The Wild Wild West courtesy Paramount
The other day I filled my cookie card with 12 stamps and was rewarded with a free cookie. Last year I used points from my local grocery store to give me a sizable discount off a waffle iron. I use airline points to get free flights, and points earned at the theater for free movie tickets. Programs like these are designed to reward customers for being loyal - they're designed to keep people coming back.

The home entertainment industry seems, for the most part, designed to screw its loyal customers. "Oh, you bought the regular edition of the movie? Hah! We have a super-duper special edition with 20 minutes of new material, new extras and other awesome stuff you'll want because you're a fan of the movie." I'll admit to falling for the trap a number of times; I own two copies of The Bourne Identity on DVD (and another on HD DVD); two copies of Criterion Collection's Brazil release (because the first wasn't anamorphic); I had two versions of Last of the Mohicans before I sold one; and I have both the regular and special edition versions of the Lord of the Rings movies, but I bought the regular editions knowing the special editions were coming and I wanted both versions of the movies. These were all choices I made based on my enjoyment of the movie and what the new version offered. I may have been a bit annoyed, but I dropped the $20 to $25 (a bit more for Brazil) and upgraded. Nothing was riding on my purchase, or non-purchase, of the upgraded release, except for someone's bonus at the end of the year.

Back in May 2000, Fox released the first season of The X-Files, the first season set from any studio. Fans realized this would allow them to collect an entire series, in order, instead of buying volumes or "best of" releases. It quickly became the most-desired way to collect TV shows, and the studios started to reap the financial rewards. Then, in 2005, HBO released a complete series set for Sex and the City which contained some new bonus material in a custom case. Fans who bought the season sets were presented with this new, attractive set for less money than they had spent collecting the previous seven season releases. "That's OK," some said to themselves, "I don't need the bonus material, and I've been enjoying the show on DVD for years," while others rushed out to buy the set for themselves, or to give as gifts.

Fast forward three years and we've seen a number of these complete sets released in different configurations, some with one or two new bonus discs, others simply repackaged versions of the season sets. There's one configuration that angers fans more than any other: the bundling of TV movies in complete-series set. Fans of The Brady Bunch, for example, were annoyed to learn that "A Very Brady Christmas" and "The Brady 500" would only be bundled in the complete-series release. Surely they would be given the opportunity to buy the TV movie separately from the complete series, especially after supporting the show through five season releases! But no, there were no plans to make this available independently. Similar situations followed with The Andy Griffith Show ("Return to Mayberry"), MacGyver ("MacGyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis" and "MacGyver: Trail to Doomsday"), I Love Lucy ("I Love Lucy: The Movie") and the recently announced release of The Wild, Wild West ("Wild Wild West Revisited" and "More Wild Wild West"). This wasn't new bonus material, but TV movies fans considered part of the series, and fans wanting to complete their collections were being compelled to upgrade at a cost of $100 to $200, a far greater price than the jump from a standard edition DVD to a special edition. Of course this was done on purpose, as the studios were hoping some fans who bought the season sets would purchase the new sets for the exclusive material. Sure, some of them did, but what did they learn from this experience? Don't buy the season sets because something better, and cheaper, will come out later.

Season releases almost always depend on strong sales of the previous set. There's always dropoff from one season to the next for older shows, and if the dropoff is too great, the studio puts the show on hold. But now consumers are being taught that if they hold off buying the season sets, they'll be rewarded with more material at a lower price. But wait... if they don't buy the season sets, will the complete series still be released? This is a big problem, especially for classic TV, since consumers aren't going to hold off buying sets for a show when it's still on the air (anyone waiting for a complete series release of The Simpsons could be waiting a long, long time).

There are a couple of solutions to this, but they involve doing away with exclusivity in the complete series releases. The first is to offer TV movies separately at retail shortly after complete series are released. This allows consumers who don't want or can't afford the big box sets to get the TV movies. The studio will make money on the new disc, and fans won't feel like their loyalty has been abused. Fox tried this with therelease of M*A*S*H "Martinis & Medicine Collection," the series finale and two bonus discs which were in the complete series set. A better idea, and one that encourages the completion of the season sets, would be to offer the disc with the TV movies for free with proof of purchase of all the seasons, and a small shipping and handling fee. This actually rewards those loyal customers, and may help push consumers to finish buying the season sets they forgot to buy.

It's time TV-DVD consumers are treated like the loyal customers they are. Start offering exclusives to people who collect all of a show's seasons the hard way and keep them coming back for more.

Share your thoughts about complete series sets, loyalty programs and the bundling of new material in the comments below. - Gord Lacey