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A film that is released direct-to-video (also straight-to-video) is one which has been released to the public on home video formats (historically VHS) first rather than first being released in movie theaters or broadcast on television. The term is also at times used as a derogatory term for sequels of films that are not expected to have financial success.


Reasons for releasing direct-to-video

Direct-to-video releases can occur for several reasons. Often a production studio will develop a TV show or film which is not generally released due to poor quality, lack of support from a TV network, controversial nature, or simple lack of general public interest. Sometimes a film may be in post-production before the studio realizes how bad it is. Only able to grant a cinematic release to a limited number of films in a year, they may choose to pull the completed film from the theatres, but aim to recoup some of their losses through video sales and rentals.

In the case of a TV show, a studio may have filmed an entire season and aired some episodes before cancelling the show due to low ratings. If the show has enough devoted fans, the studio may release unaired episodes on video, in order to recoup losses. Clerks: The Animated Series and Firefly are examples of cancelled shows which were successful cult hits on DVD.

Direct-to-video releases are generally considered to be of lower technical or artistic quality than theatrical releases. Some studio films that are released direct-to-video are films which have languished for some time without release, either because the studio doubts its commercial prospects would justify a full cinema release or because its "release window" has closed that is, it may have been rushed into production to capitalize on a timely trend or personality and not been completed in time. In film industry slang, such films are referred to as having been "vaulted."

This, however, is not always true, as video releases have become something of a lifeline for independent filmmakers and smaller companies. Direct-to-video releases can be done for films which sometimes cannot be shown theatrically, because of their content (they may be too controversial for theaters) or because the cost involved in a theatrical release is prohibitive to the releasing company. Almost all pornographic films are released direct-to-video.

Animated sequels and movie-length episodes of animated series are also often released this way. 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 Pictures also began their long line of Land Before Time sequels that same year. In 2005, Fox released Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story for DVD only.

Television spin-offs

The popular British soap opera Coronation Street has spawned a number of straight-to-video spin-off productions which were only screened on television after having been available in shops for some time, as an incentive to buyers. The first "exclusive" tape, released in 1995 featuring a storyline aboard the QE2, caused a legal controversy when it was later broadcast. Subsequent releases have included carefully worded statements concerning future television broadcasting.

British soaps Emmerdale and Brookside, have also had spin offs for the home video market. "Unfinished Business" concluded a Brookside storyline after the soap opera ended in November 2003.

EastEnders, another popular British soap, also released a special in October 2003 called Slaters In Detention. It was released in the U.S. through Warner Brothers.

During its long run, Baywatch also released several of the show's season finales on tape.

Some SpongeBob SquarePants DVD volumes contain episodes not yet aired on television. Some Disney Channel shows, such as That's So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Phil of the Future, have also had direct-to-video episodes.

The direct-to-DVD market

In recent years, companies have increasingly released movies in DVD format rather than VHS, and has caused the term "direct-to-DVD" to replace "direct-to-video" in some instances. However, the word "video" does not specifically have to refer to VHS cassettes, contrary to popular consumer belief. The new term used is DVDP ("DVD Premiere"). Such films can cost as much as $20 million, just under a third of the average cost of a Hollywood release, and feature major actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Salaries for such actors range from $2 to $4 million (Van Damme) to $4.5 to $10 million (Seagal).

In recent years, DVD Premieres have become a substantial source of revenue for movie studios, as DVDP's have collectively grossed over $3 billion the last few years, and has now come to the point that DVDP divisions of studios now option their own films, never intended to be shown theatrically. This practice has risen because DVDP movies can be shot on a budget smaller than that of a film intended to be theatrically released, thus allowing studios to profit easier with the combined revenues of home video sales and rentals, in addition to licensing movies for television, as well as in the rest of the world (where some DVDP movies do see theatrical releases).

Distributing DVDP's is not a practice only reserved for larger Hollywood studios. Several companies, such as The Asylum, MTI Home Video, and York Entertainment distribute DVDP's almost exclusively. 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.

The V-Cinema and OVA markets in Japan

Japan has a different weight to the direct-to-video movement. Rather than being renowned for poor storylines and effects (though they are low-budget), so-called V-Cinema has more respect from the public, and affection from film directors for the greater creative freedoms allowed by the medium.

For anime, this is called Original Video Animation (OVA or OAV), and their production values usually fall between television series and movies. As such, they somewhat lack the stigma of poor quality. They are often used to tell stories too short to fill a full tv season, particularly in the early 1990s. With the advent of the 13 episode season format, OAVs are less common now. Some are used to garner enough interest in fandom to make a profitable full television series.

See also

External links

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