Straight-to-DVD Movies: A way to keep the flag flying, or just jerking around?

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

I've been thinking about Straight-to-DVD movies lately. In the past couple years, they've emerged as a sort of testing bed or weather baloon for the continuation/potential revival of various dead shows and/or franchises.

Last year, for instance, saw two separate "Stargate SG1" Straight-to-DVD films: "The Ark of Truth" and "Continuum." Although I have no hard-and-fast information on it, the word on the street seems to be that they're cautiously proceeding with a third SG1 film, and MGM is definitely planning on making at least one "Atlantis" DVD-flick. The producers have gone on record saying they hope to do 2 SG1 and 2 SGA DVDs a year for the forseeable future.

Just this month a "Dead Like Me" DVD film came out. In 2006 Robotech made its long-awaited typically halfassed return in a straight-to-DVD animated film. A badly animated film, but still....

In 2007, Babylon 5 made another of it's shambling, semi-abortive returns from the dead with "The Lost Tales of Babylon 5," the first in a projected series of Straight-to-DVD episodes.

All of these are said to be "Very Successful," and this is clearly though of as a growth market at the present. I'm thrilled. I couldn't be happier. Well, I could, but that would require cloning or me being a twin or something, so, without biological technology or a much more interesting backstory than I know myself to posess, I couldn't be happier. I'm thrilled to see the continuing adventures of the SG1 team, thrilled to revisit B5, it's good stuff, and without all the attendant hype and despair that comes from films. It's laid back, you know?

And it's worked in Japan for decades now - when an Anime series ends, if it has consistent sales, they make periodic straight-to-DVD episodes (Called "OVA"s), either as standalones, or reunion specials or prequels or sequels or even miniseries. The Macross series, for instance, has used this to their addvantage splendedly over the last quarter century. So clearly it *can* work.

But is it working? To be honest, I'm not sure. Let's look at the numbers: Stargate: The Ark of Truth cost $7 million, and made $13,166,110. @ $15 a copy, that's - Geez! - that's 877,740 copies sold, which ain't bad. So the budget was equaled by 466,666 copies, and everything beyond that is gravy, minus promotional costs, printing costs, distribution. Let's figure - just randomly - another million bucks for all that. Those commercials on the Sci Fi Channel don't pay for themselves, after all.

Stargate: Continuum likewise cost $7 million, and made $8,055,900, which is a piddly little 537,060 copies, or a mere 70,394 units of profit...minus promotional costs, printing costs, etc...I can't see how that one could have turned a profit. I thought I was going somewehre with the numbers, but it fell apart in my head. I'm bad with math.

I couldn't find any terribly accurate numbers for "Lost Tales of Babylon 5" but I do know that during its first week of release it was the #17 best-selling disk in the US, and sold 65,192 copies thus brining in a whopping $1,042,420. I couldn't find any info on what the budget for that was, aside from the universally-agreed upon "Very low." If it cost a million bucks to make, I'd be surprised, probably quite a bit less than that.

Now, with movies there's a general formula that says "We need to make at least twice as much as we put in to it to break even." Thus, if you make Star Wars 7: I likes money! for $200,000,000, and you only make $300,000,000 at the box office, you're loosing cash. If you make $400,000,000 in ticket sales, you're broken even. Anything above 400 million is profit. Obviously there must be something similar with straight-to-DVD flicks, but what is it? Is it 2:1 or less? Obviously you don't have to pay for all those expensive theatrical prints and distributing them to the theaters and booking the theaters and such, so on that face, it's a lot cheaper, but there *must* still be expences, yes? So where's the profit margin here?

If we look at "Ark of Truth" - it almost-doubled it's budget, so by the classical way of figuring such things in movie-terms, it just about broke even. Close enough that it couldn't be considered an unmitigated failure. Conversely, "Continuum" clearly only brought in a million bucks above and beyond it's budget. If it were a movie-movie, it'd be considered a bomb, yet we're told - repeatedly - that MGM is overjoyed with the unit sales and profits, and the "SG-to-DVD" franchise is insanely profitable and something they're really excited about continuing.

Asuming they're not talking out of their asses ("The Love Guru is a huge success, and we look forward to a long and fruitful future of colaborations with Mike Meyers in the future, preferably with some studio other than ours"), this means they really are making money off these darn things. But how much money do you have to make in order to make money?

While I don't have any solid figures on B5: The Lost Tales, we might get some clues from it. Warners was happy enough with the project to order another DVD episode made, *but* they didn't increase the budget. This led JMS to shut down the whole megilla. This implies - to me - that they believed in it as a low-revenue stream project, but they clearly didn't have enough faith in it to try and ratched up production values. Likewise, though the SG1 DVD franchise has been universally said to be successful, it's entirely possible that success is based mostly off of "Ark" and diluted 50% by the relative failure of "Continuum."

So: Is this the future of direct-to-the-consumer Science Fiction, or is it a financially unsound experiment that ultimately will fail, and annoy a lot of people in the process?

Whadya' think?