WAIT, WAIT, I NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO LOVE YA*: Spacewoman and I just finished the second season of Breaking Bad on DVD, and now we're going to have to wait, probably until a week or a few days before the fourth season premieres on AMC, to get the DVDs for Season 3. That got me thinking about the curious alchemy of TV season DVD release dates.
As a viewer, it seems that the best time to release a full-season DVD is long enough before the start of the next season premieres that a person can get completely caught up and catch the new season in real time. For a number of shows, however, that's not the model. Shows like Weeds, Chuck, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, among surely others, seem to hit the market on DVD as part of the promotional crescendo for the following broadcast season, so if a person wanted to catch up, he or she would have to cram a whole season into just a week or less in front of the TV. Marathons are only fun if you want to run them. I am sure that in making this complaint, I am thinking too much like a viewer and not enough like a company with a financial interest in the show. But I'm not exactly sure what I'm missing.
Who has an incentive to do this? I understand the value of using the DVD release to create synergistic marketing. Promotions for the DVD tend to remind people of the broadcast season and vice-versa, and the effectiveness of this synergy is probably greater the higher the percentage of DVD buyers are obsessive rewatchers. But if a network wants to grow the audience for its product, one would think that the countervailing interest -- allowing people to get up to speed so that they can begin watching the broadcast version -- would trump the cross-promotional benefit.
Networks (or their broadcast executives), of course, may not make the DVD release-date decisions. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that the production and distribution companies would have some role in that decision. Those companies, superficially, might have an interest in withholding the DVDs long enough to prevent viewership of the broadcast season, thus ensuring the purchase of another season's worth of DVDs the following year. Except that I think that's wrong -- to the extent that the licensing fees for the broadcast rights fund the production itself, hindering broadcast viewership seems like shooting oneself in the foot. And DVD producer/distributors might even benefit from increased popularity of the broadcast version. Plus, if there really were competing incentives, one would expect that the broadcast partner would write some deadlines for DVD release dates into the broadcast licensing contract (just as networks write earliest-allowable DVD release dates into those contracts, so that the DVDs don't compete with the broadcast versions of the same shows). And that's not to mention the numerous instances in which the broadcaster is a partner in the production of the DVDs.
So who is it, exactly, who benefits from making me wait until -- what, May 2011? -- to watch what everybody says is an intense and brilliant season?
*Yes, that's a White Lion tag. So?