June 3, 2005

TV Shows On DVD — Too Much of a Good Thing?

Studios are pumping out TV-DVD packages faster, and more furiously, than ever.

Virtually no Tuesday goes by without a handful of complete-season TV sets arriving in stores. And even obscure, short-lived series like "Ned and Stacey" are being resurrected on DVD. Next Tuesday, 17 sets will hit stores, according to Gord Lacey, who operates the http://www.TVShowsOnDVD.com Web site.

"I think it's starting to get a little strained ... and consumers are going to have to pick and choose," he said. "Some visitors to my site have even begun asking why the studios are loading certain dates."

The answer is easy: There's so much stuff coming out that "loading" certain dates is inevitable. At a time when the DVD business overall is beginning to soften, TV-DVD is one of the few growth areas left in what is fast becoming a mature business.

As of May 20, 207 multidisc TV series had come to market this year, 55.6% more than at this same point last year, according to the DVD Release Report, a weekly industry tip sheet.

Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen released a report in the fall in which she predicted that the TV-DVD market will grow at an annual rate of about 30% a year, topping out at a projected $3.9 billion in consumer spending by 2008.

The overall DVD business, meanwhile, is no longer growing in the double digits, as it has been since its March 1997 launch. In April, consumer spending on DVDs even took an unprecedented dip of 1.7% from April 2004, the first year-to-year decline in the format's history, according to a Home Media Retailing market research analysis of Nielsen VideoScan numbers.

No wonder, then, that suppliers are ready and willing to clog the DVD pipeline with TV shows new and old, popular and obscure.

"I think what you're seeing is the start of the maturing of that business," said Steve Beeks, president of Lions Gate Entertainment. "A lot of the 'A' shows have now been released, and suppliers are looking at the 'A-minus' and 'B' series. At the same time, we are finishing the cycle of releasing a lot of TV programming to DVD for the first time, which has created this bulge in the marketplace.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment is so up on TV-DVD that it plans on releasing twice as many titles this year as it did in 2004. Upcoming offerings include episodes of "Northern Exposure" and "Quincy M.E."

"Our research shows that there is no sign of the TV-DVD market slowing down," said Ken Graffeo, executive vp marketing. "Among DVD owners between the ages of 18-64, the number of consumers who have purchased TV-DVD product has increased 95% this year alone."

Still, concerns remain about there being too much of a good thing. There's a worsening shelf-space crunch at retail, to the point where in the fourth quarter of last year, suppliers were complaining that the shelf life of their hot new theatricals was being drastically shortened. Some studios have confronted the problem by reducing the size of the packaging.

"Thin is in," said Mark Rashba, vp catalog marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which this year is releasing nearly 80 season sets, including "The Partridge Family" and "Seinfeld."

"We heard from a couple of major retailers who really support this category that the thinner the packaging, the more apt they were to put (sets) on the shelf."

Kevin Cassidy, executive vp sales and product at Tower Records and Video, welcomes these moves. Just to accommodate the stepped-up flow of releases, he said, Tower stores in the past year have nearly doubled the amount of floor space devoted to TV-DVD product to the point where it now accounts for 15% of total DVD square footage.