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DVD sales slump seen as threat to British drama

The future of high quality British television is newly vulnerable to the threats to the DVD market which has become vital to the production of shows such as Downton Abbey.

An industry report published today shows that 47% of revenue made by the hit ITV drama came from sales of DVDs and similar formats, enabling a second series to be made. The report, commissioned by the British Video Association, warned that “the reduction of TV commissions during the recession has meant that content producers may have become more reliant on video revenues”.

The BVA report highlighted the threat to DVD sales revenue from a slump in impulse purchases “from shoppers browsing in bricks and mortar stores”. Although falls in physical sales have been partly offset by increases in paid-for video downloads (total video entertainment revenues remained resilient at £2.6 billion in 2010, almost unchanged from a year earlier), the report warned of the ongoing threat to the entertainment industry from copyright theft and illegal downloading.

Television industry figures interviewed for the report by Oxford Economics warned that a 50% fall in revenues from sales of DVDs and video downloads would have “very significant impacts” on programme-making and might lead to a strategy of “risk aversion” where niche shows were no longer made. “You would just spend on winners,” said one respondent.

Gareth Neame, the UK MD of NBC Universal International Television Production, which made Downton Abbey, said that advances being offered by distributors had “fallen in the last few years”. He said DVD sales of the ITV period drama had been “probably double what we had originally expected”. He said the dependence on video revenues would mean that scripted drama and comedy shows would be prioritised over topical entertainment formats. “There’s still that anecdotal opinion that people like to own a piece of real estate in a show, which you can do when you buy a video,” he said. “Popular opinion has been that this is a declining market but you see shows like Downton Abbey which really demonstrate that that isn’t the case.”

He said the DVD market had grown at a “staggering rate” over a decade but had now “matured”. The same company is hoping for major DVD sales of its latest project, a series of four of Shakespeare’s historical plays, which are being filmed for BBC2.