Tube series boost bottom lines

Over $600 mil spent on complete-season sets

In 2003, DVD players reached more than half of all VCR homes for the first time, as well as nearly half of all TV homes.

And that was before retailers sold players for $29.99 during Thanksgiving weekend.

While viewers seemed to have stopped watching television, they started buying series on DVD.

More than $600 million was spent on complete-season sets of TV series on DVD, according to Fox Video, which is about $600 million in incremental revenue, because complete seasons of TV series weren’t even available for purchase until a couple years ago.

Everything from “What’s Happening” and “Little House on the Prairie” to “Mr. Show” and “The Ben Stiller Show” was released. Sets include seasons that had only a handful of episodes; shows that weren’t very popular when they originally aired; series that were seen by only a small percentage on pay cable networks like HBO and Showtime; programs that debuted only a few weeks before they came to DVD; and wildly popular series that have been rerun for years.

The surge in interest also sparked the first known case of a cancelled series — “The Family Guy” — being put back into production based solely on the popularity of the DVD.

Series season sets grew the entire category of TV programs on DVD to $1.8 billion and about $2.1 billion overall (including VHS), according to Buena Vista Home Entertainment, as consumers also increased their purchases of miniseries like “Taken,” as well as the usual array of TV documentary and entertainment specials, informational programs and children’s programming.

“The incredible growth of the seasonal TV DVD market is a testament to the strength of the format and the purchasers’ desire for quality programming on DVD, regardless of its origin,” says Fox Video spokesman Steve Feldstein. “It also provides consumers with the ultimate in self-programming and time-shifting, and the industry with what, in essence, is a new window of syndication.”

2003 was also the year collector’s sets of movies on DVD stretched to new heights, and lengths. Fox released a set of all four “Alien” movies that unfolds like a road map to nearly 5 feet.

Studios are experimenting with packaging of ever-expanding collectors’ sets such as “Alien Quadrilogy” that includes nine discs; and boxed sets with four discs to six discs of miniseries like “Taken” — as well as sets with every episode of entire seasons of new and classic TV series, covering everything from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “Alias” that can run from 22 to 39 episodes.

“With event marketing the buzzword of the year, the packaging itself, especially something like the ‘Alien Quadrilogy’ box, is a critical element toward making a release an event, both in-store and in home,” Feldstein says.

This was also the year that studios significantly expanded their production and distribution of movies debuting exclusively on homevideo. Studios such as Disney, Warner and Universal increased the number of animated and live-action movies in franchises such as “Scooby-Doo,” “The Land Before Time,” and “Beethoven,” and ramped up the number of sequels to movies such as “101 Dalmatians,” “Inspector Gadget” and “George of the Jungle.”

Meanwhile, studio arms such as Sony’s Col TriStar Home Entertainment joined smaller suppliers including Artisan, Lions Gate, First Look and MTI in expanding the number of live-action movies acquired and released for premiere on DVD.

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