Webisodes find their way to disc

NBC Universal has found an afterlife for its series of “The Office” webisodes.

NBC U’s digital entertainment and home entertainment divisions have collaborated to release the new DVD “‘The Office’ Digital Shorts Collection.”

The DVD, which just hit shelves, collects seven “The Office” shorts that have run online during the show’s seven seasons, including “Subtle Sexuality,” “The Accountants,” “Kevin’s Loan,” “The Outburst,” “Blackmail” and “The Mentor.”

Move comes as NBC U explores new ways of monetizing and distributing its online content, NBC U Digital Entertainment prexy Vivi Zigler said.

“With ‘The Office,’ there was an enormous amount of material produced for the Web,” she said. “They were pioneers creatively for that space. We started to think about the fans who eat this stuff up and that it may work as an actual, separate release.”

The two divisions had already worked closely together on past “Office” releases; the season-six “Office” DVD included shorts produced by Zigler’s team that hadn’t previously run online, for example.

In the case of “‘The Office’ Digital Shorts Collection,” Zigler said she was intrigued by the idea of taking digital content and selling it on a physical DVD. Because it’s an experiment, only 50,000 copies were pressed of “‘The Office’ Digital Shorts Collection” — compared to the several hundred thousand units that are shipped for a normal seasonlong “Office” set.

“Like any industry, you try things and see how it goes,” Zigler said. “In the worst-case scenario, it’s a really cool, limited edition product. In the best-case scenario, the audience loves it and we make more.”

The division won’t make a fortune off the DVD, but Zigler said she’s excited about the idea of finding a way to give digital assets more exposure and a longer lifespan. “It speaks to the value of assets created for a show online,” she said. “People tend to think of them as vaporizing.”

Past NBC Universal Digital Entertainment efforts have included an online “Heroes” graphic novel, which was then manufactured as an actual comicbook by NBC U’s consumer products division. And NBC U Digital’s online-only soap opera “Coastal Dreams” was sold as an interstitial TV piece to a broadcaster in Finland.

Zigler said her division is also increasingly finding international buyers for its digital assets. When a foreign broadcaster (like Canada’s City TV) picks up an NBC Universal show, it is frequently interested in also buying the ancillary online content — which comes cheaper than trying to create its own material from scratch.

As a result, the exec said her team is now creating digital fare that can be detachable from NBC.com so that others can buy the design and engineering back structure.

“This is starting to give us a sense that the assets have real value beyond Web exhibition,” Zigler said.

It gets a little trickier when NBC U Digital is producing content for a show owned by an outside studio like Warner Bros. TV. In that case, the network and studio usually figure out a way to share ownership on intellectual property created by the network for an outside supplier’s show.

As for the “Office” digital shorts DVD, special features also include a Paley Center panel; the features “Lazy Scranton” and “Dwight Schrute Music Video”; and the original minisode “Podcast.” Several cast members also give behind-the-scenes commentary.

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