Filling the Void25 Sep, 2009 By: John Latchem
Don’t tell Garson Foos the TV DVD market is saturated. President of indie distributor Shout! Factory, Foos says there are plenty of great titles out there yet to make it to disc.
He would know.
Over the past few years, Shout! Factory has built a reputation for releasing shows on DVD that bigger studios have been unwilling, or unable, to release.
“It’s a combination of things that lead to studios occasionally, generously, increasing their willingness to license stuff out,” Foos said.
Recent releases include season sets of such shows as 1990s hit “Spin City” and 1980s mainstays “Designing Women” and “Thirtysomething.” Over the next few weeks, the company will release 1960s staples “Mr. Ed” and “The Patty Duke Show” to DVD.
“We pay attention to what’s out there,” Foos said. “We look at the lists Web sites keep of people voting for the shows they want.”
In most cases, independent suppliers have less overhead and can navigate the clearances easier, and thus have a lower threshold to make money on a title, even after paying the royalty to the studio that owns the content.
More often than not, DVD releases are held up by music rights, be it fees to use original recordings or just to cover the publishing rights. “Mr. Ed,” for instance, had problems with its theme song.
“Some things are prohibitively expensive,” Foos said. “Even just the songwriting rights are often expensive on their own.”
Foos said studios will put the time in to obtain clearances for bigger shows with sales potential. But for the most part, Foos said, the big studios aren’t interested in the work involved to clear smaller titles.
“Studios aren’t really set up to get music rights clearances for TV DVD,” Foos said. “They want to buy out everything at once because they don’t want to go back to do it again. But they can only do that on the top-selling titles.”
That’s where independents such as Shout! Factory come in. Foos said the company’s roots in the music industry make it easier to gain the clearances necessary for a DVD release.
“We have long-standing relationships with [music] publishers,” Foos said. “We have the expertise.”
While studios might try to secure the rights in perpetuity, Shout! Factory will get them for a limited term, and for DVD only.
Sometimes, music isn’t even an issue. With some titles, studios just don’t think they’ll sell, Foos said.
“Some titles we’ve gotten rights to have done more than what we expected,” Foos said. “But others have just performed at or below expectations.”
In an era of declining sales, suppliers have to take a hard look at their distribution models, such as whether to put out the complete series first, instead of waiting for all the seasons to be released. Foos said it’s a factor of audience potential as well as logistics.
Titles with more mass-market appeal, such as “Spin City” or “Designing Women,” Foos said, are more likely to be released season-by-season. For other shows, a complete series is impractical. “Thirtysomething,” for example, has so many music issues, according to Foos, that getting all the clearances for a complete set would make fans wait even longer.
“We’re still working on clearances for the second season,” Foos said. The first season was released in August.
Oct. 20, however, Shout! Factory releases a complete-series set of 1980s sitcom “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.”
Foos said the model makes sense because its potential audience would comprise a fan base that is more dedicated to these kinds of shows, and a complete-series release might generate more publicity.
Other shows appeal to both types of consumer, Foos said. Shout! Factory is currently releasing season sets of 1980s cartoons “The Transformers” and “G.I. Joe,” which have sold well as mass-market purchases that tend to favor families and casual fans, Foos said. But the company also produced complete-series sets of the shows, which it sold online directly to collectors who may have grown up with them.
The “Transformers” complete series hits retail shelves Oct. 20, the same date as the live-action Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen film comes to DVD and Blu-ray Disc. The "G.I. Joe" animated series boxed set arrives in stores Nov. 10.
Other upcoming Shout! Factory releases include “Andy Barker, P.I.” Nov. 17, and a new “Mystery Science Theater 3000” boxed set Dec. 1.
Shout! Factory also recently acquired DVD rights to the 1964 concert film The T.A.M.I. Show and the 1979 TV movie Elvis, directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell as Elvis Presley.
“There’s still a lot of good stuff out there,” Foos said.