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TV DVD dials up full-series orders

Packaging is the key to the squeeze

In their never-ending quest to squeeze as much life as possible out of tentpole TV franchises, studios have found a new weapon: the DVD mega-set.

These flashy collections pack every episode of a series into a pretty package, add on tons of bonus features and carry a hefty pricetag — up to $300. While not aimed at the mass market, these sets have become a great way for studios to breathe new life into skeins, even after every season of a show has already been released on disc.

The trend started in November 2005, when HBO Video and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment issued elaborate boxed sets encompassing the entire runs of “Sex and the City” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” respectively.

Given that both shows had already done very well on DVD, some pundits wondered if fans who’d bought individual seasons would pay to have more “Sex” or to bond with “Buffy” again.

Turns out they would.

“They’ve been hugely successful,” says HBO Video president Henry McGee, referring to the mega-sets the company has released for “Sex,” “Six Feet Under” and “Mr. Show.”

This success has led to a steady stream of supersized series sets, including such skeins as “Alias,” “Friends,” “MASH,” “Homicide,” “Get Smart,” “The Kids in the Hall” and “The West Wing.”

“It’s video on demand, without the technology,” says Burton Cromer, BBC Video’s senior vice president for consumer products for BBC Home Video, which has released full-series DVD compilations of “Coupling,” “The Office” and “French & Saunders,” among other skeins.

Steve Feldstein, senior VP at 20th, says the super sets are generally for “hardcore fans” and, as a result, studios have to “create the ultimate piece, something they have to own.” That’s why, for the most part, it’s not enough to simply slap the episodes together in a box and call it a day.

Packaging is key

As with their full-season counterparts, securing a higher price point requires greater perceived value on the part of the consumer.

The “Six Feet Under” set, for example, is topped by a tuft of graveyard-approved fake grass. For “Sex and the City,” HBO encased its collection with both a Plexiglas shell and a fuzzy hot-pink book cover.

There are also a slew of ritzy bonus features, from the “West Wing” pilot script and a 60-page “Friends” book to both music soundtracks for “Six Feet Under.”

“Packaging these mega-sets is part of the merchandising,” McGee says, noting a skein like “Sex” — “which is all about fashion” — required something special.

Studios also are marketing the megasets as “gift collections,” a move that encourages retailers to treat a 2- or 3-year-old box set like new product during the busy fourth-quarter holiday season.

BBC’s Cromer notes that, despite the hefty pricetag, these sets pack a lot of value.

“You can have tens or hundreds of hours of programming for a relatively small amount of money,” he says, noting that most big sets cost up to 25% less than the price of buying all the individual seasons of a show.

Studios say more and more shows will get the mega treatment in coming years, though not all sets will be lavish. Some insiders wouldn’t be surprised if studios start releasing bare-bones collections of shows in order to attract casual fans.

“It’s our job as marketers to provide choice to our consumers, and having various packaging iterations does exactly that,” Feldstein says.

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