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May 03 2004

Should genre shows go direct to DVD? The pros and (mostly) cons on whether the likes of Joss Whedon and Tim Minear should have their shows going straight to DVD thus bypassing the networks completely.

I remember this idea being floated by fans when Angel got cancelled.

I agree with the man who said it would have to be a well known producer in order to work. I'm sure that if Joss Whedon came up with a new series that was only going to be on DVD we'd all be lining up to buy it. He's proven himself to me and I've loved all three of his series. But I'd be hesitant to buy something from someone I've never heard of, especially because buying a dvd set is usually so expensive.

I don't think the BtVS, AtS or Firefly sets have been overpriced but a lot of the other sci-fi dvds are way up there in price and I think they might be priced higher if they are bypassing television and advertisers to make up for that lack of revenue.
Such projects in today's markets would be about as successful as Amber Benson's "Chance." Or the Disney sequel to Aladdin (it was called "Return of Jafar" but I believe very few saw it). There is a future for this sort of thing I think, but we're not quite there yet. Theater and television still hold a lion's share of the market. However, independent film has proven there are ways around the big boys. It's just that the odds go down without the assist of a big company, and the return on the investment is not as hot. An independently made Firefly movie would be low budget and difficult to find when it came out. Working with a big distributor guarantees Whedon a larger audience. ...Provided he kisses their posteriors and signs away the soul of his firstborn and all that jazz.

Genre shows should have a place in network television. However right now the economy's lukewarm and the audiences are fickle, so those running the show are playing it more conservatively. You would too if you saw what they saw. I'm sure the pendulum momentum will turn around and things will swing the other way soon, but we'll just have to ride out this storm.
"Or the Disney sequel to Aladdin (it was called "Return of Jafar" but I believe very few saw it)."

Pretty much every Disney cartoon has at least one straight-to-video sequel. Obviously, they're profitable, or they would've stopped making them years ago.
Bit offtopic, but after reading the column, I noticed a fairly interesting forum topic that discusses the reasons for the decline of quality scripted TV on US. Pretty interesting reading, where the author of the article makes some pretty convincing arguments.
I don't know if straight to dvd is a good idea.

If we had never had the tv shows in the first place, would we all be so in love with them? It takes time to become attached to a good/great show, and if it was all straight to video, would there even be a fan base? I'm speaking from the get-go, not from an already established base like ours.

In other words, would we all be rushing to buy season 6 on dvd if we hadn't had years of BtVS on plain ol' tv? I doubt it. I'm not keen on spending 50 bucks for an untried, unseen show. No matter how good everyone says it is.

What do you all think?
I saw Return of Jafar! I saw Return of Jafar! I have the video!

Plus: Sky wan't to fund part of a season, so why don't they put on DVD for the Americans and show it on Sky for the English? (and DVD)
I agree with Willowy...and it's not just the money, it's the time involved.

Also a bit off-topic, there is a story in the Marketplace section of today's Wall Street Journal (I'm not providing a link because it's subscriber-only) about how the WB is dispensing with focus group testing of pilots and now will trust their "gut instincts." Neither Angel nor Buffy are in the story, but Buffy is cited in a table of pilots that tested poorly but performed extremely well.

Our dear friend Mr. Levin is quoted frequently.
I agree that the BtVS, AtS and Firefly DVD sets haven't been overpriced, but even so it's still too much for some people to drop. So for that reason I'd be a bit disappointed if Joss came out with a direct-to-DVD show. I still don't have the S4 and S5 DVDs of Buffy, or S3 of Angel. I just haven't been able to afford them, and when I have the money I am always a bit reluctant to spend so much money at once. Sending something straight to DVD would depress me as I wouldn't be able to see it for awhile.

The idea is interesting, though. For one, no commercials, and no rushing to find a blank tape if you have to work/go out/what have you. And no episodes being missed due to basketball games. I realise my pros and cons are pretty boring, but I'm mainly just thinking of the practical problems I have with watching shows and buying DVDs.
Well said Willowy! I wouldn't want to dish out that much money for something I didn't know I'd like for sure.

Weatherby, that's true, I was more talking about shows such as Farscape and the Star Trek series that are usually priced so much higher than MEs shows. And if they were to come out with new series just for "direct to dvd" they'd most likely be even more expensive and out of reach for most of the targeted audience money wise.
It would probably be very difficult to sell a whole box set of unknown product but I believe what the guys who finally get this idea up and running will do is release single dvds, about 2 hours worth of a season at a time. If a show is good enough it will build momentum with each subsequent "chapter". It seems to work in the anime field quite well. I hang out at Best Buy in the DVD section quite a bit and I've observed that a lot of customers are browsing for things that look interesting without really knowing much about what they're looking at. There are already whole series of films that are packaged for impulse buyers looking for something new, the Misty Mundae movies, Kung Fu Theater movies and even Troma Films are doing well without much more than the packaging to sell them. If this concept gets off the ground there will no doubt be web sites that will rate and review the DVD's before they're even released for obsessives like us but for the average teenager or casual buyer the packaging and word of mouth will probably determine if a DVD series will be a success.
This is true, I was just thinking more of my own dismay at the thought since I can barely afford reasonably priced DVDs, let alone anything with an upped price! Price issues aside, though, it would definitely make our shows considered to be even bigger 'cult classics' if you couldn't catch them on television.
What about a combination like Internet and DVD.
I think that's what a lot of people do. Download epis and decide if they like them or not before buying a dvd set(if they don't know the show from tv, that is)

I saw the first epi of Firefly(which was actually the second) on tv and wasn't grabbed immediately. But this was before I knew the genius that was Joss. So after I got into Buffy and Angel, I knew without question I would like Firefly. Same with the New, or whatever, X-Men. I don't read that particular comic, but if Joss is writing it, I'll be first in line, because I've read Fray and know he's very capable in the comic forum. Maybe he'll bring me into the X-Men fan fold and my hubby and I will have even more in common!

But I agree with those who've said that you don't really have a fanbase without it being on tv first. Unless you're already a diehard Joss fan, or fan of a particular actor, you may not have enough faith to just buy a dvd set, completely unseen.
Maybe they can show some teaser epis on tv, just to get people interested. Then give the studio that agrees to broadcast them a cut of the dvd sales and first dibs if it catches fire and needs to be put into a tv series.
The Internet would definitely be nice, but a) no money would be made unless they charged, which means more people would download it from Kazaa or supernova to avoid the charge anyway, and b) people with dial-up would be pretty irritated, I'd think. Although there is a similar problem with DVD release, since many people still don't have DVD players. I myself don't actually own one; I just have one in my computer, which is also why DVDs aren't as enticing to me.
since many people still don't have DVD players.

I think they are commonplace enough(or will be within a year or two) to make direct dvd sales profitable enough, IF they can generate interest.

BTW, will Wonderfalls be going to dvd? It was enjoyable enough, but I'm not sure it's something I'd pay for.
I do agree, definitely more so than any sort of internet show would make.
Ok I think most of you know where I stand on this issue, so I have only one thing to say. At least I'll try to keep it to one thing, anyway I dispute the guys claim it cannot work, I think it can but then again I have been looking into the TV on DVD market for a while now. First of all whose not to say that just because it's on DVD we cannot put it into syndication. I was thinking about Angel's 6th season in this respect but it also it could work for new shows. You can commit to a 12 episode series from a production company - they do this already for a lot of shows especially new ones - and some that never make it to the air - so the production companies are out the money anyway - this way they reclaim some of their loss upfront. Secondly release 2 episode disc every month - which would cover 6 monthes - and come on even unknown DVD's sell (who here hasn't bought a DVD even though they never heard of it). If the producers believe in the series so much they will get the word out and spark interest in it - that's kind of what the internet is for - or at least that's how it has been used (lest I remind people of a film called 'The Blair Witch Project'). Ok now on to the next phase after 6 episodes are released onto DVD or 3 monthes sell it into syndication and the overseas market as a 12 episode series - this way they make even more of their money back (yeah them) at the same time they have now a new way of marketing the DVDs. Ok so here's the catch - the DVD will be extended versions and the syndicated show will be edited (kinda like they already are) this way people who see the show and like it will have an imdeiate chance to go out and pick up the DVD. The price on the 2 episode DVD additions should be under $20 - this way it will sell more. Also no need for the bells and whistles until the entire series is released and then you come out with a box set that features the last 2 episodes of the season as well as all the extras we normally expect to find, naturally at a higher price of around $50. You know why - as it has been pointed out numerous times by the DVD sellers we are a society of collectors and if we like something we will collect the heck out of it. So that is my basic concept of how to market TV to DVD and I think it would work well for genre shows because we who are geeks tend to collect anything related to a subject matter we are interested in. So whether well known or not it they market well - we will buy it (lest I remind people that the Chia pet's still sell and who really needs those). Ok I admit I've spent way to much time thinking about this.

[ edited by RavenU on 2004-05-03 22:41 ]
RavenU, you are always the voice of reason. Of course if they came out on DVD and they were hugely popular they'd have an option to also put it into syndication, therefore making back a ton of money.
For my money, the best thing that has happened to tv-DVDs is actually NetFlix, at least for those of us in the US.

My husband and I often rent the first 1-3 discs of a television show from NetFlix before deciding to plunk down dollars on full season sets. We don't manage to watch much first-run television (in fact, never saw Buffy live, but began renting the Season 1 discs a few years ago and got hooked). Exploring a few episodes by renting DVDs has, in fact, encouraged us to buy all the Buffy seasons released so far. We did the same with Angel, rented a few discs and then bought the full seasons.

So as long as I could "preview" a few episodes of a direct-to-DVD series before dropping $50-100 on a set, I would be very happy. As long as services like NetFlix continue to develop there's no reason that wouldn't work, at least until television evolves beyond prime-time broadcast limitations.
I think, as they stated, the relevant names are important. Sure, I bought the first season of Alias without knowing anything about it other than it was well-acclaimed and had long story arcs. Given Whedon's work, if I got a phone call that went, "Hi, this is Joss. Look, we're working on a show, but we need to raise some capital so we can get it off the ground. How about a thousand dollars?" I'd be writing a check. You laugh? I paid $600/year just so I could get UPN here on a decent signal, because I liked Buffy. Then I bought several copies of each season on DVD. Anyone else, probably not. But I'd pony up for him.

I also think that the costs could be driven down and defrayed. Sure, the show went to DVD - but nothing prevents syndication after that. Didn't Angel get a quarter of a million per episode for syndication? That'd be a huge help. The budget is a big issue. I saw, and couldn't quite believe, that Lorne's makeup runs about thousands of dollars per episode. Vamp dustings come with a heavy price tag.
One word "Plastics."

Opps sorry wrong word :) (an all those who got the reference - congrats)

I meant to say "IPO". Ok yeah I know it's not a word but an abbreviation of several words but I think you get the idea. :)
I agree with weatherby, the DVD's are a bit expensive and even I'm reluctant to buy when I have the money. If such shows were to be released on DVD it might work if priced cheaper and advertised properly. Because first, many of the actors would continue to be unknown unless they are already established actors/actresses, and the writers would also get very little recognition. It would be a good experiment, but I don't think such a concept would last very long. I'd like to see how such an idea would pan out. Maybe each season could be released 10-13 episodes a season, that would cut costs for consumers and would take less time to make. That could be a possibilty to take in to consideration if this actually happens.

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