Hair-trigger bow of new '24' episodes sets trend

Fox releases four-hour season debut

The continued strength of the TV-DVD market is prompting DVD suppliers to look at new approaches to exploiting popular TV series beyond the now-customary complete-season sets.

Suppliers have created elaborate complete-series collections, reissued themed compilation DVDs and even toyed with "best of" discs to measure consumer interest before making the complete-season plunge, as Warner Home Video recently did with "The Drew Carey Show."

This week, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment broke new ground by releasing the first four hourlong episodes of Season 6 of "24" immediately after this week's two-night, four-hour season debut. The $14.98 "24: Season Six Premiere" DVD, which went on sale Tuesday, also includes the first 12 minutes of Episode 5, a week before it airs, and a $10 coupon for any "24" complete-season set.

"We work really closely with our network to create new and exciting ways for consumers to enjoy some of the best programming created in the year," said Steve Feldstein, senior vp marketing communications at Fox. "By developing synergy between broadcast and DVD, both formats ultimately promote each other. Everyone's talking '24,' so what better time to release something on DVD?"

The complete sixth season of "24" likely will be released in the fourth quarter, just before the start of Season 7, if there is one. Season 5, which ended with a battered Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) captured by Chinese agents and hauled off to prison, was released Dec. 5 on DVD and already has sold more than 500,000 copies despite a relatively steep list price of $59.98. In Season 6, the U.S. is struck by a number of terrorist attacks, and Jack, released from prison at the president's request, again is on hand to save the day.

According to preliminary studio estimates of Nielsen VideoScan numbers, the TV-DVD category topped the $3 billion mark for the first time last year, with total consumer spending at $3.02 billion, up 2% compared with 2005.