Do You Buy DVDs You’ve Already Seen?

I own a couple of concert and TV series, but I don’t buy DVDs of movies. My criteria is simple: will I be able to rent this DVD? If so, I’m unlikely to buy it. There’s nothing wrong with buying them (Lord knows I’ve assembled more than my fair share of other media), but it’s not my bag.

Recently, I quoted an article, saying that in 2004 that DVD sales amounted to $15 billion, while box office receipts were $9.4 billion. That got me thinking. Of all the people buying those (roughly) 900 million DVDs, how many had already seen the movie before they bought the DVD. That is, they’re buying the DVD to watch the movie again. Among my friends, I’d say it’s about 50-50. How about you, my dear DVD-buying readers?

This train of thought rolled out of the station when I wondered out loud “why don’t they just sell DVDs in the cinemas, so that you can buy them as you leave the theatre?” That idea is probably heretical to the industry, but I wonder if it might not prove more profitable in the end?

Let’s assume there are two kinds of DVD buyers–those who see the movies in the cinema, and those who don’t. The people who don’t watch the movie aren’t going to be affected–they’ll just get their DVD sooner. Those who do see the movie probably wouldn’t be too cannabalized–they’re coming for the experience of attending a cinema. Plus, the industry would enjoy a boon of impulse purchases from people leaving the show. More importantly, they could cut a big chunk out of their marketing budget, because they wouldn’t have to spend nearly as much on promoting a separate DVD release six months down the road.


  1. I buy DVDs in lieu of videos, to watch the movie (or TV series, sans commercials) again. I liked the fact that you got extras, director’s cuts, outtakes etc, but nowadays they’re filming outtakes SPECIALLY for the DVD release, which actually defeats the purpose, but anyway. I figure that it costs about $5 to rent a new release, and about $10 to buy the DVD from Futureshop when it stops being popular. I stand to lose $5 at most, but if it’s a good movie I’ll watch it more than once anyway, so it’s money well spent.

  2. I’m the same as you Darren. I mostly only buy tv series or cartoon series or anime series on dvd. I occasionally buy some movies, but that’s usually only if it’s a movie I know I’ll watch again in the future, such as Pi or the LOTR movies or Waking Life.

  3. Most of my DVD/video purchases are of movies I’ve already watched and know I will want to watch again and again. I’m not willing to blow $25 on something I’d only watch once, when a movie ticket is less than $10.

  4. If I figure I’ll want to watch a movie more than once, I’ll buy it. Which means that I almost never buy DVD’s of movies I haven’t seen.

    On the other hand, I also rarely rent movies. But other people do, which is handy. 🙂

    Last DVDs I bought? Return of the King, ultra expensive version. Futurama, Volumes 3 & 4, and Sex and the City, last half of season 6. All well worth the money.

  5. I don’t buy many DVDs but when I do they tend to be packages of TV series.

    I expect this to change fairly soon though, because I just finished putting together my MythTV PVR. I figure if I have enough storage space, I’ll eventually record every episode of The Simpsons, Family Guy, CSI, Law and Order, etc.


  6. I don’t buy DVDs often, but when I do, I buy them used (er, previously-viewed) and only of the ones I know I will watch again. Buying DVDs of TV series doesn’t really make sense to me because the only series I care about (The Simpsons) is on at least once a day on TV, much more if I had all the channels.

    While on the subject of rentals, going to a movie theatre for the type of movies I enjoy though (dramas, documentaries or comedies) doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Only if there are visual or sound effects that are enhanced by a large screen and sound system is the purchase of a movie ticket really worth it. Renting a movie makes a lot more sense these days because of the large screens my friends are buying and because with my laptop, I can take a drama or comedy wherever I am, since being able to hear what the actors say and seeing what they do is all that matters.

  7. I love buying DVDs of movies I’ve already watched. I’m a compulsive re-watcher of movies, and it drives my husband crazy. I’d much rather watch something I already know is entertaining than take a chance on renting a new, unknown flick unless I’ve heard good reviews about it.

    I almost never watch a movie in the theatre. I loathe everything about movie theatres, including the popcorn. If you want me to see a movie in the theatre, it had better be free.

  8. Like Donna and Richard, I’ll buy the DVD of a movie I know I’ll watch over and over again. Since we don’t have any of those discount video rental places in our town, if I buy a previously viewed DVD at $10-$15, I only need to watch it 2-3 times before I’ve made up the difference between buying and renting. These days you can buy a lot of classics at Walmart or some such store for less than $10.00. Woody Allen’s “Manhattan”, a movie I’m likely to watch repeatedly during my lifetime, sells for $10.00.

    In some cases, of course, it only makes sense if you’re a fanatic. It’ll take up a lot of rentals to match the $40.00 selling price of the extended edition Lord of the Rings movies (I’m a fanatic). That said, there is hours upon hours of extra material on those DVDs–4 disc set, two discs with the films and at least 4 different commentaries, two discs with documentaries etc–which you aren’t likely to watch all of in even a couple of rentings.

    Incidentally, anyone who is even mildly interested in the Lord of the Rings movies should really watch the extended editions. Each of them have about 50 extra minutes, and most if it is relevant material.

  9. I find myself not re-watching most of the hollywood trash I own on dvd. So I try to keep my film collection to a minimum.

    I do however feel that tv series on dvd are a great investment, and in 5-10 years time when I decide it’s time to re-watch Buffy: The Vampire Slayer , I am free to do so.

    I also have much wider taste, than they provide for in this country. A lot of the films I buy on dvd, I wouldn’t be able to rent if I tried.

  10. I’m not a re-consumer of 99% of TV or Movies, so my collection of DVDs is paltry. In fact, it consists solely of fitness instruction video (yoga, pilates, aerobics, etc.). I just can’t be bothered watching again when I already know the ending.

    I’m much the same way with books. My purchases are mostly non-fiction that I’ll likely want to reference again sometime. If there is some pop fiction that I absolutely must read the moment it’s released, I’ll usually buy the ebook – slightly cheaper than a new release hardcover novel, and more convenient than waiting for the Library to have it in.

  11. I don’t buy DVDs. I don’t get the point. I’d have to watch it 5 or 6 times to breakeven, in comparison with a rental.

    Movie companies don’t release DVDs at the theatre because they know a certain percentage of viewers will come back to the theatre to see the movie several times. They’d rather capture that revenue, then do DVDs down the road. Also, if some viewers took DVDs home, they’d show them to friends and family who would thus not need to go to the theatre.

  12. Andrea: I couldn’t find any data on repeat viewers, but I’m guessing that, for the average film, it’s a small fragment of the viewership. Additionally, the studios care most about the opening weekend (it determines the success or failure of a film), and there are unlikely to be multiple viewings from an audience member during that period.

    Ultimately, I think the boost in DVD sales and the signficant savings in marketing dollars would more than offset the shortcomings you’ve described.

    In truth, I need to ask someone in the movie distribution business, and see what they think. Hmm…I’m off to find a movie distributor’s blog.

  13. I agree entirely with Sue (wow, when’s the last time THAT happened?). I hate the whole theater experience, from the $4 small drinks to the over-buttered popcorn to the assholes on their cell phones. I also watch movies that I like repeatedly – I find that a lot of movies just get funnier the more you watch them. I don’t buy many DVDs, but when I do they’re usually DVDs of things I wouldn’t get in a rental store. Clue (the Movie), Cannibal! the Musical, stuff like that.

  14. TV series on DVD is a must. For starters, syndication guarantees that you’ll miss 2-3 minutes (minimum) off of the original first-run episode. So for the Simpsons you’ll miss a joke or two – but occasionally I’ve caught them removing an entire scene just to cram in a few more ads. M*A*S*H is an excellent example of this, since back in 1975 a half-an-hour of TV was typically 26 minutes, whereas now it’s 22 – and syndication is even less. Depending upon how many times the show is repackaged, it can be as little as 18. That’s a LOT of stuff cut out by junior editors who don’t even know the show… And did I mention no ads? 🙂

  15. Hi Darren,

    The Toronto Star says a drop in repeat viewings was one of the reasons Famous Players recently dropped its ticket prices:

    Famous is also responding to a decline in repeat viewings by movie fans, who in years past would line up and shell out more than once to see blockbusters such as Titanic or The Matrix. With The Lord of the Rings trilogy now completed and the final Star Wars movie arriving this spring, exhibitors are casting a worried eye over a dearth of lucrative film franchises that inspire repeat visits.

    Those return visits mean a lot. As recently as 2002, movie exhibitors were enjoying their highest attendance figures since 1958, thanks in large part to the record-setting debut that year of the Spider-Man franchise and the continuing saga of The Lord of the Rings.

    Do a search for “repeat viewings” and “box office” or “blockbuster”, and you’ll find that films such as Bridget Jones, Titanic, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Phantom Menace and even Mean Girls benefited from the phenomenom. Repeat movie viewings used to be so important to the industry that theatres gave out china and other loyalty gifts. DVD sales have cut into repeat viewings, but not entirely. If DVDs were available at opening weekend, many people would have no reason to drag friends to see the movie again — and they’d simply let friends and family borrow the video.

    Marginal utility is also important. Two-for-1 pizzas are set at the price of 1 pizza + 50%. This is because the first pizza fills you up and your utility from the second pizza is less — you’re willing to pay less for the second pizza. Likewise, you might be willing to pay $10 for a movie, but only $10 for the DVD, if you’ve just stepped out of the theatre. If you have to wait a few months, your utility may build up to the point where you’ll cough up $20+.

    I’m pretty sure I studied a business case on repeat movie viewings, but darned if I can find it now. I know that’s where I first learned about the “see this movie again and get a free tea cup” offer. 🙂

  16. I love watching dvd’s and turning the Hi-Fi up really loud. My local rental store sells off dvd’s at a major discount…3 for $25. Ebay is also a good source…as long as they’re not burned copies.

  17. I buy movies I really love on DVD at whatever price, movies I haven’t seen but think I might like if they’re cheap enough, and I loooove TV on DVD. The whole no commercials thing is a major bonus, and for drama series, it’s fantastic to be able to watch the episodes in order, for as long as you want. I also find it’s a better investment than a movie. Because TV episodes are shorter, I’m more willing to re-watch them, and they often get put on when I have gatherings of friends (Family Guy and Buffy are especially good examples of this).

    I also like going to the theatre for movies. I don’t bother buying popcorn etc, but I like the big screen and the communal aspect of it, particularly for comedies (nice to hear a lot of people laugh at the same things).

  18. I only buy DVDs of films that I’ve seen (and haven’t yet bought many DVDs at all). Selling the DVD in the cinema foyer would be a great idea, as would selling the soundtrack CD. Example: just saw “Ray” and would have bought the CD on the spot at any price when I was still up from the film. A week later, I’m now not sure whether I’ll buy it.

  19. Like some people who commented on the original post, I do buy DVDs and mainly DVDs I have already seen at theatre.
    I’ve always been a movie-lover and videotapes always felt to me too likely to get damaged (and too bulky as well).
    One thing no one mentioned is the “professional” use a minority of buyers actually make of DVDs.
    I am writing my dissertation and teaching film studies to make ends meet.
    And I can tell you that DVDs are way more convenient for teaching and some of the extra are actually quite interesting!
    Finally the re-edition of hard to find films (even classics), notably works by John Cassavetes or even George Mélies are a blessing!

  20. I’m pretty similar to your approach Darren in that my (and my girlfriend’s) DVD collection consists almost entirely of Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons.

    As for selling DVD’s in the theatre, one thing to keep in mind is the political power of the video-rental industry who would no doubt be/feel deeply threatened by your idea.

  21. I’m with Sue. I buy DVDs because all of my friends can come over and watch the film, eat dinner, have snacks, chit-chat, not worry about sticky floors, hyper-expensive snack food, annoying seat kickers, AND they’re allowed to bring in their own food.

    The best part? It’s still cheaper for ALL of that than taking someone out to see a movie in the theatre.

    Why not rent? Because the whole rental experience always sucked. Go in, compete with patrons for the movie you want if it’s “hot,” and try and find the only copy of the one you want when it’s not, then get it back to the store.

    Frankly, I’d rather own a copy of a DVD that I may only watch 2 or 3 times than see it once in a theatre just to avoid the whole “theatre experience.” I’m not a little kid seeing STAR WARS on the BIG SCREEN anymore and being comfy at home is so much more satisfying.

  22. I buy movies I’ve seen before and want to keep. And I buy movies I wanted to see but haven’t yet.

    I picked up THE COOLER last week at CostCo. It was a movie I hadn’t seen, but wanted to. It was on sale for $10.

    Last week, I saw SIDEWAYS in the movie theater. The ticket cost me $9.50.

    Most nights when I go to a movie, I eat out for dinner first. That adds another $15 or so to the cost of the night.

    Paying $10 or $15 or $20 for a movie isn’t such a bad deal, anymore. With some sort of premium content on it, $25 or $20 ain’t so bad, either.

    For a low budget sample of what the future might hold: NATIONAL LAMPOON’S BLACK BALL was released to theaters on Friday. The DVD is coming out on Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see how this experiment works on a small movie that nobody has ever heard of. Maybe it’ll lead to a similar experiment with something of a bigger budget nature.

    There are movies I’d like to see on opening weekends that I won’t, just because I don’t want to deal with the crowds and packed theaters filled with people who think they’re at home watching their TV and talking back to it.

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