In Theory: Custom DVDs
So a few years back I had an idea that I never really bothered to tell anyone...because, well, I didn't know anyone that could do anything about it...and it was just a little fantasy after all...
But doing some very early Christmas browsing I realized that now, more than ever, my years-ago brainstorm of a Custom DVD franchise could really, really take off...what with all the "themed" collections of TV shows for sale now...
I believe we've reached a point at which the ease and accessibility of technology would make this feasible, and I'm surprised nobody's tried it yet.
My idea, basically, is this:
The network (or whomever happens to own the distribution rights to any given program) sets up an online ordering system. Visitors can log in, choose a set number of episodes from a master list of all available episodes, pay right there online, and have the professionally produced DVD shipped to their house.
Absolutely simple. And profitable.
Because, alright, we're in the era of season and series boxed-sets. And they're selling well enough, as evidenced by the fact that more and more seasons and series are being issued monthly.
But what about those viewers who enjoy certain shows but really wouldn't be interested in a full season boxed-set for $60 or so? Because surely there are a lot of those. People who have memories of favorite episodes or might like to relive a moment or two from their childhood but aren't so interested in 300 hours of material, commentaries and bonus features...
Send them to the site. Allow them to select the 6 episodes or so that would fit comfortably on a disc, and collect your profit.
Since you'd only be producing DVDs as the orders for them arrive there'd really be no risk of it not "selling." And I'm sure a campaign to advertise a website address (on television, radio and flyers to be posted in retail locations) would be significantly less expensive than the cost of producing tens of thousands of copies of a boxed set and shipping it around the country to be stocked next to hundreds of others competing for your sale...
Which is why you'd make the sale: you're giving the customer what he or she wants. You're not replacing the full season release (because there is obviously a market for it, and it's very nice for fans to own), but you are giving customers the chance to own exactly what they want. Episode by episode.
I'm personally in that position myself with many shows. The Simpsons. South Park. Seinfeld. I love them. I think they're brilliant. Each of them has a few dozen episodes I'm sure I'd love to watch over and over. But do I own even one of their season boxes?
No. Why? They're expensive. I'm a fan of certain shows enough to shell out the cash...but not every single show I've ever enjoyed.
Which is where Custom DVDs would fill a nice gap both for me (as a viewer) and for the distributors (since they'd convert me from a non-customer to a source of revenue).
South Park, The Simpsons, Sex and the City and many other shows are currently hawking "themed" releases. That is what Custom DVD would replace. There's certainly a type of consumer who would see a single DVD of Simpsons Christmas episodes and say, hey, that looks like fun...but there are at least a thousand times as many who would purchase a single DVD of their personal favorite episodes.
And for shows like these, and others with 100+ episodes, you can't really go wrong. They've been around long enough that people from more than one generation remember them, love them, would gladly give you their credit card information to own them. All you have to do Fox Video, Warner Brothers, BBC, et. al. is offer them the chance.
Now you ask an obvious question: if people don't care about owning the season boxes, why wouldn't they just download the episodes online?
Well, good question. I'm sure people will continue to do that. But as the rampant success of iTunes and other services has proven, there is a significant portion of the public who would prefer to do their downloading legally. Custom DVD would be the legal alternative to torrents. Will everyone use it? Of course not. But will it be profitable? I don't see how it wouldn't be.
You'd also get the pleasure of actually owning something professionally produced, rather than some grainy TV-sourced mpg file on your hard drive. When you select your episodes, you might also select from a few different pre-made covers for your DVD. A few different pre-made onbodies. It'd all be professionally done at their end, delivered to your door, indistinguishable from any other "proper" DVD on your shelf.
There are people who want this stuff. There are people who want the backward episode of Seinfeld but don't want the whole season. There are people who want two Chevy Chase episodes, one Bill Murray episode and one Norm MacDonald episode of Saturday Night Live. There are people who want to be able to decide which episodes of South Park were funniest, and own them all, without having to purchase every single episode in the process.
You don't have to replace your season boxes. All you are doing is collecting revenue from a majority of the people who don't buy them.