Slipped discs evidence DVD biz showing its age

Declining catalog spurs '06 sag

For the first year since DVD's 1997 launch, fewer discs were released in 2006 than in the year before.

According to figures compiled by the DVD Release Report, 12,524 DVD titles came to market in 2006, 8.2% fewer than the record 13,640 released in 2005.

Tip sheet editor Ralph Tribbey attributes the decline mostly to a sharp drop in the number of theatrical catalog titles released on DVD — 1,119 in '06, compared with 1,458 in '05, a 23% difference.

Why the drop? A worsening shelf-space crunch at big retailers as well as the fact that with DVD approaching its 10th birthday, most marketable movies already are available.

"But it was a bit more complicated than just running out of films to release," Tribbey said. "There were also a lot fewer public domain releases — after 20 versions of 'Night of the Living Dead,' does the market really need another one?"

Another reason for the drop, he said, is that several studios last year packaged older movies in collections instead of issuing them individually. Factoring in multifilm sets, however, the number of theatrical catalog titles released in '06 still is down 9.3%.

Niche categories also registered steep DVD release declines, including foreign-language feature films (down 20.5%), films from the silent era (44.7%), anime (20%), cartoon collections (51.6%), TV miniseries (23.3%) and TV movies (13.4%).

On the upside, the number of new feature films released on DVD immediately after their theatrical runs was up 11.1%, from 558 in '05 to a record 620 last year. The year also saw a record 106 films released to DVD after grossing $25 million or more at the boxoffice, eclipsing the previous high of 101 set in 2002 and matched in 2004.

The significant increase in new theatrical features coming to DVD is a product of the up boxoffice and also accounts for the bump in overall home entertainment spending in '06.