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'Tis the Season for TV DVD Releases

25 Aug, 2008 By: John Latchem

In the TV DVD market, releasing a DVD set of the latest season just before new episodes air has become a standard practice. This year is no exception.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a no-brainer,” said Ken Ross, EVP and GM of CBS Home Entertainment, the primary TV DVD arm of Paramount Home Entertainment. “But it makes a lot of sense to dovetail into the network promotion leading to the subsequent season.”

Hilary Hoffman, SVP of brand and digital marketing for Universal Studios Home Entertainment, said Universal has enjoyed great success releasing DVDs for such shows as “Heroes” and “House” in conjunction with the fall season.

“Not only does it present consumers with a great proposition to get in sync with a show before the new season begins, but it also enables our company to completely maximize all marketing opportunities around both the DVD and new television season,” she said.

Ross added the DVDs attract new viewers to the subsequent seasons. However, for viewers who already are fans of the show and are familiar with the episodes, he pointed to four factors that motivate them to buy the home video version.

“It’s something I like to call the DVD difference,” Ross said.

According to Ross, the reasons are, in order:

1. Packaging and collectibility
2. Outstanding picture and audio
3. Special features
4. Owning the episodes
“People like to own the content,” Ross said. “Prior to TV DVD, we would put an 800 number after some shows and people could by a tape of the show. And they would buy it even though they could have just taped it themselves.”

One of the first shows to tie a DVD season set release to the beginning of the new season was “24,” from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. According to Jyoti Sarda, executive director of TV DVD marketing for Fox, the first season DVD set in 2002 lacked many extras because the studio wanted to get product on shelves in time for the second season.

Last year, “24” was among the shows impacted most severely by the writers strike, and the entire seventh season was pushed to 2009.

Fox tried filling the gap somewhat in May with a special-edition boxed set of the first season. But the lack of a 2008 season meant no new fall release, until producers decided to create a standalone “24” film, tentatively titled 24: Exile. That program will air Nov. 23 and lead into the events of the new season. Fox will release 24: Exile on DVD Nov. 25.

“We want to reintroduce fans to the ‘24’ franchise,” Sarda said. “New viewers could jump into the show with this particular feature. The storyline breaks from previous seasons.”The DVD includes an extended cut of the movie and the first 16 minutes of the seventh-season premiere.

“This is the return of ‘24,’” Sarda said. “We expect retailers to take the opportunity to promote the previous seasons of the show as well.”

Considering the all-important holiday shopping season comes just a few months after the new TV season, scheduling TV DVD releases can be tricky.

Many studios use August and September to release the fall season tie-ins, reserving October and November to release the bigger, pricier complete-series sets in time for the holidays. But Ross said that doesn’t mean season sets aren’t still a factor in December.

“If you play your cards right you can get two hits: when it’s a new release, and again for the holidays if you keep the title active in consumers’ minds,” Ross said.

Ross said CBS Home Entertainment is planning two big ad campaigns for TV DVD product, one at the start of the fall TV season, and another timed to the holidays.

For many shows that have rabid fan bases, releasing the DVD sooner rather than later has proved to be a sound strategy. For example, Warner Home Video will release Robot Chicken: Season Three Oct. 7, just two days after the season finale on Cartoon Network.

In some cases, it doesn’t have to be the most recent season to tie into the new schedule.

Warner releases Two and a Half Men: The Complete Fourth Season Sept. 23, the day after the sixth season debuts on CBS. And Lionsgate has slotted According to Jim: Season One for Oct. 21, timed with the midseason premiere of the ABC show’s eighth season.This release trend isn’t limited to regular series. DVDs of sporting events and other special interest titles very often follow the same strategy.

For example, Genius Products and WWE Home Video Aug. 5 released Summerslam: The Complete Anthology, collecting the first 20 years of the WWE’s annual mid-summer pay-per-view extravaganza. The 21st Summerslam took place Aug. 17.

And Inecom Entertainment offers a line of instructional dance DVDs timed for new seasons of “Dancing with the Stars.”

“This has been a successful strategy since there is more interest in learning how to dance whenever audiences view the show,” said Inecom spokesperson Julie Halapchuk.

Some shows, such as a handful of Fox titles, are timed to the new season even if they are not necessarily released before new episodes begin to air.

“We can’t release every show prior to broadcast as there would be too much clutter at retail,” Sarda said. “We tend to space out the releases with non-serialized shows, comedies and adult animation, often after the broadcast season begins. Both release strategies have proven to be successful.”

Ross said scheduling current shows with DVD releases of older programs, which he calls library titles, also plays a factor. But the fall is primarily the domain of the newer shows.

“With the exception of one to two months, the whole year is viable for library titles,” Ross said.

With major studios dominating DVD releases of the popular new shows, independents have carved a niche with library titles.

“Retailers must be more creative in the marketing of TV programming,” said Arny Schorr, president of S’more Entertainment. “I also feel strongly that they not lose sight of the fact that while one-third of the U.S. population is either a baby boomer or older, that segment of the population represents one-half of the discretionary disposal income. And finding product that skews older is difficult at retail, driving consumers to the Internet.”

This year S’more offers The Paul Lynde Halloween Special Sept. 30, A Shari Lewis Christmas Oct. 14 and Mister Peepers: Season Two Nov. 11.

Arts Alliance America plans to use the fall season to take advantage of the 50th anniversary of “The Donna Reed Show” with the release of the first season on DVD Oct. 28.

Shelf-space competition is fierce.

“You find that every month there’s stuff you’re going up against,” said Joe Amodei, president of Arts Alliance America. “Christmas time is when all the big summer theatricals are released on DVD.”

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