Most of the major studios have been engaging in massive corporate digitization projects for years now — while we like to make fun of them (and, boy, do we like to make fun of them), the truth of the matter is that the studios long ago realized that they needed to have all of their assets in digital format. Preferably a highly flexible format that allowed these same studios to further exploit their properties as new markets opened.
You see the fruits of their efforts as more and more classic programming finds its way to the magical world of DVD; we’re admittedly waiting for the studios to skip the step of physical media and just make this stuff available on demand, meaning online. But that’s another rant for another day. Today, we’re looking at old television series that are finding new lives.
As the studios digitize, they’re encountering two major obstacles: quality and price. The masters for many old series were not kept in pristine condition — heck, some weren’t even kept in semi-pristine condition. Though the studios have made it a policy to exploit these older series whenever they can, the original tapes might not be in sufficient repair to create a good digital master.
Creating good DVDs from bad media is a long, expensive job; these older series have a limited audience by definition. While it’s possible that shows featuring Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop might reach a new generation, I don’t see the massive interest necessary to support colorizing the existing kinescopes — and I’m not sure today’s audiences will appreciate the appeal of black and white children’s programming.
But the true expense behind these releases is music. Way back in the olden days, the studios didn’t contemplate such after-markets as video. When they licensed the music for the programs, they licensed it for limited periods and/or limited media. Television shows, especially those programs that featured lots and lots of songs, are languishing on the studios’ shelves because the upfront cost of licensing this music can be prohibitive. For each and every song, the owners must negotiate a license fee for video distribution, including all possible future methods of getting media to consumers.
If you read the language carefully, you’ll see that today’s smart lawyers are trying to cover all possibilities, including transmittal by brain waves. That should help in the future, but not so much in the right now.
The copyright holders for this music have a right to demand payment for their work — it’s not like the studios are charities and planning on giving away the newly created DVDs. But I often wonder if visions of future dollars might backfire on the owners of this music. If they demand too much money, the studios are forced to abandon the release or to substitute other music for the original.
So the next time you wonder why Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman isn’t more readily available…blame the people who couldn’t see into the future!