D2DVD – the series

The very clever Mr Bill Cunningham believes that the time is right for a D2DVD television series.

So, let’s take a look at some of the requirements needed for success.

Axiom One:
We want quality entertainment.

Axiom Two:
We are here to make a profit.

OK, what can we derive from that?

First things first. Quality entertainment.

Let’s define that as network-quality TV without the network problems, problems being defined as Stupid People With Notes, be they stars, execs, or sponsors.

So under that definition, we need network style money. Let’s estimate that to be $1.5 million dollars per 45-minute episode. (source).

Argument One:
The series consists of 13 episodes.

13, because that’s a half-season.

If this thing works out, and runs to more than one season, then part of the future income stream will come from selling broadcast rights in the future, both in the US and abroad.

13 episodes is a nice chunk – exactly 1/4 of a year. Three months of a “new” show every week. If you can last five seasons, that’s three months in syndication with a show every weekday before you have to repeat yourself.

13 episodes is also a handy size for a box-set – six episodes would be too short to feel that you’ve got your money’s worth, and 22 would be an extra 13.5 million dollars.

And more to the point, 13 is a number that a broadcaster is comfortable dealing with. (The alternatives would be 6 or 22.)

So 13 it is, for a total cost of 19.5m

Argument Two:
It’s a genre show

It needs to be a genre show, because we need to sell a huge number of DVDs in order to make a profit on network-quality entertainment. The best way of selling shows is to people who are rabid about new product. Which is genre fans. This is going to be the best way to build underground buzz, which you’re going to need to take this out of the gate on the first day.

Think of it as being like an opening weekend. You need huge in-store promotion and marketing from the retail giants to sell effectively. So you need to prove pent-up demand.

Argument Three:
It has an established showrunner.

This needs to be a showrunner whose name will sell the series to the public directly.

So you’d need someone of the stature of Joss Whedon. Or Dick Wolf. Or Chris Carter. Or Steven Bochco. Someone, in other words, who has already made it, and big, on Network Television.

Because the biggest sell of this particular operation is going to be that this series is just as good as if not better than what you can get on your TV already. And the only way of guaranteeing that is a top-tier showrunner.

This experiment has never been tried before, so it’s got to be someone whose name can actually sell the series to the general public.

In the second tier: Russell T Davies, Tim Minear, Marti Noxon, Jane Espenson, Manny Coto, Joe Straczynski. All good people and true, but they’ve not had the super breakout hits. I’d buy an original DVD series from any of them, but are they big enough for the mass market this would require?

Argument Four:
It’s an American show.

American through-and-through. The biggest television audience in the English-speaking world is in the US. Along with most of the talent we’ll need to make this thing. No ifs, no buts, it’s made out of LA or Vancouver, and set in the US.

Argument Five:
It’s not just for DVD.

You also sell abroad, for preference selling first broadcast rights in that territory in advance.

For example, CBC co-fund Doctor Who by buying rights to screen the series in advance. (I haven’t been able to source the exact figures, so if anyone knows what the are let me know). Given that you’re not getting a licencing fee that you’d receive from a traditional broadcaster, pre-sales will be important.

It may also be possible to offer individual episodes through iTunes.

Argument Six:
Each episode lasts 45 minutes

This allows TV sales through existing channels. An hour show, once you’ve added in space for the adverts, doesn’t fit neatly into a broadcast slot. A 45 minute show does.

So we’ve got 13 episodes from a top-notch showrunner at Broadcast TV quality for a grand total of 19.5 million dollars.


EDIT: Hello everyone from Whedonesque! There’s another post in this series in which I’ve crunched some numbers and reluctantly come to the conclusion that a broadcast-quality D2DVD series probably won’t make its money back. Though I’d very much like to be proved wrong on this.

4 responses to “D2DVD – the series”

  1. Of course there is a minor problem. Most stations want a minimum of 100 episodes of a series before they will place it in nightly syndication. With 13 episodes a season, you would be talking a minimum of 8 seasons.

    On the other hand if the first 13 episode season went well it might be a better idea to shift seasons 2+ to 22 episodes.

  2. RE: What LinuxEater said.

    Now, first – let me state that I am in fact a “Browncoat”, a Firefly fan. So yes, I’m obviously biased, here.


    I agree. Why, though?

    Well, it’s not just because I love Firefly and want more Firefly. It’s because Firefly is one of the few genre shows it would work for that didn’t manage to stay on the air BUT also has a creator who damn near ACHES to get back to it and a fanbase that damn near ACHES to see it on film, especially TV-show-format.

    Wonderfalls was just as good, in my opinion (Tim Minear made it – who else? 😉 ), but Firefly apparently has more staying power.

    Wonderfalls was a minor cult hit that deserved a bigger audience; but Firefly is a major cult hit that has a small but near-rabid fan base that will buy ANYTHING to do with the show. Hell, I should know – I even paid a total of $50 just to get Summer Glau and Alan Tudyk’s autographs on a not-full-size movie poster, AFTER giving them each a $15 custom Firefly/Serenity-themed gift. And despite all that, and despite therefore being half-broke at a SciFi con (always a sad, sad situation to be half-broke at a con! *sniffle!*) still felt on the top of the world for the rest of the day simply because the latter actor briefly flirted with me and I got both their autographs.

    Furthermore, speaking as an insider?

    Browncoats are the folks that delibrately named themselves after the losing but “right” Independent faction of the so-called Unifaction War in their show, because they’ve always considered getting more product to be a “possibly losing but absolutely righteous battle”, of sorts (not a direct quote from anywhere, mind you, but it might as well be. It sums up the Browncoat mindset to a T).

    Firefly is the show whose DVD sales – thanks to said nearly religiously obsessed fans – snagged both a comic book sequel AND a feature film sequel, both of which are also selling well precisely because Firefly fans as a rule are the kind of obsessed genre fans who will buy ALL nine variant covers of the comic, just to make sure they HAVE all nine covers. They will do this even if they can’t get first editions without paying $15 on the secondary market for it. Plus shipping.

    And then, they will buy the TPB, because THAT has a different cover, and, well, they have to have ALL versions, don’t they?

    They will often watch ANY show or film, no matter crappy it looks to be, just because it co-stars a former Firefly main cast member (see: Mammoth, a SciFi Channel original TV movie which co-starred Summer Glau and was total campy crap, but nonetheless got some positive reviews from Browncoats, almost entirely, IMO, because she was in it). Why? Well, because they’ve gotta support the cast, don’t they?

    Browncoats are the kind of fans who will be watching “24” and suddenly say “HEY! THE GUY WHO PLAYED BADGER IS A TERRORIST IN THIS! YAY!”, or who will be watching a random episode of Cold Case, and then immediately afterwards, gleefully jump online to report that the actress who played “YoSaffBridge” from a couple of Firefly episodes played a minor role in it. (Both real cases, by the way!)

    They are the kind of folks who will buy the movie – usually two or three copies, at least one of which will be a “loaner” (because God forbid they lose their ONLY copy! Nooooo! AGONY!) – and then they’ll buy it again on HD DVD, just to make sure it’s sold well.

    No, they probably won’t have an HD DVD player. Yes, even if they wanted one, it would be insanely expensive.

    It doesn’t matter. It’s their Big Damn Movie, it’s Firefly Merchendise, it’s Firefly On Film Again, damnit. It’s worth like forty or fifty bucks to have it, even though they’ve already bought two copies of the DVD that they CAN play. Because it is Firefly, and they Must Feed Their Addiction.

    And that’s the kicker: if it’s Firefly on film? They WILL buy multiple copies, because other than having an extra “loaner”, they are absolutely paranoid about it not selling well.

    What’s the end result?

    The end result is it doing even better on DVD than it did on the big screen. The end result was Firefly: The Complete Series shot right back up the Amazon charts to the point where it and the Serenity film (if I recall correctly) together made the bottom end of the site’s 2005 top-ten list of “DVD Surprises”.

    So yes, assuming you could actually afford to wrest control of the series from Fox (since Joss won’t work with them again after what happened the first time)? Firefly’s probably the top choice for direct-to-DVD, precisely because you are guaranteed to sell something like a half million or more copies overnight, because the fanbase is addicted all to hell over it. Joss Whedon Is Their Master, and like good little slaves, they’ll buy anything he puts out, even if no one else does.

    From a logical standpoint, the only better choice would be possibly another CSI or L&O spinoff (perennial favorites), or a Buffy continuation or spinoff (after all, the fanbase really expected to have a Faith-centered show before Eliza Dushku signed on to do Tru Calling, so it’d make almost as much sense).

    But, thing is, a CSI or L&O spinoff direct to DVD might flop, because people would wonder why it’s not on a network, if it’s so damn good? But with cult hits, they wouldn’t be so leary, because they’d know that Their Show Is A Cult Hit That Did or Would Have Flopped On Most Networks. They’d have high expectations of the show without deeming the release format to be a sign of automatic crappiness.

    Again – you’re probably looking for Whedon’s built-in cult fanbase in order to garner a true overnight hit (for a REAL overnight hit that will lend instant and possibly permenent vindication to the release format of direct-to-DVD, convince Johnny Depp to star in at least one episode of this hypothetical Whedon-produced, Whedon-created, Whedon-written series), and the show he’s probably most eager to do, the one show most of his fans would buy 6 copies of if it meant more of it?


    But, the show you’d be more likely to be able to do would be a Buffy spinoff, since I believe Fox still is tenaciously hanging on to the Firefly rights. Or, Whedon could come up with something totally new, and his fans would STILL buy it because Joss Whedon is Their Master.

    Either way… Whedon, most certainly.

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