DVD TV -- The Undercover DVR?

Last week in L.A. at the "Sixth Annual Home Entertainment Summit: DVD and Beyond," an array of industry luminaries gathered together to ruminate on the future of their businesses and -- most particularly -- the role, impact and future of the DVD within the changing mix of content delivery channels.

Now obviously there's nothing new about DVDs in the home. The rate at which the DVD became a part of our home entertainment landscape eclipsed that of the videotape and the CD to the extent that many of us probably forget that the first DVD players and discs only went on sale in the U.S. in March 1997 (the Japanese had first bite in November 1995).

However, the extent to which programming made for TV now pervades the shelves alongside the latest Hollywood blockbusters has increased markedly in recent years -- with the result that what seems like a majority of programs are now conceived and produced from the start with their DVD afterlife well and truly in mind. A major series is now as likely as a major movie to plan for the shooting of interviews and commentaries and all those other juicy extras that we associate with any DVD (and without which we feel faintly cheated, even if we don't ever watch them).



From "Gray's Anatomy," through "24," "Heroes," "Family Guy," "Friends," "MASH," "Scrubs" and countless others (nostalgic or new), it seems that we can own and watch pretty much any of our favorite series one program after the other, whenever we want. So long as we want to shell out for them. And it seems as though a large number of people are more than willing to do so.

Although recording programs to the DVR may be cheaper, capacity ultimately runs out and relatively few people seem to copy recorded programs to disc. TV DVDs also play to the desire to collect, and can sit nicely alongside the movies in your collection, acting rather like the old box sets of albums in the collection you had if you're my age or older (or that maybe your older siblings had if you don't remember the Age of Vinyl).

I don't know how many DVDs there are out there that carry TV programming, nor do I have a clue how many people spend how much time watching these programs in this way (or how often they do it -- presumably more than once if they've chosen to invest in what one can only assume are favorite series). Whatever the answer to this question, it must amount to a hefty amount of total viewing time. Whether or not that viewing time eats into second-run broadcasts on TV or even into first-run broadcasts once viewers have developed the taste for a program (after the first series, say) is impossible to say, but whatever the case, it represents an audience beyond the reach of advertisers. In the words of one speaker from last week's Home Entertainment Summit, "it's commercial television without the commercials." Not necessarily good news for advertisers, media agencies or sales departments.

Bearing in mind the number of references we've seen on the TV Board in recent months to DVD viewing of favorite TV series (often specifically to avoid ads) and how often I hear students talking of their preference for the same type of viewing (often driven by the need to accommodate a schedule that doesn't allow for regular TV viewing), it strikes me that the DVD is in many respects something of an undercover DVR -- what you want, when you want it, pause-able, reversible, fast-forward-friendly and decidedly ad-free.

It may not generate as much excitement as the DVR, but if sales of TV series on DVD continue to rise, they may just represent another form of fragmentation that we have to worry about.

Personally, if I were an adventurous advertiser -- which naturally I'm not -- I'd be thinking hard about some discrete (and exclusive) deals to sponsor series DVD releases.

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