General News

Studios Mum on Home Video Profits

Aug 29, 2002 | 12:59pm EDT

Hollywood's got a secret, and if the truth comes out it may have a hefty price tag for the home video industry, in which Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Steve Guttenberg can still reign supreme.

According to Variety, many studio executives have for years zealously guarded the exact profit figures from both VHS and DVD sales, afraid that Hollywood talent will see these numbers--often twice as big as box-office grosses--and demand a bigger piece of the pie. It helps that there are no official, comprehensive weekly tracking reports for home video sales.

Although rental figures are reported regularly, Warner Bros., for example, is mum on sales for its video-premiere movie franchises such as its annual animated Scooby-Doo or live-action Olsen twins movie series, reportedly direct-to-video assembly lines for big bucks. HBO caught on to the home video cash cow as well, successfully releasing entire seasons of The Sopranos and Sex and the City on DVD.

At Fox, executives swore not to tell anyone about their secret treasure--DVD editions of TV series such as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons--until this month when chairman Peter Chernin let the cat out of the bag and touted the $100 million net profit the studio generated in the past year from TV shows on DVD. One executive told Variety the number is more like $220 million worldwide.

Even if they don't sell in the millions, TV series on DVD provide a low-risk, low-cost way to generate cash from a studio's library of programming. Fox has released DVDs of TV series as old as MASH and The Mary Tyler Moore Show to series as current as 24. Competing studios offer classics such as I Love Lucy, Star Trek and even momentary curiosities like Baretta, while Miramax recently paid $7 million to steal DVD rights for The Osbournes away from MTV.

Even Fox's super-hit summer TV series American Idol--considered to be a melting ice cube relative to fan interest, appealing to a smaller niche market--was also recently snapped up by another indie specialty DVD label.

If the potential dollars (think multibillions) haven't made sense yet, consider this: The 1997 live-action spin-off of the Universal theatrical hit Casper starring Guttenberg ranks among the 20 top-selling video premiere movies of all time.

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