News Corp. sets quick '24' DVD pace

Analysts question motives behind release date

Call it the "24" experiment.

Monday's season finale of "24" on News Corp.'s Fox network included commercials for the DVD box set of the just-ended season of the high-octane show that became available Tuesday. But traditionally, "24" DVD sets for the latest completed season have come out just before the start of the new season.

The New York Times on Monday reported about the unusually quick DVD release -- similar to a day-and-date film release strategy, and the move has also raised some eyebrows on Wall Street.

Mike Dunn, president of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, said Tuesday that the quick "24" release is indeed the first-ever TV DVD to be available right after the season finale and called the move an "experiment" amid the changing viewing habits in the digital age.

"The media landscape is definitely changing," Dunn told THR, mentioning the quick availability of TV shows on Fox.com, Hulu.com and iTunes as key examples. "So, we are experimenting with windows."

DVD sales across most of the industry have been sluggish in recent quarters, with executives unsure so far how big a role the recession, the maturation of the market and digital media platforms are playing.

Dunn told THR he expects to have a feel for how successful the quick "24" release was within about a month, and he said other shows could also see overnight or accelerated releases in the future if the experiment works and a production is in the can well ahead of time -- as more mid-season shows tend to be. "24" was also finished well ahead of its season finale due to last year's writers strike, which kept the show off the air last spring. Among Wall Street observers, Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield wondered in a report Tuesday if News Corp. has enlisted Jack Bauer to boost its financials in an otherwise weak quarter.

"While News Corp. management stated (in its recent earnings call that) the 'worst (of the recession) is over,' we are not so confident, especially on the local advertising side," he wrote. "In turn, we suspect News Corp. was looking for ways to bolster near-term profitability. With no like '24' DVD in last year's fiscal fourth quarter, the DVD is pure incremental profit."

But Dunn said earnings played no role in the decision at all beyond an attempt to maximize a DVD release's success.

The network is also releasing the just-ended fourth and final season of "Prison Break" on DVD with a somewhat accelerated June 2 release date. Both "24" and "Prison Break" are Twentieth Century Fox productions.
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