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Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Old 08-26-09, 10:59 PM
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Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Ran across this interesting article from The Wrap on Music Licensing for TV shows that even hints at costs (10 cents a song, per DVD) and the complexity (56 different licensees per episode).

Music Licensing Fees Keeping Shows off DVD
"Thirtysomething" finally on video, but where's "Wonder Years"?
By Daniel Frankel

From the first, string-laden tracks laid down by Stuart Levin and W.G. “Snuffy” Walden, to recorded songs from well-known artists like Ray Charles and Rickie Lee Jones, “thirtysomething” was a series full of music.

But music is also the main reason why the groundbreaking drama by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick will only, finally, be issued on DVD on Tuesday -- more than two decades after the hit series went off the air.

Licensing all that great music was expensive -- $1 million for the project, according to one knowledgeble person -- and very nearly prohibitively so.

“Both Ed and I tend to be forward-looking people," said Herskovitz in an email to TheWrap. "It was not like this was a thorn in our side – but every six or eight months, we’d say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, why isn’t this out on DVD yet?’ and we’d call our attorney.”

As the studios have rushed to get TV series on DVD, a handful of well-known shows have been held up because licensing their music has been deemed too expensive or time-consuming.

On Oct. 6, for example, Fox will finally release season one of “Ally McBeal." "Cop Rock," the one year Steven Bochco experiment in cop camp, "China Beach" and "Cold Case," have all been delayed for similar reasons. (See sidebar of top shows not out on DVD).

Indeed, virtually all of “Thirtysomething’s” less popular running mates from the fall 1987 broadcast TV schedule, when it premiered, have been out on disc for some time, including CBS’ “Jake and the Fatman” and NBC’s “Crime Story.”

“Not only do you have to clear the rights with the publisher, but you also have to clear the master rights with the labels,” says Garson Foos, co-head of Shout Factory, which is distributing “thirtysomething” for studio MGM. “And in some cases, rights could be split up among three different publishers.”

Indeed, virtually all of “Thirtysomething’s” less popular running mates from the fall 1987 broadcast TV schedule, when it premiered, have been out on disc for some time, including CBS’ “Jake and the Fatman” and NBC’s “Crime Story.”

The studios have been aggressive in recent years in releasing scripted TV shows into the DVD market, since these titles sell well -- even in a mature disc marketplace -- and can command a higher price point and profit margin than theatrical movies.

According to Gord Lacey, founding editor of tvshowsondvd.com, while the studios tend to license music into perpetuity, paying for regions and timelines that, in many cases, they don’t need, smaller companies like Shout license more efficiently, signing deals that span five years and cover only North America, for example.

“That cuts their music-licensing costs by a lot,” he said.

Shout Factory, for example, will sell the first-season set of “thirtysomething” for $59.99 and hopes to move at least 100,000 units in the process.

In explaining the delay for "Ally McBeal," Fox officials noted that they didn’t want to put out the lawyer-themed dramedy, starring Calista Flockhart, without securing rights to all the music first.

“Audiences expected to hear a timeless classic or something completely new each and every week,” read a studio statement.

“We understood the importance from the get-go and have worked hard to bring fans all of the original music.”



Likewise, the DVD releases of music-laden series “The Wonder Years,” from Fox, and Warner Bros' “China Beach” have also been held up, with no release date set for either.



According to Lacey, “The Wonder Years” is “the Holy Grail” of music-heavy shows that haven’t been released on DVD yet.



“You can’t release that show without the music, and there’s so much music on it that has to be licensed.”



Then there’s “thirtysomething.”



Pioneering the way for today’s complex ensemble character dramas, four seasons worth of the show have sat largely dormant in the MGM vault, with only limited release through broadcast syndication and cable TV sales, since it signed off the ABC schedule in 1991.



For their part, Foos and his partners, who previously ran music label Rhino Records, have specialized in getting musically-hindered TV shows, including “Freaks and Geeks” and “My So-Called Life,” into the DVD market.



“Our selling point is that we do all the leg work in getting the music cleared,” he explained. “We knock on the doors of the studios, saying, ‘Let us license your complicated shows that you don’t want to deal with.’”



Foos had his eyes on “Thirtysomething” for years, and was finally able to enter talks with MGM in late 2007 with the help of series producers Zwick and Herskovitz, who had long wanted to get the show out on DVD, too.



Finally getting all the music licensed for the series took from that point in time through the spring of this year.



“It’s an extremely time-consuming process, and you sometimes have to do a little detective work to track (rights-holders) down,” Foos said.



“Garson called me after we had finished putting together the ‘My So-Called Life’ set,” Herskovitz said. “We had discussions over the years with MGM and they had told us it was just too difficult to deal with the music, and he said, ‘Can you give me a try?’ "

It’s an expensive process, too. While revenue from CD sales continues to decline, Foos added that “rates for licensing music for film and TV have gone down very little.”

As for the licensing deals themselves, these come in all varieties, from flat-rate arrangements to those structured on a per-unit basis. Typically, a rights holder can expect about 10 cents a song on a major DVD release per disc sold.

And with some songs having multiple licensees (aka “sides”), Foos said a single episode of “Thirtysomething” could involve negotiations with 56 individual sides.

While the cost of licensing music on TV on DVD releases isn’t decreasing, overall DVD sales have been. And there’s also a revenue slide from the initial season-one disc release of a show to its season two DVD premiere -- usually about 15%-20% -- with some of the less avid series fans dropping out of the market.

Given these factors, Fox has released only one season of popular comedy “Malcolm in the Middle.” Universal has only put out one season of drama “American Dreams,” a series similarly full of original tracks.

For his part, Foos says he plans to eventually release all four seasons of “thirtysomething.”

“It’s the music licensing and the cost of music-licensing that holds these shows up,” he added.

“We really encourage publishers to try to work collaboratively to understand the economic realities of the DVD business so that everybody can make money.”
Old 08-27-09, 02:38 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

as we all know, it makes zo sense for many artists to NOT let studios rerelease TV series with their music. New exposure, how can than hurt?
Old 08-27-09, 02:53 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by manicsounds View Post
as we all know, it makes zo sense for many artists to NOT let studios rerelease TV series with their music. New exposure, how can than hurt?
It makes excellent sense not to give something away that, as this article demonstrates, the DVD producers are eventually going to pay for.
Old 08-27-09, 07:44 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by Silverscreenvid View Post
It makes excellent sense not to give something away that, as this article demonstrates, the DVD producers are eventually going to pay for.
No, they are going to edit out the music and put in generic music or nothing.

I don't listen to the radio anymore - I prefer my iPod. One of the few ways I hear new songs from new artists is on TV shows, which I only watch on DVD (kids have a monopoly on the TV). I bet half my purchases start that way. I wonder how many other people regularly buy songs after hearing them on a TV show?
Old 08-27-09, 08:43 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

wasn't that the reason why 'Northern Exposure's' MSRP was so high to off sway the cost of the music rights.
Old 08-27-09, 10:00 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

This site lists what it will cost you to license the music rights if you want to sell DVDs of Sita Sings the Blues. The rights holders can charge whatever they want if you use their music with moving pictures, because synchronization fees are unregulated. This is for music that was recorded more than 60 years ago. I figure that music that's still popular probably costs a lot more.

http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/lic...tal-compliance

(I'd post the info here, but I don't know how to make tables.)
Old 08-27-09, 10:06 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Freaks & Geeks had a bunch of licensed music (that had to be cleared for the dvd), and the regular dvd of it wasn't crazy expensive or anything. So why is this a problem for some releases and not others?
Old 08-27-09, 10:11 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

F&G was 18 episodes. I don't see how you can compare that to the 115 episodes of The Wonder Years. Even adjusting for run-time, TWY still had almost 5x as much content as F&G and I would think the licensing would scale accordingly.
Old 08-27-09, 10:17 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by pinata242 View Post
F&G was 18 episodes. I don't see how you can compare that to the 115 episodes of The Wonder Years. Even adjusting for run-time, TWY still had almost 5x as much content as F&G and I would think the licensing would scale accordingly.
It isn't so much how many episodes it is which artist(s) are featured. There is some overlap between The Wonder Years and Freaks & Geeks.

I am a big proponent of this. I feel the studios should either get it right or not release it. It simply isn't the same. The rare exception of this are Life On Mars and Undeclared (and Wonderwalls, but I didn't see that first run). They (producers) actually put effort in to make sure suitable music was in there, rather than generic filler.
Old 08-27-09, 10:23 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Cut the 'meh' music but keep the important stuff. I want "Ed", "Boston Public", "Daria" and "The Wonder Years" legally.
Old 08-27-09, 10:28 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

So Shout got the rights for "Freaks & Geeks" but not "Undeclared"? I didn't know that the latter had any replaced music. I've never seen the show (although I bought it in DD's sale), but is it a big deal that they replaced some? How much is replaced?

I am generally of the camp that says release it right, or don't release it.
Old 08-27-09, 10:36 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by Kory View Post
So Shout got the rights for "Freaks & Geeks" but not "Undeclared"? I didn't know that the latter had any replaced music. I've never seen the show (although I bought it in DD's sale), but is it a big deal that they replaced some? How much is replaced?

I am generally of the camp that says release it right, or don't release it.
Read the DVDTalk review...there were like 3 or 4 songs replaced.
Old 08-27-09, 10:58 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by pinata242 View Post
F&G was 18 episodes. I don't see how you can compare that to the 115 episodes of The Wonder Years. Even adjusting for run-time, TWY still had almost 5x as much content as F&G and I would think the licensing would scale accordingly.
And why are you comparing one season to an entire series? If they do WY season by season, similar to the one season of F&G, it should shake out the about the same per-season (and adjusting for the shorter episodes), which is what I was getting at.
Old 08-27-09, 11:04 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Guess I should have waited for you to get there

I don't recall you specifying that F&G was "Season 1" as opposed to the "Complete Series".
Old 08-27-09, 11:11 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by macnorton View Post
Read the DVDTalk review...there were like 3 or 4 songs replaced.
Good call, I'll do that. Thanks.
Old 08-27-09, 11:19 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by pinata242 View Post
Guess I should have waited for you to get there

I don't recall you specifying that F&G was "Season 1" as opposed to the "Complete Series".
I guess I was wrong in assuming you would be able to differentiate between one 18-episode season (regardless of it being the entire series) and 115-episode series. My bad.

You really think they'd attempt to clear every thing at once? Like any other show, they'd test the waters with the first season and see if it's worth it to continue. F&G was actually a riskier proposition than WY would be.
Old 08-27-09, 11:21 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by slop101 View Post
You really think they'd attempt to clear every thing at once? Like any other show, they'd test the waters with the first season and see if it's worth it to continue. F&G was actually a riskier proposition than WY would be.
I think that if they wanted to test the waters, they would have done it years ago.
Old 08-27-09, 11:35 AM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

That's why it's non-release is so inexplicable. The "time to strike while the iron is hot" for TV on dvd was a good 5-7 years ago, and if they put it out now, it won't sell nearly as well as it would've back then (licensing fees would've definitely cost a lot less back then too).

I think they can still make some money off these releases, even if they pony up for most of the music, but I guess they aren't willing to risk it.
Old 08-27-09, 12:32 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Ally McBeal didn't test the waters, they're just releasing the Complete Series set with all the original music on the same day as the First Season.
Old 08-27-09, 12:45 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by Kory View Post
Ally McBeal didn't test the waters, they're just releasing the Complete Series set with all the original music on the same day as the First Season.
It WILL test the waters. If sales are high, we may get these 'Complete Series' from other studios as well.
Old 08-27-09, 12:55 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by GizmoDVD View Post
It WILL test the waters. If sales are high, we may get these 'Complete Series' from other studios as well.
Oh I agree with you there, so while I have no interest in this show, I hope it performs well.

What I meant is that they didn't test them by just releasing one season at a time first. I applaud them for that set, actually. Very brave move and also very cool of them to acquire all of the rights.
Old 08-27-09, 01:14 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by GizmoDVD View Post
Cut the 'meh' music but keep the important stuff. I want "Ed", "Boston Public", "Daria" and "The Wonder Years" legally.
I agree completely.

Take the "Roswell" DVDs for example. The producers went through and selected all the important songs (including several crazy expensive ones) and kept them for the fans while replacing a lot of the unknown/background music in order to make the sets affordable. And throughout all 3 seasons I think maybe twice I realized that a song was replaced (and that's only because of my geeky VHS copies).

While is sucks that shows like "Dawson's Creek" get butchered with the music rights, I'd rather have the choice of buying edited episodes than no choice.
Old 08-27-09, 02:19 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Music replacement killed the Baywatch DVD releases. First Look only released 3 seasons and the line was eventually discontinued. I'm glad because they were a piece of shit even though they were only $20 a piece.
Old 08-27-09, 02:30 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by Nick Danger View Post
because synchronization fees are unregulated
This is the key to the whole thing. The laws need to be looked at and reevaluated. Home video/DVD was not in the picture (like it is now) when it was first written. These publishers/songwriters are extorting as much as they can and the product/public suffers. There needs to be a reasonable cap that still allows for reasonable DVD production costs. Congress is busy with larger issues now but this needs to be addressed and soon.
Old 08-27-09, 02:32 PM
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Re: Music Licensing Fees Keeping TV Shows off DVD

Originally Posted by DJariya View Post
Music replacement killed the Baywatch DVD releases. First Look only released 3 seasons and the line was eventually discontinued. I'm glad because they were a piece of shit even though they were only $20 a piece.
Seriously? I didn't watch the series, but from what I saw when channel-surfing, it was entirely built around hot people in bathing suits. Did the music really matter? We're they jiggling out of sink with the new music when running on the beach?

Ally McBeal incorporated music tightly into the storylines - if they edited out Barry White, for example, many episodes wouldn't make sense. Are there many other shows like this?

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