Comics Ate My Brain

October 3, 2005

Follow the money

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 3:00 am
Tonight the Best Wife Ever and I saw Serenity. We both enjoyed it quite a bit, although the last act gets rather intense. (Let’s put it this way: more than once I was reminded of the upcoming Doom movie.)

Many of you have probably already made up your minds about whether to see it. I will say that a healthy affection for “Firefly” is helpful going in; but otherwise that’s about all the review you’ll get. Instead, for me Serenity represents a new, or at least less conventional, way of doing the business of entertainment.

“Firefly’s” entire history seems to have been dependent on cult followings. The first cult consisted of Whedon fans who the Fox Network assumed would give the show a chance. Fox Studios produced “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” but for WB and UPN; so “Firefly” was Fox’s opportunity to keep those Whedon fans to itself.

When “Firefly” developed its own following, which became vocal after the show’s quick cancellation, Fox was still able to profit from it. Almost immediately after the show went off the air, Whedon was championing a DVD set of all the episodes — including ones unaired in the U.S. — and a sequel of some sort. The DVDs helped grow the ranks of “Firefly” fans, and made the sequel more likely.

Such secondary-market salvation isn’t unprecedented. “Star Trek” expanded its audience in post-cancellation syndication. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery got a sequel on the basis of its home-video rentals, not its box-office grosses. “Family Guy’s” DVD sales earned it a second life on the Fox schedule. However, “Firefly” had such a short run that the risk seems greater and the potential reward smaller. Fox isn’t even in the picture anymore — Serenity is a Universal release.

All this makes me curious about the whys and wherefores of Serenity‘s existence, and how low the bar for its success has been set. It may be that Universal doesn’t expect big box-office returns (it made around $10 million this weekend, against a $39 million budget), and is counting on DVD sales to bolster the movie’s profits. (After all, what “Firefly” fan won’t want to complete her DVD collection?) In other words, Serenity may have mass-market appeal, but if I were a studio executive, I would have run the numbers on various alternative revenue opportunities before agreeing to make this movie.

Again, I’m no economist, but to me flip-flopping the markets seems to be the new direction for entertainment. The trailer advertises the movie, and the movie in turn advertises the DVD. The secondary market is becoming just as important as the primary one, assuming that hasn’t already happened. (If trade paperbacks are supposedly the future of comics, are DVDs the future of movies and TV?) Accordingly, the success of Serenity may be judged on a curve that is more generous than we think.

1 Comment »

  1. Actually, DVDs have been coming to increasingly form a key component of movie profits for quite a while now; this is one reason they keep coming out closer and closer to the movies themselves…A big part of this is that movie revenues continue to dwindle over time.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 3, 2005 @ 10:23 pm

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