Writing the other day about West Wing reminded me that I’d meant to throw in a comment on the development of DVD boxsets. Having decided against getting either cable TV or an antenna, we’ve been getting all of our TV on DVD (or through certain other means) for a couple of years now, primarily from netflix or by adding to our collection. In the past few months I’ve begun to notice a new trend.
Up until recently, most boxsets were poorly packaged. While the DVDs themselves contained their fair share of bonus features, the boxes took up considerable space and were far more a means to an end than part of the experience. But lately, probably starting with The Simpsons, that’s begun to change. One of our primary reasons for buying the West Wing set was that the ‘file box’ format was much more compact than the separate seasons. If we were to purchase our Joss Whedon collection now, it would take up about half the space of the volumes we own, and fans of Alias can get all five seasons of that show on 29 DVDs in a very compact package.
That development is likely a result of a critical mass of viewers now consuming TV on DVD, and it’s a welcome one. Taking up less space is good, but people watching TV on DVD are also likely to want more sophisticated programming as we’re better able to follow complex arcs.
It may even mean that some shows that formerly would have died because of network scheduling and the demand for millions of viewers will have a new financial viability, but it’s also likely to demand a new approach to funding. Having seen how much better the deals and packaging are when you wait for a show to finish before buying the DVDs, I’m unlikely in future to rush to buy any show midway through, and if more and more people are watching on DVD then advertising revenue becomes much less a feature. The market will only develop this way if companies are willing to invest over a long-term in order to get their returns. Whether that’s going to happen is one of the big unknowns of the Long Tail.
And the process of working out the presentation is not quite complete. The packaging has improved, but there are still areas where more preparation is necessary. Watching West Wing on DVD, we really don’t need “previously on…” at the start of each episode. There’s no need to cut it, but if it could be its own chapter, we could easily skip it as we do the credits. Maybe that’s just a matter of time, and that will change along with numerous other features. Or maybe it’s evidence that these boxsets are making me lazier?