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How will DVD sales affect re-runs of B5


I was wondering how historically other shows have been affected by DVD sales. For example, once all 5 years are on DVD, will the re-run value be greatly deminished? /forums/images/icons/frown.gif

I just wondering because I have read that the best chance of getting anything else dealing with B5 are for DVD sales to be good. Which is a great thing. But if ratings for re-runs go down that is a bad thing. Just wondering how it all plays in the overall picture both from the POV of WB and also other networks that may want to do something down the road?

Thanks in advance...

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I was wondering how historically other shows have been affected by DVD sales.


The short answer is, "Nobody really knows." /forums/images/icons/smile.gif

"Historically", in this case, means going back two years. The first major series to be released in complete seasons on DVD in the U.S. was The X-Files, and they haven't finished that one yet. Prior to that very few TV shows were released on home video. A few had "best of" collections released on VHS, and cult shows like the Treks, Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits were released on VHS and, in some cases, laserdisc. But the laserdisc market was so small that it couldn't have any effect on the ratings, and not enough people were willing to spend the money necessary to compelte a show on VHS to cause more than a blip in the Neilsen numbers, either. (Actually the reason that The Outer Limits tapes sold as well as they did is that very few TV stations were still carrying it - so there were hardly any ratings to speak of anyway.)

Certainly the networks are concerned about the issue; that's why Buffy S1 couldn't be released in the U.S. until after it had run once in syndication. Many other new shows are having similar DVD embargoes placed on them.

Hard to say what the long-term effect will be. In the short run, Sci-Fi might add viewers as new fans watch friend's DVD sets and get hooked. Since it looks like it will be six months between seasons, their only chance of seeing the rest of the story is to watch the reruns. Will the DVDs eventually errode the "on air" viewership? Maybe. It depends on what percentage of those currently watching the show pony up for the discs. Certainly many won't, for one reason or another. And folks who are just discovering the show (and there are some new ones with every new rerun cycle) probably won't want to invest in it until they've seen it all at least once.

I'm not sure how many of the folks currently watching the show are "hard core" fans from the old days. I almost never watch the reruns these days. I've seen every episode more times than I can count, and I know the DVDs are coming, which will let me watch it without commercials and with better picture and sound. But you know something, I probably will start watching, or even taping, the show when S2 rolls around again - because I'll be all caught up on S1 from the DVD and will want to go on. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif

Look at it this way: Just to stay on the air B5 has to be drawing hundreds of thousands of sets of eyeballs every day. The last time I saw any ratings info the show was doing something like a 0.7, which means it was being viewed in 700,000 households. It has probably slipped a bit from there, but you'd still need a couple of hundred thousand people to buy the DVD set to put a serious dent in that number. If a DVD boxed set for an relatively obscure show like B5 racks up domestic sales of 100,000 or 200,000 copies you'll be able to hear the champange corks popping in Burbank from wherever you live. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif

In any case, they expect shows that have been repeatedly rerun to drop-off in the ratings - especially arc-driven shows like B5, Wiseguy or Hill Street Blues, because they demand more from an audience. At some point, inevitably, Sci-Fi will "retire" B5 and let it "rest". Then, almost as inevitably, Sci-Fi or someone else will bring it back to replace some other show they're retiring. By that time the B5 DVDs may be out of print. So then new fans will find the show, the ratings will go up, Warner Bros. will re-issue the DVDs, and the whole cycle will start over again. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif

I don't think falling ratings for B5, whatever the cause, would in and of itself prevent anyone from taking another shot at a sequel or spin-off. But strong sales for the DVDs may signal that there's life in the old franchise yet, in a way that the rerun ratings can't. That could encourage Warner Bros. to look for another way to satisfy the pent-up demand for something new in the B5 universe.

(BTW, the S1 set has been holding steady at Amazon.com sales rank 31 for about the past twelve hours. /forums/images/icons/wink.gif)


Joe, thanks for the insight, I suspected all that but was not sure. You are right about new viewers coming on to B5. I have a friend that I have been trying to get to watch B5 for 2/3 years. He never gave it much thought (you have to balance a fine line trying to get someone to watch a show you like so you don't come across as a pain in the butt). I visited him and his wife up in N.Y. a few months ago and we went to ICON. BTW, they were both huge Scifi fans just not B5. After leaving ICON they both wanted to watch B5. Needless to say now they are both hooked.

Channe, I have been watching the sales rank at Amazon, it is nice to see the DVDs doing so well on a pre-release.
Meanwhile as much as the studios may worry about DVD cannibalizing the syndication audience, they aren't complaining about the money:

TV Shows on DVD a Bright Spot at Fox

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"...DVD sales of our TV shows is a $100 million business and growing," Fox chairman Peter Chernin said...


No wonder everybody is getting into the pool. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif

Two years ago industry insiders thought Fox was nuts to offer The X-Files in a full-season set with no alternate release of individual episodes. Of course, Fox Home Entertainment wasn't doing all that well at the time, and they needed to take risks to increase their sales, so the other studios were happy to let them be the guinea pig for TV shows on DVD. But the numbers Fox was doing finally got everybody else's attention. Three cheers for Peter Chernin and, especially, Peter Staddon (who selects the actual DVD projects at FHE) for blazing the trail and showing the dinosaurs at Warner Home Video that there's gold in them thar discs.

BTW, current sales rank is 25. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif


That is a very intriguing question.

Last week, B5 reruns averaged about 325,000 housholds watching the average minute in an episode (that's a 0.3 Total U.S. rating; a 0.4 coverage area rating).

Are the people watching hardcore fans just rewatching the episodes and would be likely to purchase a DVD or they just casual viewers who probably don't care enough to plunk down money with something they are fine getting for free?

According to Nielsen 36% of U.S. housholds owned a DVD player as of 1st Quarter 2002. Thus, if those 325K B5 viewing households are even slightly above average, only 40% of them (130,000) would even consider buying the DVD.

What percentage of them *will* actually buy it? Even if it is 10% (which seems high to me), that is 13,000 less households watching the show(4% of the total) and, even there, it only applies to Season 1, until other seasons are available on DVD. A 4% reduction doesn't even drop the rating by a tenth of a rating point. Each tenth of a total U.S. rating point = approximatley 100,000 housholds.

How many B5 DVD's might be sold anyway? What is a typical sales number for something making Billboard's Top 20? For something not making the top 20?

A sales figure of about 20-30,000 feels about right for something with B5's ratings history and general awareness level. (Vaguely, I recall the B5 fan club had about 15,000 members at its peak, but someone could correct on that if they know the real number)

By the same taken, if the B5 DVD sells, say, 25,000 copies and every person inspires one new viewer to watch B5 on TV, it won't make any difference in the ratings.

Joseph, you're the DVD expert, maybe you can fill in some of my knowledge gaps.
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Joseph, you're the DVD expert, maybe you can fill in some of my knowledge gaps.


This is actually harder to pin down than you might think. Except for the very top-sellers, the studios are reluctant to discuss specific sales numbers. Even most "best seller" lists only give sales rankings, and sometimes over-all gross sales, but not unit sales.

TV series boxed sets, expensive, and by nature appealing primarily to hard-core fans, almost never top the weekly sales charts, much less the annual reports, which are the only ones I've been able to find with actual unit sales figures. The competition from hot new theatrical releases is simply going to bury TV shows every time in the annual reports, even when they're extremely successful.

But to get an idea of the overall DVD market, here are a few numbers from the Video Business 2002 mid-year sales charts:

The top selling DVD title through June 2002 was The Fast and the Furious which generated over $123 million dollars in sales on a volume of 5.76 million units. The bottom of the list (in 35th place) was Zoolander, which earned $10.7 million dollars on a volume of 500,000 units.

On the week-to-week charts, which don't include unit sales or gross revenues, TV shows generally have been doing better. Video Business publishes a top 15 list. X-Files, Friends and ST:TNG (admittedly all shows with much larger audiences than B5) all landed in the top ten on that list, with TNG placing at number 6 the week it debuted, and X-Files hitting number 8. Friends only made it to number 10 - despite having several times the audience size of the other two shows - an indication that in this arena genre fans may be more likely to plunk down the money to own their favorite series than more mainstream viewers.

The bulk of the sales for these items is probably in the first week or two of the release, even more so than for theatrical films. They tend to appear even higher on dealer's pre-order lists in the months and weeks before street date than many theatrical films that will later eclipse them in total sales. This further reduces their chances of appearing in the annual lists, which reflect total sales over the course of a year. (The Fast and the Furious, for instance, is not only the top-selling title so far in 2002, it was also one of the first major theatrical films released, with a street date of January 2nd.)

Still, even the horrible Zoolander, which debuted in March, managed to sell 500,000 copies by June to take the number 35 place over-all for the year. And I would expect that most of Zoolander's sales came early, from people who loved the film. I don't think it was one of those titles that finds success on video or DVD thanks to word-of-mouth after getting lost in the crowd at the box office. The thing was promoted from Hell to breakfast and managed to take in $45 million at the box office.

Let's say it made sold 300,000 copies in its first week. If the number 35 movie of the year sold 300,000 copies in its first week, how much would the film that placed 6th in any given week sell, on average? That's where the numbers break down. We don't have enough data to really do a comparison. Would 100,000 copies be possible? 200,000?

If TNG could sell 100,000 copies, I think B5 may come in closer to 40,000 or even 50,000. I don't think you're going to see a direct correlation between ratings and DVD sales here. 1) Lots of Trek fans already own all the series on VHS or LD. They've been available for years. 2) From my purely personal observations Trek and even X-Files fans tend to be much less technologically sophisticated than you might think - far less so than B5 fans. I think the typical B5 fan is more likely to own a DVD player - or to buy one to watch this series - than the typical Trek or X-Files fan. If I'm right, that would greatly reduce their apparent advantage in audience size.

And I think a higher percentage of B5 fans are going to want to own all the episodes than is true of either Trek or X-Files. (I know many TNG fans who aren't interested in the first two seasons, because they don't think the show hit its stride until S3, and many X-Files fans who will stop with S5 or S6, because they think the show went down-hill from there.)

But you're right, even with a fairly optimistic estimate of the B5 DVD sales, we aren't looking at numbers that are going to seriously impact ratings, certainly not in the short term.

It is an open question what effect DVD releases of entire TV shows will have on the syndication market in the long run, though, especially if the market continues to fragment into smaller and smaller niche channels reaching ever-more specialized audiences.


Thanks for the response.

In quoting the sales figures that you found, is it possible that those include sales to Video Rental companies like Blockbuster? I would think from a corporate finance standpoint, units sold to individuals would be lumped in with units sold to video rental companies. A sale is a sale. It's the only way I can explain in my head the sales you quoted for something like "Zoolander".

Billboard charts are another matter because they are measuring consumer-only sales on their charts (Billboard is going to retailers). I believe they now use Soundscan, but I can check that the next time I get my Billboard (I'm on the office route list).

If you are talking total units going out of the warehouse, I can see movie titles having an advantage because they are the titles people would most likely rent from a Blockbuster. Thus, Blockbuster-type companies need a certain number of units to rent out to people. When I check out the shelves at Blockbuster, I usually only see one copy of a TV title, but several of each movie.

If you are interested in a focus group of one...

I didn't buy a DVD player until last year. I'm not a heavy purchaser or renter of DVD's (nor was I a heavy renter/purchaser of VHS). My incentive was to buy the Farscape DVD's that were released.

I did buy some B5 VHS tapes when they were released (not all of them, but selective ones). But, I didn't buy Season 1 because I don't like Season 1 that much.

I don't intend on buying the Season 1 boxset for the same reason. Time will tell if I will be interested in any of the other seasons. My interest in things usually have ebbs and flows. Right now, B5 is more at an ebb for me. If these had been released four years ago, it would have been another story.

With regards to other seasons, I would prefer the opportunity to purchase specific episodes and not have to buy an entire season.

But, as I said, I'm a focus group of one. There may be Sinclair fanatics out there who only want season 1 and don't want to buy any other season.

Another comment I could make is that I think DVD's have grown enough that I no longer consider them to be the property of "tech-savvy" people only. That certainly was the case with early adopters like yourself, but I think the people buying them now are about average on the techie scale.

Finally, though it is great to see B5 rank highly on Amazon's charts, I know that cult titles always tend to do better on Amazon than they do at "brick and mortar" stores. What I will be interested in seeing is how the Virgin SuperStore that is within walking distance of my office displays the DVD.
VHS casettes can have adverts in them. Has anyone started trying to sell advertising on CD-ROMs? If so have they be revealing estimated sales?
I'm sure the Video Business chart includes all units shipped, including to rental outlets like Blockbuster. Even more important I discovered, through a little additional research, that is it quite literally units shipped that they're counting. That's what the studios base their press releases on. Is the video business like the book biz, or more like "normal" retail? In the book business stores can return unsold stock to the publisher for full credit. In normal retail if you get stuck with an overstock, you cut the sell price and hope for the best. (Books "remaindered" at bookstores are ones the publisher is dumping. They ship their returns out to selected stores that act as liquidators to get rid of them. The store is not absorbing the loss on those.) So if DVDs are returnable, all these numbers may be hogwash. (And somewhere there may be a warehouse stuffed with 499,000 copies of Zoolander. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif)

RE: tech savvy buyers. DVD is becoming more mainstream, no doubt about it. But as it does the proportion of discs rented to discs purchased rises. Most folks with new DVD players are accustomed to renting VHS, not to buying movies and keeping them. (Let's face it, most movies aren't worth watching more than once or twice, so why own them?) So they're doing the same with DVD. And as fast as DVD is growing, it still isn't in anything like the number of households that have VCRs. So I still think the buying part of the DVD audience still skews more heavily towards the early adopters and people who think and buy like them. And at this point I still think that augurs well for B5 on DVD. I really do expect it to outperform some other shows based on the relative sizes of their audiences. I think Warner Bros. is going to be pleasntly surprised.

Granted, the Amazon "sales rank" is more of a marketing gimmick - a snapshot of current activity - than a real indicator of success, but it is fun to see the numbers. And if an obscure title like B5 is even in the top hundred, it indicates that there is some serious interest in it. Consider the first TV movie disc. The day it went on sale JMS was reporting that Warner Bros. was very close to approving the S1 DVDs, based on what was happening with the "test disc". Well, at that point, nothing was happening with the test disc beyond shipments to dealers - who by and large base their orders on guesstimates of how much interest there might be in a given title. My local Best Buy had five copies of The Gathering/In the Beginning on the shelf December 4, 2002. The only real information they had was from websites like Amazon that logged their pre-orders, because these were pretty much confirmed sales.

Which brings up another point: I'm not sure how important B&M sales are for things like the TV boxed sets. Feature films? Absolutely. Lots of impulse buys for those. Fewer for cult genre shows, I'd suspect. And this is another place where the technology angle comes in. Lots of people have been following the B5-on-DVD saga on the internet for five years now. They don't need to wait for the boxes to appear at Target or Best Buy in order to know the series is out. They know now, and many of them have taken advantage of pre-order discounts on the 'net. I suspect that a far greater proportion of these things are going to be sold by discounters on the internet than by B&M stores. And I think that probably applied to X-Files and ST:TNG as well. There are obsucre titles (feature as well as TV) that probably wouldn't even be ordered by most B&M stores, that can be profitably released on DVD because "word of 'net" will get the buyers to go looking for them. The smarter studios are figuring this out. Fox gambled and released the little-remembered SF cult film Zardoz on DVD and did very well with it. And they did it based solely on requests from members of the Home Theater Forum. I'd hazard a guess that it would be pretty hard to find a copy in most B&M stores when it was released. But the on-line dealers were probably doing land-office business on the title.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any source that gives a breakdown between on-line and B&M sales. It would make interesting reading. /forums/images/icons/smile.gif