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What is a Direct-To-Video Release?

A direct-to-video release is when a film is distributed to the public on home video formats without a prior theatrical run. This often allows creators to target niche audiences and reduce distribution costs. It's a fascinating realm where hidden cinematic gems await discovery. What treasures might you find bypassing the big screen? Explore the world of direct-to-video with us.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A direct-to-video release is a theatrical release which is not distributed in movie theaters. There are a number of reasons for a studio or producer to choose to release a title in this way, ranging from a desire to cut down on costs to disputes over distribution contracts. People sometimes use “direct-to-video” in a disparaging way, to suggest that such releases are inferior, but in fact many excellent productions are released directly to the video market without spending time in the theater.

Videocassettes are on the decline, leading some people to refer to direct-to-video releases as “direct-to-DVD,” referencing the more popular distribution format. Some filmmakers have also used the Internet to distribute their content, in a direct-to-Internet release which allows people to watch streaming content or pay to download the content.

Low budget film productions are often intended for straight-to-video release.
Low budget film productions are often intended for straight-to-video release.

One of the most common reasons to choose a direct-to-video release is that it tends to be less costly than a theatrical release. Distribution contracts for movie theaters can get quite complex and very expensive, requiring supportive marketing campaigns and the costly duplication and distribution of the physical film used in screenings. Sequels, low-budget films, or movies which don't appeal to a wide audience may be released directly to video to save costs.

Many networks specifically design direct-to-video content for Internet distribution.
Many networks specifically design direct-to-video content for Internet distribution.

Some productions cannot secure distribution, a common problem for independent filmmakers. Lack of affiliation with a major studio can make it very difficult to get a film into theaters, which is why filmmakers compete heatedly at events like the Sundance Film Festival to get their films picked up by major theatrical distributors. A producer may also make a conscious choice to avoid the politics and complexity of film distribution out of fear that it may compromise the production.

Direct-to-video releases are not distributed to theaters.
Direct-to-video releases are not distributed to theaters.

Television networks have also been known to use the direct-to-video technique for canceled shows. In some cases, shows which do not perform well on air end up having very strong DVD sales, allowing the network to recoup the cost of the production. Direct-to-video releases may also be used for supplementary material such as bonus materials and spinoffs which the network does not want to air. Many networks specifically design content like this for Internet distribution, drawing in fans to the network website with promises of deleted scenes, webisodes, and other content which is not broadcast.

Many animated films and shows have a direct-to-video release.
Many animated films and shows have a direct-to-video release.

On occasion, a planned direct-to-video release will wind up in movie theaters. Studios may change their minds and decide that a film is viable in the theater, or a film may acquire a distribution contract at the last minute, allowing it to be screened in theaters. Sometimes, these last minute reprieves pave the way for smash hits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a direct-to-video release?

A direct-to-video release refers to a film being distributed directly to the public on home video formats (like DVD or Blu-ray) or digital platforms without a prior theatrical release. This distribution strategy is often used for films that are considered less likely to be successful at the box office, including low-budget productions, sequels to less popular films, or movies that cater to niche audiences. Direct-to-video releases can also include films that have been released theatrically in other countries but not in the United States.

Why do some movies go straight to video instead of being released in theaters?

Movies may go straight to video for several reasons. The production company might deem the film unlikely to perform well enough in theaters to justify the costs of a wide release, including marketing and distribution expenses. Other factors include the film's genre, market trends, the presence of recognizable stars, or the reception of similar movies. Additionally, a direct-to-video release allows for a quicker turnaround time to reach audiences and can be a strategic move to target specific markets or demographics more effectively.

How does a direct-to-video release affect the budget and quality of a movie?

Direct-to-video releases often have lower budgets compared to major theatrical releases. This budget constraint can affect various aspects of the film, including special effects, set design, and the caliber of actors. However, a lower budget does not necessarily mean lower quality. Some direct-to-video films have been praised for their storytelling, performances, and production values. The key is how effectively the filmmakers can work within their budget to create a compelling and high-quality movie.

Can a direct-to-video movie still be financially successful?

Yes, a direct-to-video movie can still be financially successful. Without the significant overhead costs associated with theatrical releases, these films can turn a profit more easily through sales and rentals on physical media and digital platforms. Moreover, they can have a long shelf life, continuing to generate revenue well beyond their initial release. Some direct-to-video films have even developed cult followings, contributing to their long-term financial success.

Are there any notable successes among direct-to-video releases?

There have been several notable successes among direct-to-video releases. For example, the "Universal Soldier" franchise has seen multiple sequels released directly to video that have been well-received by fans. Additionally, animated films, particularly Disney sequels like "Aladdin and the King of Thieves," have found a successful niche in the direct-to-video market. These successes demonstrate that with the right content and audience, direct-to-video releases can be both critically and financially rewarding.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseTour researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

gravois

I remember that the silliest direct to video movie I ever saw on the shelves was called Snakes on a Train. It was meant to ride the coattails of the much better known Snakes on a Plane.

jonrss

I worked at a Blockbuster in the 90s and I ended up seeing a ton of direct to video movies. Mostly they deserve the reputation that they have. But there were a few surprises.

When you think about it you would expect to have a couple of gems in the bunch. It is really hard to break into Hollywood. Talented filmmakers often never get a shot to work at the highest level. They end up working for smaller production companies that produce direct to video films.

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    • Low budget film productions are often intended for straight-to-video release.
      By: Irochka
      Low budget film productions are often intended for straight-to-video release.
    • Many networks specifically design direct-to-video content for Internet distribution.
      By: Ana Blazic Pavlovic
      Many networks specifically design direct-to-video content for Internet distribution.
    • Direct-to-video releases are not distributed to theaters.
      By: gstockstudio
      Direct-to-video releases are not distributed to theaters.
    • Many animated films and shows have a direct-to-video release.
      By: imkenneth
      Many animated films and shows have a direct-to-video release.