Every now and again I will find myself stunned that a TV series has not yet made its way to DVD. It seems like every show has, so those that haven’t have become the exception rather than the rule. More and more, I’m finding that those shows that haven’t made it to DVD haven’t done so for one of two reasons: (1) They want to get their stuff together so that they can have cool extras and whatnot, or (2) there are copyright issues, usually involving the soundtrack.
Back when TV-to-DVD transitions were new, the studios were somewhat reluctant to release entire runs on to DVD because they were worried that it might conflict with syndication spoils and they felt that by releasing an entire TV show on to DVD they would either have to charge more than anyone would want to pay or alternately that they wouldn’t charge enough, essentially charging the same amount for an entire season that they otherwise would for the Best Of release that they would sometimes release on VHS.
Specifically, I remember a lot of fans of Friends and Frasier were irate that you could get the entire runs in Britain but not in the US. NBC was concerned about the above syndication spoils and cost analysis and they held out for a very long time, despite having the DVDs all but ready to go because of their British releases. Eventually, they gave in and got a second wave of profits because the same desperate people that purchased the Best Of collections ran out to the stores to buy the entire seasons. They got the best of both worlds, but the bean-counters at NBC mostly looked at the windfall of DVD season releases and noted that individual DVD prices had fallen, so now they (along with everyone else) opt almost entirely for full-season releases.
Meanwhile, there are various TV shows that they haven’t put together because they’re worried about releasing DVDs with insufficient new content, be it behind-the-scenes interviews, commentary, out-takes, or deleted scenes. It’s a rare case where they have decided to forego immediate profit for a quality product… and I wish they would stop.
It seems to me that they have an excellent opportunity for two waves of profits like NBC had for Frasier and Friends and like the movie studios frequently do with movies: Release something adequate right away and then come back later with something that the fans are going to kill for.
I would love to buy or rent legitimate copies of the ABC show The Practice, but I couldn’t. I either had the option of recording episode-by-episode to VHS (or digitally) or downloading poorly ripped copies from the Internet. The first option requires far too much work and the last option results in their consumers giving them not a single dime for their production. ABC is finally getting around to releasing the show on DVD bit by bit while they get their extras in order, but I really don’t want to wait. I would like them to offer me what they have right now and then later I will consider what they really want to sell.
I think that they’re actually underestimating the willingness of fans to pay a pretty penny for their material, twice if they have to. It’s the same problem that made record companies so reluctant to change their models to the extraordinarily successful iTunes model. They overestimated the patients of the buying public, believing that they would still be willing to purchase entire CDs for single songs, and they underestimated the willingness of people to pay for their product even if they could get a free version online. They finally acted because their hand was forced, and I really think the end result will be a renewed rather than destroyed record industry.
Similarly, if they simply released a run-of-the-mill release of TV shows like The Practice and Picket Fences years ago, some people would have bought them or at least rented them. Not a whole lot of people, but once you take out the cost of master-producing the DVDs, you don’t have to sell as many. Even if people knew that a better version would be coming out, they’d still take what they could get rather than wait a half-decade for the juiced up version… and they’d end up buying both.
I think this is especially true for those shows where the hold-up is music. Content owners are racking their brains trying to figure out whether to bother trying to figure out whether or not to hold out for the original music or to simply put cheaper music on the DVDs. The owners of the music know that they have very high leverage, so they are often holding out for obscene amounts of money trying to call the TV content owners’ bluff of using different music. So shows like WKRP in Cincinnati, Alli McBeal, Daria, and a host of others are either being released slowly or not at all during negotiations.
Why does it have to be “and”? Why can’t they just release something now with music they can get their IP hands on and then come out with the real stuff later? The main objection is actually from the fans, but I really think if you put it out there, they’ll still buy it. If they don’t, they’ll buy the second wave anyway. In many cases they’ll buy both. Meanwhile, a lot of the leverage the soundtrack content owners have goes away. DVDs are being sold and they’re losing money. And honestly, most of the time the specific song can be replaced by something less expensive and just as good. The power of the soundtrack is often because it was new and relevant at the time and has since become dated. On the TV show Daria, they actually wrote the scenes without any paticular music in mind and just filled in a Top 40 hit when it came time to air the episode. It’s a little more complicated with Alli McBeal where many of the songs are sung live by Vonda Shephard, but I think it could still be done with some creative editing.
I can understand how people want the unvarnished, original run of whatever show it was that they’re buying, but I really think at the end of the day they will get the opportunity to do so. I think what’s often at stake is the Authenticity Police who object to anything done on the account of money. To go back to Daria for a second, people were crying bloody murder when they released some episodes on VHS even though the scenes weren’t written for the music (and vice-versa) and few of them actually claimed that the new music used was wrong so much as it wasn’t what they remembered. Again, I can understand the desire to have what they remembered, but I really, really prefer something rather than nothing and right now nothing of Daria has actually been released.
Meanwhile, those of us that don’t want to wait have to go get copies where nobody gets paid even though we are perfectly willing to pay for it in some way or another.