Off Topic Messages

The cost of music on video DVD's

Sat Nov 26, 2005 11:56 pm

An interesting article:-

The song doesn't remain the same
Wonder why classic pop songs are missing from the DVD release of one's favorite TV show? The answer might be skyrocketing licensing fees.

By Bryan Reesman
Nostalgia sure isn't what it used to be. Imagine watching "Married ... With Children" without Frank Sinatra crooning the recognizable theme song. Ponder a pivotal moment in "Quantum Leap" forever altered because its requisite Ray Charles tune has been replaced. Consider revisiting an episode of "The Muppet Show," only to find that one's favorite musical number has been excised.

As far-fetched as these scenarios might sound, they are becoming a reality for vintage TV shows reissued on DVD. Licensing music for older programs is as pricey as obtaining tunes for new series, and the issue is forcing studios to make radical changes in order to feed the growing demand for TV product in the home-entertainment arena.

In the past year alone, the TV-on-DVD business has accounted for more than $2 billion in sales, and a report released by Merrill Lynch in 2004 suggested that that figure could reach $3.9 billion by 2008. With a number of recent releases flying off store shelves -- the first seasons of "Chappelle's Show," "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" have sold more than 1 million units each -- studios have been reaching into their vaults to resurrect shows including "All in the Family," "The Golden Girls" and "Magnum, P.I." to feed that seemingly-insatiable consumer appetite.

More often, though, skyrocketing music-clearance fees are becoming major stumbling blocks for DVD reissues, often delaying or even completely derailing releases. Take "WKRP in Cincinnati," for example: The 1970s sitcom used so much classic rock that it would cost 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment a mint to clear the tracks. TCFHE has suggested that it still is considering releasing "WKRP," but others are not optimistic that the comedy and similar shows of its kind will ever make it into the market.

"There are certain television shows that studios can't release because of what's contained on them," says Paul Brownstein, an award-winning DVD producer of classic CBS shows such as the "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Gunsmoke" and "The Twilight Zone." "'WKRP' will always be in limbo. It has the same problem as 'American Bandstand.' You (have to) pay a fee for the musical composition. For example, if Sonny and Cher sing 'I Got You Babe,' we have to license it from Warner Bros. or Warner Chappell, even though Sonny is the sole writer because there is a publishing company involved. If they're performing it on 'American Bandstand,' you'd have to license 'I Got You Babe' and then go to the record company and license the master recording, so there are double the music costs, which are high to begin with."

Brownstein notes an important distinction between clearing music for film and for television: For film, music is licensed in perpetuity for all media, including future TV broadcast. TV music is licensed for the original telecast.

With audio recordings, the government regulates a standard mechanical copyright fee for music publishers. "But with video, it's whatever they want to charge," Brownstein says. "There's no statutory rate set by the government. That's one of the reasons why these things are so expensive. Ninety percent of the time, there is no negotiation."

Fees for song usage range from $1,500-$15,000, with superstar tracks reaching up to $20,000-$25,000. That amount usually includes master rights for broadcast and most other media rights, with a time frame ranging from three years to perpetuity. An additional home video fee is equal to or greater than those quoted. Synchronization rights are negotiated separately, with master and sync rights usually split 50/50, unless the song is a cover -- a situation that favors the publisher.

The price tag for iconic, well-known tunes can be staggering: Tracks by the Who and the O'Jays, used in the opening credits of CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and NBC's "The Apprentice," respectively, generate six-figure deals annually.

Clearly, renegotiating licenses for classic songs on older shows can be daunting. "I'm working at licensing a product from one of the studios, and they have been able to give me artist clearance signoffs, but it's a variety program that contains 15 songs per show," says Jeff Hayne, director of acquisitions for BCI Eclipse. "I have not found any of the major publishing agencies willing to give any kind of deal to release the product, so I'm in the process of having my clearance house try to go out and find all of the different labels for all of these different artists to try to clear them individually."

The problem can be compounded by shows that have outdated publisher information or are missing clearance agreements or cue sheets identifying the songs used.

Trying to obtain music for certain shows can be so frustrating, says Hayne, that sometimes it is best to move on to the next project. He says that he passed on half a dozen titles this year, either at the outset or after doing some initial legwork. "It made it unrecoupable," Hayne recalls. "The cost of clearing the music often doubles the amount of units you've got to sell. Sometimes, it becomes impossible. The projections don't match what is currently happening on the charts."

Adds music supervisor Scott Edelman, whose credits include Fox's "Reunion" and NBC's "My Name Is Earl": "I've worked on quite a few shows that have been very music-intensive. It's always an issue when there is a lot of licensed music, and you get into executing video rights and video options. It can be very, very expensive. I know that some of the studios have chosen to do alternate DVD music and actually strip out some of the original music and replace it with less-expensive indie music."

For hard-core fans, the issue has become such a sticking point that many box sets now carry disclaimers on the packaging. "There was the big debacle with 'Quantum Leap: Season 2,'" recalls Gord Lacey, president and founder of the 4-year-old Web site "In the season finale, Al (Dean Stockwell) is dancing with his wife, and their song is supposed to be playing in the background, and it's changed. That was a very emotional scene for the series and one that a lot fans hold dear to their hearts. To change that song really upset people."

Since then, Lacey says, Universal Studios Home Entertainment DVDs include a disclaimer on the packaging; USHE's DVD of NBC's "Las Vegas" carries a message reading, "Music may differ from televised version." A similar disclaimer can be found on Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's DVD release of Season 3 of "Married."

"It actually says, 'Includes new opening theme song' right on the back of the package, and it's not in microscopic letters," Lacey says. "It's bigger than the text description of the season. Sony did it right. It's very clear that there's new music. Another Sony title, 'Dawson's Creek,' started using the international version of the theme song (with Season 3). It's a Jann Arden piece that was created specifically for the overseas airings of the show."

Adds Home Theater magazine convergence editor Chris Chiarella: "Anything with a famous theme song or a notable song score will lose a lot if not handled properly. I think that Universal did fans a great service in assuring that all of the original music in 'Miami Vice: Season 1' was preserved. A very different '80s show, 'Square Pegs,' also drew much of its charm from the music, and so I hope that this show will appear, but only if all of the original songs are intact."

While Chiarella feels that a change like the "Married" theme might be glaring to consumer viewers, he thinks the overall impact is small. "That segment of the market that knows the original product well enough to detect the difference is likely a small percentage, and I've never heard of anyone returning a DVD to the store because the music had been rescored," he says. Chiarella adds that fans now have more access to prerelease information via the Internet and can make informed choices about the TV series they will purchase.

And according to Lacey, some studios are adding their own spin to the music-substitution situation -- turning the new songs into a kind of bonus for consumers. "When you look at 'Dawson's Creek,' he says, "under Special Features, it says, 'Features brand-new music selected by the executive producer.' Now you're making changes to the original thing, but you're doing it with people behind the show (rather than) some studio person."

When studios opt to retain original music and pay the appropriate license fees, those costs often are passed along to the consumer. The star-studded Season 1 edition of the NBC series "American Dreams," billed as an "Extended Music Edition" (it contained some music substitutions), retails for $89.98. "Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series" and "Moonlighting: Seasons 1 and 2" both kept their original music at a final retail cost of $69.98 and $49.98, respectively.

"I'm sure that for the real hard-core fan, it's not easy to swallow, hearing a different song," Edelman says. "But I think it's weighing the difference between actually getting to own it on DVD or not."

Published Nov. 15, 2005

Sun Nov 27, 2005 2:23 am

If only the original performers were getting some of that money. Really I think it shows the greed of the publishers. They should be paid but not overpaid. The rights they are selling are not exclusive after all.

What always drives me crazy is when they won't license as useless song. The theme from "Josie and the Pussycats" for example. A few years ago, they made a big budget live action movie out of this '70s cartoon show. Yet the man who wrote the iconic theme song refused to license it for the movie. In what other context, is he going to get sell that song? It's hardly say "Stardust". The only use for that song is in that movie. Does he think another studio is going to come along and make another movie and offer him more?

Or how about "Startin' Tonight" from "Girl Happy"? This is a lame song. The only reason anyone wants to hear it in 2005 is because Elvis Presley sang it. There is no alternate situation where you could make any more on this song.

By the way, if film rights are purchased in perpetuity what happened to this?
Last edited by likethebike on Sun Nov 27, 2005 11:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

Sun Nov 27, 2005 5:28 am

likethebike wrote:By the way, if film rights are purchased im-pertuity what happened to this?

I think you mean "in perpetuity"? :) Anyway, from what I've read film rights often don't apply to a home dvd release and copyrights must be relicensed. Theatrical release is just that - for theatrical release. And tv broadcast rights are only for tv broadcast. And video is just for video.

Here is a chart of rights that may have to be relicensed for a dvd release (from article here:


Sun Nov 27, 2005 5:35 am

This article also explains some of the issues involved in a DVD release. I think it used to be on the board back before.... that thing happened. ;)

'Eyes on the Prize,' off the shelf

Due to copyright issues, the landmark civil rights documentary
can no longer be shown on television or released on DVD.

January 16, 2005
By Thom Powers, The Boston Globe

"EYES ON THE PRIZE,'' the epic 1986 documentary series on the civil rights movement, contains a scene showing Martin Luther King Jr. on his 39th birthday -- his last -- in 1968. King, who was trying to take on poverty and the Vietnam War simultaneously, was under tremendous stress at the time, and his staff sang ''Happy Birthday'' in an attempt to cheer him up.

But the producers of ''Eyes'' almost had to leave the scene out of the finished documentary. ''Happy Birthday,'' as it turns out, was copyrighted in 1935 and, following the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, will remain so until at least 2030. Filmmakers have been known to pay $15,000 to $20,000 for just one verse, according to a recent report on documentary clearances issued by the Center for Social Media.

The song ultimately stayed in the film, but don't plan on celebrating King's birthday tomorrow by going to your local video store to buy a copy of ''Eyes on the Prize.'' Thanks to rights restrictions on archival material used in the documentary, the 14-hour chronicle tracing the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycotts in the 1950s to the rise of black mayors in the 1980s can no longer be released in new editions or shown on television. PBS's right to air the film expired in 1993. Meanwhile, the VHS edition has gone out of print and a DVD release would require relicensing. (Complete sets of used videos are currently going for as much as $1,000 on Amazon.)

The problem goes beyond one documentary. ''We are crippling the story-telling of our own culture by the rigidity of our copyright interpretation,'' says Patricia Aufderheide, who cowrote the Center for Social Media report ''Untold Stories,'' available at

When executive producer Henry Hampton and his Boston-based company Blackside began making ''Eyes on the Prize'' in the 1980s, they faced a particularly complex tangle of copyright issues on photographs, TV news footage, and songs beyond what most documentarians face. Since Hampton's death in 1998, at age 58, a group of his former colleagues have been seeking ways to renew the expired licensing agreements and get the program back on the air and into classrooms. Last year the Ford Foundation, one of the series' original funders, made a $65,000 grant to assess the needs of restoring master tapes, securing new licenses, and, if necessary, re-editing the program to remove images and music that can't be cleared.

''The majority of licensors have been hugely cooperative,'' says Sandy Forman, an attorney for Blackside who's overseeing the project. ''One major music licensor has been a holdout. We're optimistic that they will see the light.''

Wired News, which first reported the initiative last month, cited an outside estimate that it would cost nearly $500,000 to secure the rights. Forman says such estimates are premature until her team concludes its research next month. ''Our goal is to clear rights in perpetuity,'' she says. ''Whether we can do that is unclear, [but] we're optimistic.''

Rena Kosersky, the series' music rights supervisor, is currently researching what it will take to re-clear 130 other copyrighted songs in the series, including Ray Charles' ''What'd I Say,'' Bob Dylan's ''Blowin' in the Wind'' and -- ironically -- Berry Gordy's ''Money'' (that's what the publishers want). ''Music was a part of the movement in a way that you cannot separate,'' says Kosersky. (As Bernice Johnson Reagon, formerly a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's Freedom Singers, recalls in one episode, during the thick of the struggle ''there was more singing than talking.'')

The Ford-funded group hopes to raise funds to get the series back in circulation by 2006 for the 20th anniversary of ''Eyes on the Prize,'' forging ahead in the spirit of another civil rights anthem, ''We Shall Overcome'' -- which is also under copyright.

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.

Sun Nov 27, 2005 11:16 am

Just fixed it Eileen. Sorry for the Beaver Cleaverism.

Sun Nov 27, 2005 12:00 pm

likethebike wrote:Just fixed it Eileen. Sorry for the Beaver Cleaverism.

Is that a thing?

Sun Nov 27, 2005 12:11 pm

Well on the program the kid is famous for butchering the English language. My faux pas therefore reminded me of something the Beaver would write.