NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The much anticipated finale of the hit television show "Friends" will end up being a very short farewell, as a DVD of that episode will be in stores within days of its May 6 airing.
Warner Home Video, the DVD and video arm of the Warner Bros. studio that owns and produces the show for NBC, confirms it will have a DVD of the show in stores May 11.
The DVD is already available for sale on Amazon.com, with delivery promised after it hits stores. As of Tuesday it was the No. 6 best-selling DVD on the online retailer's site. NBC did not return calls seeking comment on the DVD release.
Scott Hettrick, editor-in-chief of the monthly trade publication DVD Exclusive, said that while the final show will be a financial bonanza for NBC, the DVD profits will flow mostly to Warner Bros. and the show's producers. Warner Bros. and CNN/Money are both owned by Time Warner Inc. (TWX: Research, Estimates) NBC is owned by General Electric Co. (GE: Research, Estimates)
"I don't know how this particular deal is structured. But the network isn't the owner of the show, it's the buyer. NBC doesn't profit from 'Friends' reruns in syndication," said Hettrick.
The Amazon site says that the finale DVD will include the pilot episode of the series as well as additional never-before-seen footage, along with several other bonus features. It said the list price is $14.97, but Amazon is selling it for $10.48.
TV on DVD a hot item
DVD sales have radically changed the economics of the movie industry in recent years, producing perhaps twice as much profit for the studio as does the domestic box office, said independent entertainment financial analyst Dennis McAlpine. The impact on the television show side isn't nearly as great, at least not yet. But when TV shows hit DVDs, they mean windfall profits for the show's owners.
"You've seen an incredibly high profitability," said McAlpine, who said in most cases actors and writers entitled to a payment from reruns of the show get little or nothing from a DVD sale. "In the future, it'll be part of union contracts, but for the most part it's not yet."
While "Friends" clearly doesn't need the revenue or attention of DVD sales to be a moneymaker for Warner Bros., the new revenue stream has made a difference for some other shows, said Hettrick. He said it won't be long before DVD sales are having the same impact on the television industry that they has already had on the movie studios.
"DVDs have brought in revenue that has saved shows. '24' was on a bubble after the first season. The large DVD sales were one of things that saved the show," he said. "''The Family Guy' is a show that was cancelled on Fox. It was the top moneymaking show on DVD in 2003, and it has prompted them to go back into production."
Fastest in a fast field
The TV on DVD sales are the fastest growing part of an already fast-growing DVD market, even though they make up only about 12 percent of the overall DVD sales market, which reached $11.8 billion last year, said Melinda Saccone, senior manager of research for Video Store Magazine.
The trade publication estimates that TV on DVD saw about 79 percent growth last year vs. 46 percent for the DVD sales market overall. And pricing is firmer in the TV on DVD market than it is for movies. A complete season can go for about $100 retail, while many movies are going for $20 or $25.
The relatively low price for the "Friends" finale DVD could allow it to be an impulse buy and a record setter in terms of unit sales, even if it doesn't set revenue records, said Hettrick. "Friends" DVDs were already among the top sellers in 2003, with the five best-selling of the seven seasons on sale during the year selling a total of about 2.1 million copies for $75 million. Warner Home Video said it expects season eight to be out some time in the fourth quarter of this year, with the ninth and final tenth season released at some still to be determined date in the future.
What makes the "Friends" finale DVD so unusual is the quick turnaround for a TV show. Most quick turns are for specials or sporting events, like the Super Bowl or World Series videos.
"'Seinfeld' still hasn't come out at all on DVD. The final M*A*S*H (the best rated television show of all time) still isn't out. They've only gotten up to season four," Hettrick said.
Hettrick said that one of the reasons that Warner probably is not playing up the DVD in advance of the May 6 airing is to not anger NBC and possibly hurt ratings.
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Based on multiples of their last-season ratings that other big series finales have gotten, "Friends" could be watched in between 34 to 36 percent of U.S. homes on that date. NBC has confirmed it is getting about $2 million for a 30 second spot on the final show.