Direct-to-video is a term used to describe a film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 that has been released
Film release
A film release is the stage at which a completed film is legally authorized by its owner for public distribution.The process includes locating a distributor to handle the film...

 to the public on home video
Home video
Home video is a blanket term used for pre-recorded media that is either sold or rented/hired for home cinema entertainment. The term originates from the VHS/Betamax era but has carried over into current optical disc formats like DVD and Blu-ray Disc and, to a lesser extent, into methods of digital...

 formats (historically VHS
The Video Home System is a consumer-level analog recording videocassette standard developed by Victor Company of Japan ....

) without being released in film theaters or broadcast on television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

. The term is also at times used as a derogatory term for films or sequel
A sequel is a narrative, documental, or other work of literature, film, theatre, or music that continues the story of or expands upon issues presented in some previous work...

s of films that are of inferior quality or are not expected to find financial success. Direct-to-video releases have become something of a lifeline for independent filmmakers and smaller companies.

Reasons for releasing direct-to-video

A production studio
A studio is an artist's or worker's workroom, or the catchall term for an artist and his or her employees who work within that studio. This can be for the purpose of architecture, painting, pottery , sculpture, scrapbooking, photography, graphic design, filmmaking, animation, radio or television...

 may decide not to generally release a TV show or film for several possible reasons: poor quality, lack
To lack something is not to have it.Lack may also refer to:* Andrew Lack , British botanist and biologist* David Lack , British ornithologist and biologist* Lack Township, Juniata County, Pennsylvania...

 of support from a TV network, negative reviews, controversial
Controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of opinion. The word was coined from the Latin controversia, as a composite of controversus – "turned in an opposite direction," from contra – "against" – and vertere – to turn, or versus , hence, "to turn...

 nature, or a simple lack of general public interest. Studios, limited in the annual number of films to which they grant cinematic releases, may choose to pull the completed film from the theaters, or never exhibit it in theaters at all. Studios then generate additional revenue through video sales and rentals.

Direct-to-video releases have historically carried a stigma of lower technical or artistic quality than theatrical releases. Some studio films released direct-to-video are films which have been completed but were never released. This delay often occurs when a studio doubts a film's commercial prospects would justify a full cinema release, or because its "release window" has closed. A release window refers to a timely trend or personality, and missing that window of opportunity means a film, possibly rushed into production, failed to release before the trend faded. In film industry slang
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo...

 such films are referred to as having been "vaulted."

Direct-to-video releases can be done for films which cannot be shown theatrically due to controversial content, or because the cost involved in a theatrical release is beyond the releasing company. Almost all pornographic films are currently released direct-to-video.

Animated sequels and film-length episodes of animated series are also often released in this fashion. The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company is the largest media conglomerate in the world in terms of revenue. Founded on October 16, 1923, by Walt and Roy Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into...

 began making sequels of most of its animated films for video release beginning with The Return of Jafar
The Return of Jafar
The Return of Jafar is a 1994 American animated film that is a direct-to-video sequel to the 1992 animated film Aladdin, both produced by The Walt Disney Company. The film was released on May 20, 1994 and serves as the origin of the Aladdin animated series...

(the sequel to Aladdin) in 1994. Universal Studios
Universal Studios
Universal Pictures , a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is one of the six major movie studios....

 also began their long line of The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time is a 1988 American animated adventure film directed and co-produced by Don Bluth , and executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall....

sequels that same year. In 2005, Fox released Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story is a 2005 direct-to-DVD animated comedy film set in the Family Guy fictional universe. Released on September 27, 2005, the film's main plot point concerns Stewie Griffin trying to find his real father...

for DVD
A DVD is an optical disc storage media format, invented and developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic in 1995. DVDs offer higher storage capacity than Compact Discs while having the same dimensions....

 and Universal Media Disc
Universal Media Disc
The Universal Media Disc is an optical disc medium developed by Sony for use on their PlayStation Portable handheld gaming and multimedia platform...


Studios may also release sequels or spin-offs to a successful live action film straight to DVD. These are commonly referred to as "cheapquels" due to the lack of quality and budget in comparison to the original. Examples are the Behind Enemy Lines series of films.

In the case of a TV show, low ratings
Nielsen Ratings
Nielsen ratings are the audience measurement systems developed by Nielsen Media Research, in an effort to determine the audience size and composition of television programming in the United States...

 may cause a network to cancel the show, possibly after having filmed an entire season and aired some episodes. If the show has a considerable fanbase, the studio may release un-aired episodes on video. Firefly
Firefly (TV series)
Firefly is an American space western television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as executive producer, along with Tim Minear....

is an example of a canceled show which became a successful cult hit on DVD. Occasionally outstanding DVD sales may revive a canceled show, as in the case of Family Guy
Family Guy
Family Guy is an American animated television series created by Seth MacFarlane for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series centers on the Griffins, a dysfunctional family consisting of parents Peter and Lois; their children Meg, Chris, and Stewie; and their anthropomorphic pet dog Brian...

. Originally canceled in 2002, the series was revived in 2005 due partly to its excellent DVD sales. Futurama
Futurama is an American animated science fiction sitcom created by Matt Groening and developed by Groening and David X. Cohen for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series follows the adventures of a late 20th-century New York City pizza delivery boy, Philip J...

is another example of a successful DVD run (along with strong fan support) that causes a network comeback.

Family films

The family film segment is a major part of direct-to-video sales. According to the LA Times,

"Often, the downfall of live-action family films at the box office is their strength on video. Their appeal is to families with young children, who may go to only a couple of movies per year but who will watch many videos multiple times. The teens and young adults who drive blockbuster box-office statistics stay away from family movies."

Direct-to-video films screened theatrically

Once in a while, a studio that makes a film that was prepared as a direct-to-video film will release it theatrically at the last minute due to the success of another film with a similar subject matter or an ultimate studio decision. The animated film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is a 1993 animated superhero film based on the fictional DC Comics character Batman, and is a spin-off of the Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series...

is an example of this. However, despite the film's critically acclaimed success, its box-office performance was very poor, which has been blamed on its last minute decision to be released theatrically. The film had much better commercial success in its subsequent home video releases. Another example which garnered a large cult following is the 2001 psychological thriller
Psychological thriller
Psychological thriller is a specific sub-genre of the broad ranged thriller with heavy focus on characters. However, it often incorporates elements from the mystery and drama genre, along with the typical traits of the thriller genre...

 Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko is a 2001 American psychological thriller film written and directed by Richard Kelly and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, and Mary McDonnell...

, which was originally slated for a direct-to-video release. Doug's 1st Movie
Doug's 1st Movie
Doug's 1st Movie is a 1999 animated film based on the Disney version of the Nickelodeon television series Doug. The film was directed by Maurice Joyce, and stars the regular television cast of Tom McHugh, Fred Newman, Chris Phillips, Constance Shulman, Frank Welker, Alice Playten, and Guy Hadley...

was also intended as a direct-to-video release, but due to the success of The Rugrats Movie
The Rugrats Movie
The Rugrats Movie is a 1998 American animated film, produced by Klasky Csupo and Nickelodeon Movies. The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures and first released in theaters in the United States on November 20, 1998....

, it went into the theaters in Spring 1999. While the film did poorly with critics, it was a moderate box-office success.

Other times, a direct-to-video film may get a limited theatrical screening in order to build excitement for the actual release of the video such as was done for 2010's Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a 2010 original direct-to-video animated film released on February 23, 2010. It is based on the abandoned direct-to-video feature, Justice League: Worlds Collide, which was intended as a bridge between the then-concluding Justice League animated television...

and Planet Hulk
Planet Hulk (film)
Planet Hulk is a 2010 direct-to-video animated film created by Marvel Animation and released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment. It is based on the "Planet Hulk" storyline by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan.-Plot:...


Television spin-offs

Television spin-offs are animated or live action television series or made for television films which contain either characters or theme elements from an older series or film (Clerks: The Animated Series). While the most common examples of a television spin off are animated series there are also live action examples (Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Stargate: The Ark of Truth
Stargate: The Ark of Truth is a 2008 Canadian-American military science fiction film written and directed by Robert C. Cooper. The film is the conclusion of Stargate SG-1 Ori arc, and picks up after the SG-1 series finale, but takes place before the fourth season of Stargate Atlantis. The Ark of...

, Stargate: Continuum
Stargate: Continuum
Stargate: Continuum is a Canadian-American military science fiction film released through MGM Home Entertainment , written by Brad Wright and directed by Martin Wood. The film is a time-travel adventure and is the second sequel to Stargate SG-1, after Stargate: The Ark of Truth...

, and Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is an anthology show set in the Babylon 5 universe. It was announced by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, at the San Diego Comic Con in July 2006...


Some SpongeBob SquarePants
SpongeBob SquarePants
SpongeBob SquarePants is an American animated television series, created by marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg. Much of the series centers on the exploits and adventures of the title character and his various friends in the underwater city of "Bikini Bottom"...

DVD volumes contain episodes not yet aired in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Certain special episodes of Pokémon
is a media franchise published and owned by the video game company Nintendo and created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996. Originally released as a pair of interlinkable Game Boy role-playing video games developed by Game Freak, Pokémon has since become the second most successful and lucrative video...

 were released directly on video such as Pikachu’s Winter Vacation. Some Disney Channel
Disney Channel
Disney Channel is an American basic cable and satellite television network, owned by the Disney-ABC Television Group division of The Walt Disney Company. It is under the direction of Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney. The channel's headquarters is located on West Alameda Ave. in...

 shows, such as That's So Raven
That's So Raven
That's So Raven is an American cable television teen sitcom/fantasy series. The show premiered on the Disney Channel on January 17, 2003, and ended on November 10, 2007. The show spawned Disney Channel's first spin-off series: Cory in the House...

, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody is an American sitcom created by Danny Kallis and Jim Geoghan. The series premiered on Disney Channel on March 18, 2005 with 4 million viewers, making it the most successful premiere for Disney Channel in 2005. It was one of their first five shows available on the...

, Phil of the Future
Phil of the Future
Phil of the Future is an American situation comedy that originally aired on Disney Channel from June 18, 2004, to August 19, 2006 for a total of two seasons. The series was created by Tim Maile and Douglas Tuber and produced by 2121 Productions, a part of Brookwell McNamara Entertainment...

, and Lilo & Stitch: The Series
Lilo & Stitch: The Series
Lilo & Stitch: The Series is the animated television spinoff of the feature film, Lilo & Stitch and the follow-up to Stitch! The Movie.-Plot:...

have also had direct-to-video episodes. Some DVD volumes of The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time (TV series)
The Land Before Time is an animated television series, based on characters from The Land Before Time film series created by Judy Freudberg and Tony Geiss. It was developed for television by Ford Riley for Universal Animation Studios and Amblin Entertainment , and first premiered on YTV in Canada...

also contain episodes not yet aired in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 or Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...


"DVD Premiere"

As DVDs gradually replaced videocassettes, the term "direct-to-DVD" replaced "direct-to-video" in some instances. However, the word "video" does not necessarily refer to VHS
The Video Home System is a consumer-level analog recording videocassette standard developed by Victor Company of Japan ....

 cassettes. Many publications continue to use the term direct-to video for DVDs or Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Disc is an optical disc storage medium designed to supersede the DVD format. The plastic disc is 120 mm in diameter and 1.2 mm thick, the same size as DVDs and CDs. Blu-ray Discs contain 25 GB per layer, with dual layer discs being the norm for feature-length video discs...

s. The new term sometimes used is DVDP ("DVD Premiere"). Such films can cost as much as $20 million (about a third of the average cost of a Hollywood release) and feature actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg , professionally known as Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a Belgian martial artist and actor, best known for his martial arts action films, the most successful of which include Bloodsport , Kickboxer , Double Impact , Universal Soldier , Hard Target , Timecop ,...

, Steven Seagal
Steven Seagal
Steven Frederic Seagal is an American action film star, producer, writer, martial artist, guitarist and reserve deputy sheriff. A 7th-dan black belt in Aikido, Seagal began his adult life as an Aikido instructor in Japan...

, Wesley Snipes
Wesley Snipes
Wesley Trent Snipes is an American actor, film producer, and martial artist, who has starred in numerous action films, thrillers, and dramatic feature films. Snipes is known for playing the Marvel Comics character Blade in the Blade film trilogy, among various other high profile roles...

 and Cuba Gooding Jr.. Salaries for such actors range from $2 to $4 million (Van Damme) to $4.5 to $10 million (Seagal). According to Variety, American Pie: Band Camp
American Pie: Band Camp
#Andrew W.K. - "She Is Beautiful"#Breaking Benjamin - "Forget It"#Snow Patrol - "How To Be Dead"#Matt Nathanson - "Laid"#Treble Charger - "American Psycho"#Good Charlotte - "The Anthem"#Paul Locke - "Paul's Drums"#Jimmy Eat World - The Middle...

sold a million copies in one week, despite retaining only two actors from the original trilogy.

In recent years, DVD Premieres have become a substantial source of revenue for film studios. DVDPs have collectively grossed over $3 billion over the last few years, and have matured enough that DVDP divisions of studios now option their own films. Studios realized that DVDP films can be shot on a smaller budget, thus allowing studios larger profits with the combined revenues of home video sales and rentals, in addition to licensing films for television and for distribution abroad (where some DVDP films do see theatrical releases).

Distributing DVDPs is not a practice reserved solely for larger Hollywood studios. Several companies, such as The Asylum
The Asylum
The Asylum is an American film studio and distributor which focuses on producing low-budget, usually direct-to-video productions. The studio has produced titles that capitalize on productions by major studios; these titles have been dubbed "mockbusters" by the press.-History:The Asylum was founded...

, MTI Home Video
MTI Home Video
MTI Home Video is a United States-based movie distributor in the direct-to-video market. Typically, they will buy the distribution rights to independent films that did not see a theatrical run in the U.S., and be released directly to DVD....

, and York Entertainment distribute DVDPs almost exclusively. The budgets for films distributed by these companies are even smaller than those of ones distributed by a larger studio, but these companies are still able to profit off their sales.


Direct-to-iTunes is a online distribution method that avoids all upfront DVD production, marketing and distribution costs as well as upfront cinema distribution and marketing costs. It has revolutionized short film distribution and on occasion has been used for feature length
Feature length
Feature length is motion picture terminology referring to the length of a feature film. According to the rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a feature length motion picture must have a running time of more than 40 minutes to be eligible for an Academy Award.The term may also...

 films. Apple distributes the film for 30% of the revenue, while an additional 10-15% may go to the person who formats the film for iTunes compatibility. The first independently
Independent film
An independent film, or indie film, is a professional film production resulting in a feature film that is produced mostly or completely outside of the major film studio system. In addition to being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies, independent films are also produced...

 produced feature length motion picture to pursue the direct-to-iTunes marketing scheme was Ed Burns
Ed Burns
Ed Burns is a producer, screenwriter, and novelist. He has worked closely with writing partner David Simon. They have collaborated on The Corner and The Wire . Burns is a former Baltimore police detective for the Homicide and Narcotics divisions, and a public school teacher...

' Purple Violets
Purple Violets
Purple Violets is a relationship comedy written and directed by Edward Burns. It is an independent film, set in lower Manhattan, about four friends from college ready for change. It features Burns, Selma Blair, Patrick Wilson, and Debra Messing....

, which debuted on iTunes
iTunes is a media player computer program, used for playing, downloading, and organizing digital music and video files on desktop computers. It can also manage contents on iPod, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad....

 on November 20, 2007. It was the first feature length film to "premiere exclusively on iTunes". It was distributed exclusively on iTunes at a price of for a month before being made available through other distribution channels. The movie, which was produced at a cost of $4 million, had premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival
The Tribeca Film Festival is a film festival founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff in a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the consequent loss of vitality in the TriBeCa neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.The mission of the festival...

 in April, where it was reviewed positively, but only received modest distribution offers. At the time of the Purple Violets release, most studios were not distributing via iTunes early in the process and only Walt Disney Studios, which was the first movie studio
Movie studio
A movie studio is a term used to describe a major entertainment company or production company that has its own privately owned studio facility or facilities that are used to film movies...

 to distribute via iTunes, was distributing at iTunes simultaneously with DVD distribution. It was not very common for consumers to make digital movie purchases at the time. The Polish brothers
The Polish brothers
The Polish brothers are twin filmmakers named Mark Polish and Michael Polish. They began their film career with the 1999 Sundance debut of their first feature, Twin Falls Idaho....

' 2011 For Lovers Only
For Lovers Only (film)
For Lovers Only is a romance film directed by Michael Polish, written by Mark Polish and produced by The Polish brothers and Sean O'Grady. The film stars Stana Katic and Mark Polish. The film was expected to be released in theaters in the United States in June, but eventually adopted an online...

, which had virtually no production costs and was released to iTunes on July 12, is regarded as the first profitable feature length direct-to-iTunes product. The direct-to-iTunes method is also becoming common with both books and music.

When Purple Violets was released, several short films had already been distributed through iTunes. Previously, marketing of short films had been prohibitive. However, Apple distributed the February 25, 2007 79th Academy Awards
79th Academy Awards
The 79th Academy Awards ceremony , honored the best films of 2006 and took place on February 25, 2007 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on ABC. Ellen DeGeneres hosted the ceremony for the first time. The producer was Laura Ziskin. The announcers were Don LaFontaine and Gina Tuttle.The nominees were...

 nominees for the Animated Shorts, Live Action Shorts
Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film
This name for the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film was introduced in 1974. For the three preceding years it was known as "Short Subjects, Live Action Films." The term "Short Subjects, Live Action Subjects" was used from 1957 until 1970. From 1936 until 1956 there were two separate...

 and Documentary Shorts as well as half of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival is a film festival that takes place annually in Utah, in the United States. It is the largest independent cinema festival in the United States. Held in January in Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, as well as at the Sundance Resort, the festival is a showcase for new...

 shorts, beginning a new era.

The V-Cinema and OVA markets in Japan

In Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, direct-to-video titles referred to as "Original Video" (オリジナルビデオ) carry different connotations, being a niche product rather than a fallback. Despite having lower budgets than features intended for theater release, Japanese direct-to-video productions are rarely marred by the poor storyline and lower quality production often associated with the DTV market in the US. So-called V-Cinema
Japanese is the direct-to-video industry that appeared in Japan in the 1980s. The term is a trademark of Toei Company but is widely used in the West to describe any Japanese direct-to-video release. In Japan the term used is...

has more respect from the public, and affection from film directors for the greater creative freedoms the medium allows. DTV releases are subject to fewer content restrictions and less creative dictates than other formats.

In the case of anime
is the Japanese abbreviated pronunciation of "animation". The definition sometimes changes depending on the context. In English-speaking countries, the term most commonly refers to Japanese animated cartoons....

, this is called Original Video Animation (OVA or OAV), and their production values usually fall between those of television series and films. They are often used to tell stories too short to fill a full TV season, and were particularly common in the early 1990s. Sometimes OVAs garner enough interest to justify commissioning a full television series, such as Tenchi Muyo!
Tenchi Muyo!
, is a Japanese anime, light novel, and manga series created by Masaki Kajishima and Hiroki Hayashi.The generally accepted translation of the title is No Need for Tenchi or Useless Tenchi, though at the time of its appearance it was also translated variably as No Heaven and Earth and This Way Up...

, El Hazard, and Read or Die
Read or Die
is a series of light novels authored by Hideyuki Kurata, published under Shueisha's Super Dash Bunko imprint. Read or Die follows Yomiko Readman, codename "The Paper", an agent for the Special Operations Division of the British Library. There are currently 11 Read or Die novels. In volume 11, a...


With the advent of the 13 episode season format, OVAs are less common now. This is not to say that they are non-existent: for example, the Japanese anime series Elfen Lied
Elfen Lied
is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Lynn Okamoto. A thirteen-episode anime television series adaptation was produced by the studio ARMS and broadcast on TV Tokyo from July to October 2004. The anime was later licensed in North America on DVD by ADV Films...

 features 13 episodes and an OVA. The majority of OVAs released in today's market are usually continuations or reworkings of recently completed TV series. For instance, the DVD release of a TV series might include a bonus episode that was never broadcast as a sales hook.

See also

  • B film
  • Home video
    Home video
    Home video is a blanket term used for pre-recorded media that is either sold or rented/hired for home cinema entertainment. The term originates from the VHS/Betamax era but has carried over into current optical disc formats like DVD and Blu-ray Disc and, to a lesser extent, into methods of digital...

  • List of Disney direct-to-video films
  • Television film
  • V-Cinema
    Japanese is the direct-to-video industry that appeared in Japan in the 1980s. The term is a trademark of Toei Company but is widely used in the West to describe any Japanese direct-to-video release. In Japan the term used is...

  • :Category:Direct-to-video films for a list of Direct-to-video productions.

External links

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