Fox out front with ’24’ DVD

Execs feared early release could hurt syndie chances

In a move that could significantly change the way studios view the backend potential for primetime series, the entire first season of Fox’s action drama “24” will be released on DVD Sept. 17.

Decision by 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Home Entertainment reps the first time a full season of a Big Six skein has been offered for sale on DVD before the series has been either sold into syndication or canceled.

Execs have worried that selling complete seasons on DVD so early in a show’s run would hurt its chances of snagging big auds in syndication — and therefore diminish the amount of coin a studio could collect in off-net sales.

HBO has found success selling DVDs of signature skeins “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Oz” — but because of content issues, and HBO’s tendency to multiplex repeats of its series, none of those shows is deemed to have the same sort of backend potential as a network skein.

But execs at 20th and Imagine, which produce “24,” ultimately decided that releasing a DVD now wouldn’t significantly damage the skein’s backend potential — particularly because of the show’s unusual real-time format.

“We saw a unique opportunity with ’24,’ ” said 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman. “The tremendous buzz, the serialized nature of the storytelling and the demand from fans to see these episodes in-depth and over and over as they follow the clues to ‘the mole’ really made it worth taking a shot.”

A lure for auds

What’s more, execs believe the release will serve as a powerful promotional tool for luring new auds to season two.

“We wanted to get this DVD out there before season two started and really give the audience out there a chance to find this show,” said Peter Staddon, senior veep for Fox Home Entertainment marketing. “The DVD is going to be a way to solidify and build on its core audience.”

Co-creator/exec producer Robert Cochran– who’s also a profit participant in the series — said he’s “thrilled” his show is coming out on DVD so soon.

“Our show has a different kind of format, and you have to get people used to that format,” he said. “Hopefully, people who buy the DVD might tune in for the next season.”

Whether “24” will lead to earlier DVD releases of network shows remains to be seen, but Staddon believes “24” will be the first of many early DVD rollouts.

“People are seeing the backend value of DVD and that there’s a real revenue stream there that doesn’t have to impact syndication,” he said. “The units (of DVDs) sold is a tiny fraction of the available audience for syndication.”

Collector’s edition

Fox Home Entertainment will release “24” as a six-disc collector’s edition, with four letterboxed episodes per disc and a retail pricetag of $59.98. Because of the short amount of prep time for the set — about 2½ months vs. the usual six months — the DVD collection will feature only a handful of extras.

Bonus material highlights include an alternate ending for May’s pivotal season-ender, in which a main character was killed. Exec producers Joel Surnow and Cochran will offer an alternate audio commentary for the never-broadcast scenes.

The DVD set will also include a preview of season two and will come packaged with a so-called impact card featuring the second season premiere date.

Staddon said Fox Home Entertainment plans to release full season collections of “24” every year the show is on the air.

“You can’t release season one now and hold back season two for six years (after the show is in syndication),” he said.

Staddon said Fox Home Entertainment is already working with “24” producers on potential extras for a season two DVD release.

“Going forward, our objective is to add a lot more value to each release,” he said.