TV on Blu-ray? Why Not?

A recent question on www.DVDtalk.com posed an interesting question: Why Isn’t More TV Released on Blu-ray? We know a thing or two about producing whole seasons and expansive box sets of TV series here at Giant. Over our seven year history, we’ve had the privilege to work on numerous marquee titles such as The Sopranos, Get Smart, The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, Jersey Shore and many, many more. Looking back through our project database, it’s clear that television on disc makes up a significant portion of our authoring business. It’s a tradition we’re continuing with projects such as The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection, currently in production and scheduled to release at the end of July. But even among these many projects which have passed through our encoders and QC stations, the majority of these titles are produced on DVD, not Blu-ray. While viewers can enjoy their favorite shows broadcast in HD, the home video arms of many studios are opting to release these very same shows on standard definition. Why? Interestingly, financial reporting supports the fact that television has actually overtaken movies as the key earner at many studios. The Wrap breaks down the revenue numbers notes that “The latest annual reports show that film has become a very small piece of the overall revenue pie. Television can be counted on to generate roughly half of a company’s revenue and up to 80 percent of its operating income…” Yet television on DVD remains predominantly a standard definition experience. Conventional wisdom tells us that studios are reluctant to release TV on Blu-ray due to the additional production costs, both for upgrading old masters and for authoring, the rapid encoachment and devaluing of content by VOD and, ultimately, soft demand by consumers who are unwilling to pay more for television on Blu-ray. With in-player up-conversion doing an adequate, if not stellar, job of making DVD look its best on HD sets, perhaps viewers don’t necessarily see the value for television genres other than action or sci-fi (i.e.: Hawaii Five-0, 24, or Fringe, for example.) All of these are factors play a role in the decision to release as DVD or Blu-ray. Yet, not so long ago, we conducted a research project for a client who was on the fence about releasing more of their broadcast schedule on Blu-ray. We looked into ratings performance, examined DVD to Blu-ray ratios for titles already on the market and came to the following conclusion: Due to the tremendous changes to the size of the Blu-ray consumer audience in just the last 12 months, doubling to nearly 20 million households, performance of titles released in 2009 provide only an indication of the potential sales for titles released in 2011 and may be closer to the ‘floor’ of expected performance now. With the increase in both Blu-ray player penetration and total numbers of players, as well as the changes in marketing trends by electronics stores and consumer acceptance, Blu-ray releases of television titles can expect to see increased sales compared to the past. In addition, since over 61%* of households have an HD TV, consumers will be even more likely to collect their favorite shows in HD.

* Statistic from Home Media Magazine, 11/23/2010

At the time the sales of Blu-ray Disc series sets of certain TV shows numbered in the tens of thousands (58K to 85K units ranging from 14% to 20% of total home video sales). Now, with the increasing penetration of both HD TVs and Blu-ray players, the unit volume has undoubtedly seen increases. Though these particular titles may have done well, and subsequent seasons even better, home entertainment executives must make a determination about whether the investment for a Blu-ray release makes sense. For newer shows, produced in high definition, the costs associated with producing a season or series set are less than those which must start from original 35 or 16 mm negatives, thus it’s an easy prediction to say that contemporary shows are more likely to see Blu-ray release. Vintage shows will require a greater investment, but it’s a safe bet we’ll continue to see more and more of these as well, particularly for titles with highly-motivated fan communities. (See Farscape, another Giant production, for just one example.) The growth of VOD will also continue to be factor in that decision. As more and more television series, both current and catalog, find their way to streaming services such as NetFlix and Hulu, the demand for the high quality offered by Blu-ray just may not materialize. At the heart of the question is an issue which has been debated from the introduction of television. Consumers may simply expect more from movies, in terms of quality. Perhaps movies are expected to be an EXPERIENCE, complete with surround sound and top-quality picture while TV is simply an entertainment. Weak consumer demand for favored TV shows on Blu-ray may simply be acknowledging that the DVD provides a “good enough” experience to the average viewer and the best financial model for studios. Until that changes, we’ll likely continue to see a ‘split decision’ when it comes to television shows on Blu-ray. Yet with the level of quality of the latest television shows such as Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter and Mad Men, that expectation may be upended sooner than we think.