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A movie that is released direct-to-video (also known as direct-to-DVD, made-for-video, straight-to-video, straight-to-DVD, and more recently straight-to-Blu-ray) is one which has been released to the public on home video formats (historically VHS) before or without being released in movie theaters or broadcast on television. The term is also at times used as a derogatory term for films or sequels of films that are of inferior quality, or are not expected to find financial success. Direct-to-video releases have become something of a lifeline for independent filmmakers and smaller companies.[1]


Reasons for releasing direct-to-video

A production studio may decide not to generally release a TV show or movie for several possible reasons: poor quality, lack of support from a TV network, controversial nature, or a simple lack of general public interest. Studios, limited in the annual number of films to which they grant cinematic releases, may choose to pull the completed film from the theaters, or never exhibit it in theaters at all. Studios then recoup some of their losses through video sales and rentals.[2]

Direct-to-video releases have historically carried a stigma of lower technical or artistic quality than theatrical releases.[3] Some studio films released direct-to-video are films which have been completed but were never released. This delay often occurs when a studio doubts a film's commercial prospects would justify a full cinema release, or because its "release window" has closed. A release window refers to a timely trend or personality, and missing that window of opportunity means a film, possibly rushed into production, failed to release before the trend faded. In film industry slang such films are referred to as having been "vaulted."[4]

Direct-to-video releases can be done for films which cannot be shown theatrically due to controversial content, or because the cost involved in a theatrical release is beyond the releasing company.[5] Almost all pornographic films are released direct-to-video.

Animated sequels and movie-length episodes of animated series are also often released in this fashion.[5] The Walt Disney Company began making sequels of most of its animated films for video release beginning with The Return of Jafar (the sequel to Aladdin) in 1994. Universal Studios also began their long line of The Land Before Time sequels that same year. In 2005, Fox released Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story for DVD and Universal Media Disc.

Studios may also release sequels or spin-offs to a successful live action film straight to DVD. These are commonly referred to as "cheapquels"[6] due to the lack of quality and budget in comparison to the original. Examples are the Behind Enemy Lines series of movies.

In the case of a TV show, low ratings may cause a network to cancel the show, possibly after having filmed an entire season and aired some episodes. If the show has a considerable fanbase, the studio may release un-aired episodes on video to recoup losses. Firefly[7][8] is an example of a canceled show which became a successful cult hit on DVD. Occasionally outstanding DVD sales may revive a canceled show, as in the case of Family Guy. Originally canceled in 2002, the series was revived in 2005 due partly to its excellent DVD sales.[9] Futurama is another example of a successful DVD run (along with strong fan support) that causes a network comeback.[10][11]

Direct-to-video films screened theatrically

Once in a while, a studio that makes a movie that was prepared as a direct-to-video film will release it theatrically at the last minute due to the success of another movie with a similar subject matter or an ultimate studio decision. The animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an example of this. However, despite the film's critically-acclaimed success, its box-office performance was very poor, which has been blamed on its last minute decision to be released theatrically. The film had much better commercial success in its subsequent home video releases. Another example which garnered a large cult following is the 2001 psychological thriller Donnie Darko, which was originally slated for a direct-to-video release.

Television spin-offs

Television spin-offs are animated or live action television series or made for TV movies which contain either characters or theme elements from an older series or movie (Clerks: The Animated Series and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures). While the most common examples of a television spin off are animated series there are also live action examples (Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum)

Some SpongeBob SquarePants DVD volumes contain episodes not yet aired in the United States.[citation needed] Certain special episodes of Pokémon were released directly on video such as Pikachu’s Winter Vacation. Some Disney Channel shows, such as That's So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Phil of the Future, and Lilo & Stitch: The Series have also had direct-to-video episodes.[citation needed] Some DVD volumes of The Land Before Time also contain episodes not yet aired in the United States or Canada.[citation needed]

Direct-to-Blu-ray & DVD market

As the DVD format supplanted the videocassette, companies released movies in DVD format rather than VHS, causing the term "direct-to-DVD" to replace "direct-to-video" in some instances.[12] However, the word "video" does not necessarily refer to VHS cassettes. Many publications, though, continue to use the term direct-to video for DVDs or Blu-ray Discs. The new term sometimes used is DVDP ("DVD Premiere").[13] Such films can cost as much as $20 million[14] (about a third of the average cost of a Hollywood release[15]) and feature actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, Wesley Snipes and Cuba Gooding Jr..[14] Salaries for such actors range from $2 to $4 million (Van Damme) to $4.5 to $10 million (Seagal).[14] According to Variety, American Pie: Band Camp sold a million copies in one week, despite retaining only two actors from the original trilogy.[16]

In recent years, DVD Premieres have become a substantial source of revenue for movie studios. DVDPs have collectively grossed over $3 billion over the last few years,[14] and have matured enough that DVDP divisions of studios now option their own films[citation needed]. Studios realized that DVDP movies can be shot on a smaller budget, thus allowing studios larger profits with the combined revenues of home video sales and rentals[citation needed], in addition to licensing movies for television and for distribution abroad (where some DVDP movies do see theatrical releases)[citation needed].

Distributing DVDPs is not a practice reserved solely for larger Hollywood studios. Several companies, such as The Asylum, MTI Home Video, and York Entertainment distribute DVDPs almost exclusively[citation needed]. The budgets for films distributed by these companies are even smaller than those of ones distributed by a larger studio, but these companies are still able to profit off their sales.[citation needed]

The V-Cinema and OVA markets in Japan

In Japan, the direct-to-video movement called "Original Video" (オリジナルビデオ) carries different connotations, being a niche product rather than a fallback medium. Despite having lower budgets than features intended for theater release, Japanese direct-to-video productions are rarely marred by the poor storyline and lower quality production often associated with the DTV market in the US. So-called V-Cinema has more respect from the public, and affection from film directors for the greater creative freedoms the medium allows. DTV releases are subject to fewer content restrictions and less creative dictates than other formats.

In the case of anime, this is called Original Video Animation (OVA or OAV), and their production values usually fall between those of television series and movies. They are often used to tell stories too short to fill a full TV season, and were particularly common in the early 1990s. Sometimes OVAs garner enough interest to justify commissioning a full television series, such as Tenchi Muyo!, One Piece, Saint Seiya, El Hazard and Read or Die.

With the advent of the 13 episode season format, OVAs are less common now. This is not to say that they are non-existent: for example, the Japanese anime series Elfen Lied features 13 episodes and an OVA. The majority of OVAs released in today's market are usually continuations or reworkings of recently completed TV series. For instance, the DVD release of a TV series might include a bonus episode that was never broadcast as a sales hook.

See also


  1. ^ Lerman, Laurence (September 17, 2001), "Independents' 'Bread and Butter'", Video Business 21 (38): Section: Video Premieres 
  2. ^ Barlow, Aaron (2005). The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology. Praeger/Greenwood. pp. 19. ISBN 0-275-983-870. "Films that flop in theaters or which are never theatrically released can prove profitable through longer-term video and DVD sales." 
  3. ^ Goodale, Gloria (October 23, 1998), "'Straight to Video' Picks up Steam", Christian Science Monitor 
  4. ^ Bernstein, Adam (2004-12-12). "Silent Films Speak Loudly for Hughes". The Washington Post: pp. TVWeek; Y06. 
  5. ^ a b "More Films Jump Straight to DVD", USA Today: Section: Life pg. 03d, August 6, 2003 
  6. ^ Cheapquel -
  7. ^ Whedon: "This movie should not exist," he continues. "Failed TV shows don't get made into major motion pictures—unless the creator, the cast, and the fans believe beyond reason. ... It is, in an unprecedented sense, your movie."Russell, M.E. (June 24, 2006). "The Browncoats Rise Again". The Daily Standard. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  8. ^ Chonin, Neva (2005-06-08). "When Fox canceled 'Firefly,' it ignited an Internet fan base whose burning desire for more led to 'Serenity'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  9. ^ Levin, Gary (March 24, 2004). "'Family Guy' un-canceled, thanks to DVD sales success". Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  10. ^ Cericola, Rachel (June 9, 2009). "'Futurama' Makes a Comeback!". Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  11. ^ Schneider, Michael (Fri., Jul. 31, 2009, 3:26pm PT). "'Futurama' cast returning for reboot". Variety @ Retrieved 2010-02-25. 
  12. ^ This is also beginning to happen with the Blu-ray Disc format replacing DVDs. Berardinelli, James. "DVD's Scarlet Letter". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  13. ^ For one example of many uses of the term, see "Paramount grows DVDP slate". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  14. ^ a b c d DVD Exclusive Online. "Stars, Money Migrate To DVDP (archived)". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  15. ^ Carl DiOrio (2004-03-23). "Average cost of a movie: $102.9 million". Video Business Online. Retrieved 2007-01-21.  The figure cited in the title includes marketing costs; as of 2004 when the article was written, the average production cost was $63.8 million.
  16. ^ "Spending on DVDs up 10%". Retrieved 2007-01-13. 

Further reading

  • Mike Mayo (1997). VideoHound's Video Premieres: The Only Guide to Video Originals and Limited Releases. Visible Ink Press. pp. 431. ISBN 0787608254. 

External links

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