Autumn brings TV on DVD harvest

Box sets buoy season bows of current series

There’s more than one fall TV season these days.

In addition to the annual return of scripted fare to the major networks, early autumn now kicks off primetime for DVD releases of current TV shows. Over the next few months, studios will flood the market with full-season sets of dozens of skeins still airing on the Big Five.

Fall “has become TV on DVD season, and it’s crystal clear why,” says Craig Kornblau, prexy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. “The new TV season is about to kick off…and this is a fantastic opportunity for us to give people a chance to catch up on what they’ve missed.”

Certainly, the timing is right. While movie studios dominate the end of the 4th quarter with DVD releases of the big summer blockbusters, September tends to be a slower period for pics on DVD — providing the perfect opening for TV.

Disney homevid and ABC — which teamed to release current DVD sales champion “Grey’s Anatomy: Season 3” — helped popularize the idea of linking DVD releases to fall premieres three years ago with the season-one collections of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Both shows were instant hits in primetime during their frosh seasons, but because of their serialized nature, they didn’t lend themselves to summer repeats.

Instead, ABC execs decided to put major promo muscle behind DVD releases of both shows’ first seasons and then timed their releases to just a few weeks before their respective second-season premieres.

That way, viewers who had heard the buzz about both shows but didn’t get a chance to jump in midway through the season could catch up and (presumably) get hooked. Discs were also packed with tons of bonus features, giving hardcore fans added incentive to buy the collections.

The result: Strong sales for the DVDs and a notable ratings uptick for season-two ratings.

“We saw that people who purchased the ‘Lost’ DVD, for example, were more likely to tune in and become ‘Lost’ season two viewers,” says Lori MacPherson, senior VP and GM/North America for Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. “We brought new people into the franchise.”

Now, linking TV on DVD releases with fall bows has become the industry rule.

Both Fox and Warner have even taken out consumer ads in fall preview issues of entertainment mags hyping their own “new” fall lineups of TV shows on DVD. Warners even went so far as to include a mention of the shows’ upcoming TV premiere dates in their ads.

Ken Ross, head of CBS Home Entertainment, says coordination is key.

“We try to synergize with other parts of the company to cross-promote all the various elements of a show and its DVD,” he says.

For example, CBS was slated to air a promo in last Friday’s episode of “Ghost Whisperer” touting last week’s release of season two on DVD. NBC frequently promotes upcoming TV show DVD releases via promo tags that run at the bottom of the screen.

“The most appropriate audience to promote a show (to) is within that show’s current season,” Ross said.

Conversely, DVDs are a great marketing tool for networks and TV production studios — particularly when it comes to younger shows.

Stop by the DVD aisles of Best Buy or Wal-Mart these days, and it’s hard to miss the big displays touting shows such as “The Office,” “Heroes,” “Til Death” or “Ghost Whisperer.” Many of those same DVDs contain stickers directing consumers to watch the season premiere of the show.

“The more places you can expose a brand to people, the more likely it is people will get engaged,” says Sony marketing maven Bob Oswaks. “From a pure marketing perspective, it makes a lot of sense” to link the release with the premiere.

“Everyone ends up promoting everyone else,” he adds.

That includes the stars of the show. As he plugs the second- season bow of his laffer “Til Death,” Brad Garrett is usually certain to mention the DVD release of season one as well.

Not surprisingly, producers love all the attention DVDs bring to their shows.

“Ghost Whisperer” exec producers Ian Sanders and Kim Moses attribute their show’s season-two ratings spike, at least in part, to its heavily-hyped DVD release. They believe producers need to embrace every tool possible to spread the word about their skeins.

“Just like that opening weekend in movies is so important, you have to frontload as much as possible at the start of the season to try to get people to sample, and then stay, with the show,” Sanders says. “You really have to come out of the box screaming.”

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