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June 19 2006

Is the time right for a D2DVD television series? Well you'd at least need a showrunner who has the stature of Joss Whedon according to this blogger.

D2DVD? That needs changed straight off. Sounds like something out of Star Wars. Apart from that, people have being talked about the concept for ages. It's going to get tried sometime.

Economically, I don't think it's there yet. Put simply, producing a 13 episode season at $1.5m an episode is a $19.5m investment (and that's assuming you don't need to spend money on sets etc initially).

Sure, if you've got a really big named star as the title character, you might make it back. The real deal with TV is that random people tune in whilst channel hopping, so you sell advertising.

With DVD, you'd have to pay to advertise the DVD to make people aware of it, which would cost a lot of money, and then you wouldn't have the 'free' channel hoppers -- and you'd be paying for your own advertising (again). So, big risk, little profit. Just not going to happen, basically.

However. Give it 15 years. High speed internet connections to most of the developed world at home then, TV on demand over Internet... "D2DVD" won't even matter then. Direct to the consumer. That's where it'll be at.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-06-19 01:37 ]
I cannot get to the page. Am I the only one.

gossi - the sales of season 1 DVD set of the Sopranos and Sex in the City alone made back the production cost. I will alos point out that Futurama and Family have made or are making movies for the DVD market. They can still sell advertising, like product placement as well as preview ads that you cannot fast forward through. It is a plausible concept and I believe it can be done. However at this point you would have to go with a show's creator who has a solid following, like Joss does.

[ edited by RavenU on 2006-06-19 01:44 ]
I still don't understand who in their right mind will take the financial risk to do this in the first place. If I was a big name TV creator like Joss or JJ, I would just take the millions the studios are willing to give.
I dont know much about mechanics of the TV business but it I do know that Sex and the City and The Sopranos started on a cable network, which I would assume has a built-in revenue stream because people pay extra to get those channels.
But I do think direct to DVD or, perhaps more likely, Internet on-demand television is coming. Kind of surprising that Netflix hasn't done it already...
I like his second tier names but agree that I would be less likely to buy it right off the bat. Much as I love Tim's, Jane's, and Marti's stuff, they are not as uniformly great from the getgo as Joss's. IMHO. Tim is probably closest though due to his wider experience.
New ways of delivering entertainment are evolving every day. We haven't comfortably reached a point where a showrunner has a road already established for mass presenting shows outside of the traditional, and limited, studio system ways. It is a kind of pioneering period where those folks who are willing to risk, are the ones who will blaze the new trails.

There must be ways of setting up a business plan which will mitigate financial risks, yet still allow the independence and freedom lacking in the traditional models. The risks are there, but so is the potential for great rewards. These new endeavors will require a pioneer spirit.

Joss Whedon could be one of those pioneers... considering that he is an established name in Hollywood, has a large, loyal following, a brain that is always thinking of new projects, and that those projects often need breathing room to grow the audience, he's tailor made. Joss could also still live in both worlds, creating for studios and doing the projects close to his heart that mainstream studios may not want to risk.

Joss has demonstrated that he isn't only motivated by raking in huge sums of cash. Money is dandy of course, and show business is still "business"... but for anyone who is an artist at heart... the business part isn't enough to feed the soul... or else he wouldn't have fought so hard to continue Firefly. Joss seems to have a liking for the "Independent" spirit.
"Joss could also still live in both worlds, creating for studios and doing the projects close to his heart that mainstream studios may not want to risk."

But could he? Legally? I don't know the answer. That is why I am asking.
Are you talking about character licenses, TamaraC? If so, I agree he wouldn't be likely to get those for the existing characters, on an independently financed production. But if he owned new projects he wouldn't be in the position of having to get permission to continue or spin-off projects in the future.
TamaraC: But could he? Legally? I don't know the answer. That is why I am asking.

"Legally" is whatever the contract is drawn up to be. When a showrunner has more power and independence, he is freer to write his own ticket.

I'm not suggesting that studios would be sharing the same projects with the independent ventures. Each project would have to belong to either of the categories, not both.

Advances in technology are creating a sea-change in entertainment. The studios and creators who survive will be the ones who adapt the best. In business as in life, this is the way of things.
My poorly phrased question is this: If a showrunner like Tim or Joss is under contract to a studio (like 20th) can they go off and create their own (TV like) content and sell it through a different distribution channel? For some reason I think lawsuits might get involved real quick like.

Tim is under contract to 20th. If he wanted to try to sell some original programming through the Internet, 20th would own his house in no time flat.

There has to be a balance. The creator needs financial security and to do that the studios can't be cut out.

I do think that the forward thinking studios will adopt a direct to consumer model, but they will be involved. There is no cutting out the middleman with the bankroll.
Perhaps the approach is that the contract a showrunner has with a studio would be for each property separately, rather than the showrunner him/herself being the one under contract. Each TV show or movie would be covered by its own contract, from creation through distribution. However, the showrunner would be still be able to pursue other separate projects independently.

For contracts with studios, the agreement could also state that if the studio decides to cease involvement with the property, even if it's a TV show and some episodes aired, then the showrunner will be free to take the property and continue it independently. Should the property end up becoming successful, then some sort of profit sharing would be due to the studio. This actually is a win for both sides. A showrunner can find a way to continue their show/movie independently via a kind of license agreement, and the studio can end up realizing a profit from a property they considered dead. This scenario requires new avenues of production and distribution to be successful though... a way to truly be independent of the traditional studio system. These independent routes may not hit the mainstream in the same numbers as the big studio productions, but they could be successful and profitable enough to be a viable option for showrunners.

Technology is reaching a point where the creation of a show/movie is becoming much more doable on smaller budgets... yet still provide excellent quality. The hitch is distribution. But things are changing so quickly that a new distribution model could appear in the near future. Usually when there is a great need, and stacks of money to be made, someone steps up to fill that need. Getting content to an audience may no longer be solely dependent on the traditional models.

Something needs to change. Right now, too many imaginative ideas either never get tried because studios don't want to risk, or the unique creations meet an early death because, again, studios will not risk giving the property time to grow its audience. This type of approach has killed off too many innovative shows, it takes a toll on creative individuals, and discourages audiences from getting involved in many unique shows... because they don't want to be disappointed yet again when it gets cancelled. When a business adopts a way of doing things that damages its own product, the creators of that product, and the consumers of their product, then things need to change.
I'd imagine that Tim's/Jane's etc. contracts are exclusive in much the same way the big two comic companies often sign artists/writers exclusively. If they want you badly enough sometimes there will be exemptions for works published by other companies but usually these are specifically named projects not just 'whatever you feel like'. That said as 11th Hour mentions, shorter term contracts or non-exclusive ones could solve this problem pretty handily (though whether the creator would want to give up long term security and probably a fair wedge of cash is another matter).

Can I also just say that I absolutely do not think forced previews/adverts are the way to finance this sort of thing ? Philip's is considering the introduction of a device which will not even allow changing channels during advert breaks. Others have already mooted the idea of preventing the fast-forward/skipping of broadcast ads. Personally, nothing will make me stop supporting a company or artist or show quicker than being told by said company/artist/show what I can or cannot do with my own DVD player and media in my own time.

Also, it may be true that technology is allowing cheaper productions at the same standard but if that's the case i'd like to know why production costs (not distribution or licencing) still seem to be on the rise. I've read budget estimates of $1.5 - $2 million dollars per episode for a drama on US television (presumably without too many special effects) never mind shows like 'Lost' or BSG.

Maybe DVD-TV could be run in a somewhat similar fashion to broadcast TV. Produce a pilot movie and market and distribute it like any other straight to DVD film (but letting people know that a series is the ultimate aim). Use sales to gauge interest in an ongoing series and as a means to raise investment. After the first season is made (or maybe only produce 4-6 episodes at a time) sell it as a complete set (or in volumes of 4-6 episodes a la Stargate). You could also perhaps include pledge guarantee forms with the DVD sets so that people can pledge money towards a second (or subsequent) season so that again, investors could be given some idea of likely return/interest.

One point I haven't seen mentioned before occurs to me though. The social aspect of TV may be lost. What'll happen to water-cooler moments when people are watching shows at their own pace as time allows ? What about online discussions when there could be weeks or months between viewings ? I guess the hard-core fans will probably buy the show as soon as it's released but I still think some of the communal aspects of broadcast TV will be reduced.

(also, if, as mentioned in the article, we'd need a big-name show-runner how would new show-runners get their chance ? Surely with all the same people running TV it'd end up pretty stale ?)
Some comments on this guys ideas, and yes the post is to long.

Axiom One:
We want quality entertainment.

Sure we do, what does that mean though, does it mean that the first tv series made directly for dvd have to pay through the nose for top of the line f/x and cgi, I don’t believe it does, a lot of people are going to come for good ideas and good scripts as well.

Axiom Two:
We are here to make a profit.

Yes we are, amateurs might do things for the fun of creating something new but for it to be a lasting effort there needs to be money in it, if for no other reason than that the best writers, production staff and actors will gravitate to the best paying projects.

“network style money” though includes paying a studio and the people producing for the notes we don’t want, an estimate for 1.5 Mill/episode sounds unneccessarily high.

Argument One:
The series consists of 13 episodes.

This argument is based on the network way of thinking, ie. revenue will come from syndication and selling rights to broadcasters, WRONG.
The major portion of revenue for a direct to dvd series should come from selling the dvd’s or downloads on the internet, any other revenue is nice to have but why let it control the number of episodes you create.

Until the big money backers starts to get behind the idea in a big way, everyone is better off focusing on the direct to dvd movie or even a 4 episode miniseries since 2 mill $ or even 6 mill $ financing is probably easier to find than 19.5 mill $, especially for an untried concept like a direct to dvd series.

Argument Two:
It's a genre show

It needs to be something that a sufficient number of people are willing to pay for, be it a genre show or a soap or a cooking show with recipes included.
I’d like it to be a sci-fi/fantasy show or a noir drama like ‘Profit’myself but that’s just what I’d like to pay extra for, other people have strange and different tastes.

“Think of it as being like an opening weekend. You need huge in-store promotion and marketing from the retail giants to sell effectively. So you need to prove pent-up demand.”
Don’t agree at all, marketing will take place over the internet making trailers and samples available on the ‘right’ forums and for the right bloggers ensuring a slow buzz, dvd’s don’t need an opening weekend like movies, on-going buzz and audience demand is likely to create better profitability than the opening weekend approach the studios like so much. After all with dvd’s you have the option of double and triple dipping with new commentaries and new extras for a movie or series that have proven successful.


Argument Three:
It has an established showrunner.

Don’t agree here either, as was pointed out in other posts the established showrunners are the ones that already have development deals with the studios, except for the fun of doing something new they also have the least motivation for avoiding the old structures, they have been quite successful there after all and a couple of millions in the bank is probably better than a potential profit some time in the future, the same goes for those he call second tier creators.

“someone whose name can actually sell the series to the general public.”
Doubtful, if the general public would be interested the broadcast networks would snap up the show in a second, the main point with direct to dvd is to create or continue shows that appeal to a smaller audience than the ‘general public’.

This is probably better for the new names, the third tier or the independent filmmakers that want to try their hands at something new, Amber Benson seems to be trying something similar with self financed/fan financed direct to dvd distribution, Seth Green would be another candidate if he wanted to create a tv series from his comic book.
If Richard Kelly have trouble getting distribution for his ‘original’ Southland Tales he could try something like this, the fans would undoubtedly pay to see his original vision.


Argument Four:
It's an American show.

While it is likely to be an American show for the reasons that thats where there is a critical mass of writers, production staff and financing, and the additional fact that american shows generally travel well worldwide this is not a given. If some British, German or Japanese entrepeneurs wanted to make this happen, as long as the quality is there I don’t think anyone would complain.

Argument Five:
It's not just for DVD.

I thought the whole point was to suggest a different way of making tv, if this is just a the ‘normal’ way of financing a tv series with a slightly different focus, whats the point.

Co-financing sure, smart thing to try and pre-sell wherever possible, but broadcasters have the same requirements in other countries as in the US, ‘mass market appeal’, the fact that Buffy was a comparably bigger hit in the UK than in the US doesn’t automatically make every genre show a natural for pre-selling in foreign markets.

The internet on the other hand is where these kind of shows can really make their mark, distributing by way of iTunes or similar could provide access for those that just want to sample the show and additional revenue.
I like the idea of putting up free trailers and/or commentary on YouTube making a taste sampler available for everyone to make a show/movie known on the internet.


Argument Six:
Each episode lasts 45 minutes

One of the good things with direct to dvd format would be that it wouldn’t have to cater to the ‘old’ advertising financed tv format, if the creators want to make shorter ‘webisodes’ or use the full hour in the cable format they can, lets leave that to the creators and the stories they want to tell.


Conclusion:

IMO the writer seems intent on recreating the existing tv-series but without studio financing, while this is a goal worth applauding I think he is forcing future genre tv-series into a unneccessary straightjacket to make them fit networks standards despite the fact that the networks doesn’t want anything to do with shows that lack that magic ‘mass market appeal’, letting the creators out of that straight jacket and letting them create the next generation tv series for the people that actually want them is where direct to dvd will shine.

The major weakness in this discussion as in so many others on similar topics are, who is going to pay the start-up costs to get new shows up and running before the fans know anything about them, before there are dvd’s to buy.

Letting advertisers back in as in the early days of tv, might be one idea and this comment was reported in THR,

“As Polone sees it, the TV industry's rush to put programming on new platforms, including the Internet, iPods and mobile phones, is akin to arming the enemy. Yahoo! or Apple are going to be the networks of the future, building their base with licensed programming today in order to crush their competitors tomorrow with shows they'll produce themselves.”

Maybe the studios of the future will be Apple or Google ?
I'd love to see this happen, but I'd rather see a complete overhaul of the rating system so the networks get a more accurate view of the popularity of niche shows.
RavenU - yes, those shows sold bucket loads on DVD - but they were already well established, huge shows. They were huge shows because people found them on TV, and paid nothing to watch them, which then translated to DVD sales.

D2DVD reverses that - the only time people will find a show is if they buy the DVD. Say something as good as Sopranos appeared called "The Gregs" tomorrow on DVD. Would I check it out? Uhm, nope. BitTorrent it maybe, and see if I like. Which leads to a big problem of it being very very easy to rip DVDs and post them online, which you can guarentee would happen with, for example, an exclusive DVD series of Buffy. And if it was marketed at the cult Buffy market, but they downloaded it as it wasn't available worldwide (for example) at launch...

[ edited by gossi on 2006-06-19 15:48 ]
TamaraC - I think Joss's contract with FOX expired last year so he is free to set up a shingle elsewhere. True he couldn't really do a show with exsisting characters without FOX involvement of somekind. However, he could do something like Fray or perhaps another part of the legacy without involving Buffy or the characters from the series.

Gossi - All I am saying is it can be done - they sold 500K the box sets. Oh and when HBO first started making those shows they got them pretty cheap cause the cast was largely unknowns or people who were not well known. Each episode cost less then 1 million to make.

Also I am not saying crossing media streams wouldn't be a way to do this. Have DVD and downloads through Itunes released on the same day.

Goosi are you saying even if Joss Whedon's name was on it you would not pick it up on DVD if you saw it?

Outline for the way I would do it.

1. D2DVD release 2 episode DVD w/commentary once a month for 6 months (12 episodes a season). (sale price of about $20 each dvd release)
2. D2DVD release timed with release of 1st episode on itunes (no commentary), 2 weeks later 2nd episode added to itunes.
3. At the 6th month sell syndicated rights to cable company. First episode airs the same day of last itunes release. Factor into the sydication deal some commercial time for the DVDs.
4. 8th month release a DVD box set with special features besdies the commentary.
Now give everything a few monthes to build as word spreads.
5. 12th month start with season 2 the same way as before.

This way you have revenue coming in right from the start, plus using product placement advertising as well as embedded advertising would bring you aditional revenue. You caan also have the actors attending events and being scene as well as doing talk show interviews to have a buzz about it going.

Those are just some of the ideas I had this is a cross over world now and it's time entertainment business used it to there full advantage.
Oh, if Joss Whedon's name was on a DVD I certainly would buy it - but I don't think Joss' name alone is enough to mass sell a DVD. Ask the average, non-online Buffy fan who created the show. They probably don't know (or care) - and nor should they. That's not to dismiss the power of Joss' name, of course, as that alone is where at least 50% of the Firefly fans came from (from stats I've done). But 50% of the Firefly fans were not enough to support that show.

With regards to Joss' contract with 20th Century Fox- it's currently suspended I believe. If he returns to TV, he's contracted to do it with them (that's according to Variety). Of course, there's nothing to stop 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, for example, releasing a D2DVD project (eg Spike movie).

The reality is, if the economics are there, somebody will try it. At the moment, they aren't.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-06-19 16:42 ]
Gossi, your last statement is exactly the point. Thank you. It is just like alternative energy. As soon as the economics are there, it will happen. Until it is profitable we are stuck with foreign fossil fuels.
1. D2DVD release 2 episode DVD w/commentary once a month for 6 months (12 episodes a season). (sale price of about $20 each dvd release)

$20 for each DVD or $20 for the season? No way will anyone pay $120 for a season. There might be a scattered few, but the rest will download it off the internet for free. Yeah, it is stealing it, but $120 is a lot of money to a lot of folks. $20 per DVD is pricing themselves out of the market.

I'd love to see more Firefly as much as anyone, but direct to DVD (as has been pointed out) isn't economical.
Some of the costs of making the show could be offset by advertising but it would mean some very obvious product placements.
So Simon, in order to justify those obvious product placements to offset production costs for the next incarnation of Firefly, does that mean that Blue Sun would need to be invented?

Whoa, it's like the time machine effect... ultimately it will be revealed that Joss Whedon started the real Blue Sun in order to finance new Firefly episodes.

The corporate juggernaut of the future will owe its existence to Joss Whedon!

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