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From Chicagotribune.com

It’s not pretty, this TV habit, but at least I’m not alone (angel mention)

By Maureen Ryan

Tuesday 13 April 2004, by Webmaster

Oh, the shame of being a secret binger.

And no, I’m not talking about food binges, though chocolate-covered almonds tend to disappear pretty quickly in my house.

I’m talking about television binging, and TiVo and DVDs are my biggest enablers.

Lately I’ve taken to watching DVD boxed sets of entire seasons of TV shows. When I run out of season-long collections, I watch several episodes of a current program on TiVo.

I feel like the kid who has been hoarding the best Halloween candy. I’ve purposely not watched "24" or "Arrested Development" for a few weeks in order to build up a sizable stash of episodes.

And like a secret binger, I feel somewhat sick after a multi-episode "Alias"-a-thon. Feeling a little queasy, I think to myself, "If I never see Jennifer Garner running down a hallway again, I’ll be one happy couch potato."

It’s not pretty, this TV gorging habit, but at least I’m not alone.

The entertainment industry made roughly $1 billion from TV-on-DVD sales last year, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

DVRs, or digital video recorders, like my beloved TiVo — which allow viewers to stash 30 or more hours of TV as well as pause and rewind live broadcasts — are in only 3 percent to 4 percent of U.S. homes, right now, according to Nielsen Media Research.

But this snazzy new technology is gaining converts fast; this year cable giants Comcast and Time Warner have been aggressively rolling out set-top cable boxes with DVR capability. Industry analysts predict that DVRs, which are now in about 3 million households, will be in 25 million homes in four years.

Great. Thanks, guys. Did I mention that I’m trying to resist a compulsion here?

I admit it: I’m one of the people who helped TV-on-DVD sales reach almost $1 billion last year (but I claim responsibility for no more than 5 percent of those sales).

That billion bucks is a small slice of 2003’s $14.3 billion in combined videotape and DVD sales, but there must be a lot of other addicts besides me: TV-on-DVD rang up $300 million in sales in 2002.

"The biggest trend in 2003 was the fast growth of the TV [on DVD] business outpacing the overall growth of the category," Warner Home Video executive Ron Sanders told Video Business magazine recently.

What Hollywood execs really love about TV boxed sets is that the profit margins on them is huge, meaning 20th Century Fox probably makes much more pure profit on each "Simpsons" boxed set of episodes than on each copy of the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World."

So I’ll be fighting even more TV temptation in the future, because the big media companies are going to be releasing pretty much everything they ever put on the air (though I think I’ll be able to resist the "Saved By the Bell" boxed sets. Probably.).

More profits for studios

One reason for the big studio profits on DVD sales is that actors and writers usually get little or no residual payments from them. That’s why DVD residuals are the biggest bone of contention in this spring’s Writers Guild negotiations.

One thing that has surprised industry veterans is how much consumers are willing to pay for those boxed sets. In 2002, the average price was $50, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

"It’s evident that there are many fine television shows that people want to own, because they have a lot of affection for them, much the same way that great movies have built up affection," says Martin Blythe, vice president of publicity for Paramount Home Entertainment.

Ah, yes, I know that affectionate feeling; it welled up in me every time I saw a "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" boxed set at my local warehouse club. Now that I’ve finished watching all seven seasons of that show (don’t spend my $600 all in one place, Paramount!), I’m hip deep in past seasons of "Stargate SG-1," "Angel" and "Babylon 5."

I must admit, though, I cheaped out and started renting some seasons of "Angel" and "SG-1" via the DVD-by-mail service Netflix (where a corporate spokeswoman reports that TV-on-DVD rentals have soared in recent months and now account for 10 percent of all Netflix rentals).

For fans of cult series and sci-fi TV, DVD boxed sets have been a godsend. Never huge ratings grabbers, season-long sets of such shows as "Buffy," "The X-Files" and "Star Trek" have been reliable, steadily selling successes for the entertainment conglomerates that spawned them.

"In order to air a successful TV show, you need 10 million people to watch," 20th Century Fox home entertainment marketing vice president Peter Staddon told Video Business. "On DVD, you don’t need anything like that for a release to be successful."

Even so, stellar DVD sales of "The Family Guy" persuaded TV execs to actually put the show back into production (new episodes will air on the Cartoon Network next year).

Though big DVD numbers may not necessarily ensure a show’s revival or increase its renewal chances (despite selling a whopping 500,000 boxed sets, the WB’s "Angel" was canceled several weeks ago), good sales certainly don’t hurt a TV series’ chances for a long, healthy life.

Bigger piece of the pie

"That’s a serendipitous benefit," Tribune Entertainment president Dick Askin says of strong DVD sales. "You don’t plan for it, but when it happens, it really helps the bottom line of each project."

But DVD sales don’t mean much if a show posts weak ratings.

"We’d never greenlight a series because of the backend," i.e., DVD and syndication sales, says SciFi Channel president Bonnie Hammer, "We still need to have [good] ratings on the air."

That’s where TiVo — and its DVR brethren — come in. Next year, as the company calculates ratings for shows, Nielsen Media Research will take into account people who watch TV on DVRs.

Let’s say you’re a Nielsen household with a DVR, and you watch "24" one or two hours after the program aired on Fox. As of next year, that "timeshifted" viewing will get counted in the overnight ratings that Nielsen sends to its media clients.

If the DVR Nielsen family watches "24" within seven days of the show’s original airing, that viewing will get counted in a revised set of ratings Nielsen will send to clients one week after the original overnight ratings go out. (If the family watches the show more than a week after its original broadcast, that viewing no longer counts for ratings purposes.)

DVRs "are definitely a growing phenomenon for the industry," says Nielsen spokeswoman Karen K. Gyimesi. "More and more cable systems are coming up with their own DVR-like devices, cable boxes with more capability. We really want to keep up with the technological changes."

Some clues for the future: Fox and Cablevision are testing a subscription cable channel that allows consumers access to the previous month’s worth of Fox programming all at once.

For those with high-speed Internet connections, the WB and AOL Broadband recently teamed up to put an entire episode of the family drama "Everwood" online for a week starting March 30.

Broadband TV?

Those sorts of experiments are just the beginning, according to Phillip Swann, CEO of the consulting firm TV Predictions Inc.

"Your television is going to become a broadband television," Swann says. "You’re going to be able to access any show anytime.

"It makes the networks giddy," he adds. "They’re anticipating selling every show they’ve ever made. They know there are going to be some people out there who’d love to pay $2.99 to see the 1956 World Series."

TiVo, which currently has about 1.3 million subscribers, thinks it will snag millions more by positioning itself as the essential device for sorting through this flood of TV options. For example, TiVo employs user-created wish lists to record the films of certain actors and directors. The device will even make its own suggestions on what a viewer should watch, based on that user’s past viewership.

TiVo President Marty Yudkovitz calls the device the Google of TV (he actually calls Google "the TiVo of the Internet," but . . . come on).

He makes a good point. "How much would you use the Internet if you didn’t have a search engine?" he asks.

Still, I get the sinking sensation that the geniuses at TiVo are busy thinking up more ways to get me to watch more TV. But, what with the stack of DVDs on top of the TV and the 155 hours of TV goodness that our customized TiVo can hold, I’m already watching more TV.

I’m not alone there, either.

In 1990, a television was on in the average American home for 6.56 hours a day, according to Nielsen Media Research. Now that figure (which counts all the hours that all the TVs in a home are on) is 7.6 hours.

Is more TV always better? Perhaps not, but it’s definitely . . . more.

- - -

Top DVD sales

Until recently, DVD sales were mostly movies. Now boxed sets of TV shows are nearly as popular.

This week’s chart from Amazon.com

TV shows (season #)

1. Matrix Revolutions

2. Star Wars Trilogy

3. Friends (7)

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

5. Kill Bill, Vol. 1

6. Something’s Gotta Give

7. Master and Commander

8. Chappelle’s Show (1)

9. In Living Color (1)

10. Blue Collar Comedy Tour

Other TV shows in top 25

15. Freaks and Geeks

17. Babylon 5 (5)

19. Buffy (6)

21. West Wing (2)

24. CSI (3)

25. The Office (2)

Top programs recorded on TiVo

For week ending April 3*

1. The Apprentice

2. American Idol (Tues.)

3. Survivor: All-Stars

4. American Idol (Wed.)

5. CSI

6. ER

7. 24

8. Friends

9. CSI: Miami

10. The West Wing

*Only includes programs during prime time on the six commercial broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, UPN and WB.