVD category include Paramount Home Entertainment, with such top-selling series as “C.S.I.,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “I Love Lucy”; Buena Vista Home Entertainment, with “Alias”and “The Osbournes”; and Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, which has a bumper crop of classic shows such as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” as well as more recent hit series like “Married … With Children” and “Dawson's Creek.”

Image Entertainment, too, has a powerful presence, with a catalog that includes all five seasons of “The Twilight Zone.” Image has just come out with the complete first and second seasons of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

A recent entry into the TV-on-DVD category is DreamWorks Home Entertainment, which has released two “best of” compilation discs of “Spin City” episodes and Oct. 21 released the Emmy Award-winning Steven Spielberg miniseries “Taken.”

“What all the studios are finding right now is that, for the first time, fans of popular television shows are able to enjoy the immersive entertainment experience that DVD provides,” said Kelley Avery, head of worldwide video for DreamWorks.

“Previously, in the days of VHS, studios would take out an episode here or there, but television shows could never be presented in as comprehensive a manner as they can now on DVD.”

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