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From seattlepi.nwsource.com

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

TV shows old and new send DVD sales soaring

Saturday 13 September 2003, by isa


LOS ANGELES — It began a few years ago when HBO began selling entire seasons of its hit shows "The Sopranos" and "Sex in the City" in boxed DVD sets.

Now new and old television shows are being released at such a blistering pace that the genre is becoming the fastest-growing segment of the booming home video industry. Consumers are rushing to buy entire seasons of such current network hits as "Friends," "The Simpsons" and "24," and classic shows like "Bonanza," "The Twilight Zone" and "Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In."

What once seemed a niche market is now firmly entrenched in the mainstream and contributes big bucks to the bottom line of various movie studios.

"Every time we think it’s exploded, it explodes more," said Brian Lucas, spokesman for the 560-store Best Buy chain. "There are just tons of these boxed sets coming out, and I think next year we’ll see even more."

As of Thursday afternoon, eight boxed sets of television shows were peppered throughout the top 25 list of "Hot DVDs," including "The Simpsons — The Complete Third Season," "Angel — Season Two," "24 — Season Two," "Family Guy, Vol. 2" and "Alias — The Complete First Season."

" ’The Simpsons’ is something that is on national television, you can record that," said Judith McCourt, research director for Video Store magazine, an industry trade publication. "But the consumer is seeing an added value in DVD because they can just watch it on their own terms and there is lots of supplemental material that rounds out the viewing experiences."

Past seasons of newer series that are still on the air are the hottest sellers. For example, even though "The West Wing — The Complete First Season" won’t be available until Nov. 18, it is already at No. 17 on the "hot" list because of heavy preorders from fans who want the DVD set on the very first day it is available to the public.

"The nice thing about them is they have a built-in fan base," Lucas said. "The excitement has really grown. Even niche shows that come up, people want these DVDs."

Other current top-selling DVD sets in the television genre include "Stargate SG-1 Season 4," "The Sopranos — The Complete Fourth Season," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — The Complete Second Season," "Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends — The Complete First Season," "Will & Grace — Season One," and "Smallville — The Complete First Season."

"Once the studios hit on the entire season concept, it really took off," said Zane Plsek, director of video for the Wherehouse Music chain.

One sign that younger fans have embraced the concept is that shows such as "South Park," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" are among the chain’s biggest sellers.

"Demand for these products is equal to or more than that for film product," said Stefan Pepe, group merchandising manager for Amazon.com music.

"Television is really holding its own against the film product," Pepe said. "DVD and television product were sort of meant for each other."

Classic television also remains popular, including perennial best-seller "I Love Lucy," which will have its entire first season released on DVD for the first time on Sept. 23. Also upcoming (Oct. 21) is "The Dick Van Dyke Show — Season One."

"Right now, we are weighing new TV series versus catalog and seeing how they do," said Martin Blyth, Paramount Home Video’s vice president of publicity. " ’CSI’ is a case in point. Season Two comes out Sept. 2 and we are very excited about being able to time the release for when the newest season begins. On the other hand, some of our catalog does extremely well, too, like ’I Love Lucy,’ and we are bringing out the original 39 episodes of ’The Honeymooners.’ "

A less obvious gold mine in the genre has been the solid sales of entire seasons of television shows that were not very successful in their ratings during brief runs lasting only one or two seasons.

"A good example is the phenomena of ’Sports Night,’ " said Pepe. "It was critically acclaimed but was only on for a few seasons and didn’t get wide syndication. But it came out on DVD and it did very well."

Plsek of Wherehouse Music cited " ’The Family Guy’ (that) floundered around on television for a few years, but now they are on their second boxed set of episodes. It’s got a real audience."

The DVD format not only has been shoving VHS aside in recent years, it also breathed new life into the home video industry. There are now DVD players in close to 50 percent of all U.S. homes, with more than 66 million players sold in the past six years.

In addition, during the first six months of 2003, 427.2 million DVD units were shipped to retailers, representing more than double the number shipped during the same period a year earlier, according to data compiled by the DVD Entertainment Group, an industry trade association.

"There’s no question that studios are running out of catalog theatrical movies to release," Blyth said. "There are only so many special edition revisits you can do. Television catalog in addition to the new television product is taking up the slack."