TV hits on DVD ride to Hollywood’s rescue

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Sales of television programmes on DVD are expected to end the year up 21 per cent from 2004, a rare success for Hollywood in what has been an otherwise gloomy year.

Just five years ago the market for DVDs of TV programmes was negligible. However, sales this year – excluding rentals – are expected to total about $2.7bn, according to Adams Media Research, an entertainment industry consultancy, out of total projected DVD sales of $12.9bn.

“The appetite that consumers have to watch television shows over and over, and to collect their favourite programmes, has been remarkable,” said Kevin Tsujihara, president of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group, which has released such top-selling titles as Friends, The OC and Gilmore Girls.

The rise in TV DVD sales has come as Hollywood executives have become alarmed at the slowdown in overall DVD sales. After growing in the double digits range for the past few years and serving as the industry’s biggest cash cow, DVD sales growth has dropped to single digits this year and could be flat by 2007, some analysts say.

At the same time, even the combined efforts of King Kong, Chicken Little and The Chronicles of Narnia are not expected to rescue the box office from another weak year, during which cinema attendance is on track to fall by 5 per cent or more.

But TV DVD releases are taking up some of the slack. They range from the most popular programmes – Desperate Housewives, CSI and 24 – to classics that were collecting dust in network and studio libraries, such as The Honeymooners and Sanford and Son.

“When they originally hit the market in such a big way, it was found money for the studios [since] these shows had already paid for themselves through syndication,” said Jan Saxton, vice-president at Adams. Film DVDs retail in the US for around $20 each, compared with $60 or more for a television season.

Ken Ross, vice-president at CBS, attributes the rise of the market to the advent of the DVD itself. Sales of TV programmes were impractical in the VHS era because networks and studios could fit only a few episodes on each tape. The higher capacity of DVDs allows an entire TV season to be accommodated in a package of discs no thicker than a hardcover book.

“The notion of a TV series being not a one-off but a franchise is one that’s very appealing to consumers,” Mr Ross said.

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