Sony Pictures Television bypasses broadcast networks

In another example of the shifting quicksand of the television distribution business, Sony Pictures Television has launched a new production division that will distribute original television programming directly to home viewers on DVD.

It's the first time a major Hollywood television production studio will sell premium programming directly to consumers. No television networks or stations will be involved in the distribution.

Even the distribution methods may be unique, with the new studio exploring such ideas as enclosing DVDs in magazines or breakfast cereal boxes. The goal of the project is for the studio to find new ways to reach consumers directly.

Culver Entertainment, the name for the new division, will launch with an animated version of Spider-Man, Daily Variety reported. Culver will produce 13 half-hour segments of the cartoon, which will be released on DVD next year.

Sony Pictures Television president Steve Mosko said that Culver projects would be distributed internationally to run on television, including Sony's own channels. However, in the United States, projects that break out could be sold to other platforms, such as broadcast, cable, syndication or even online outlets.

Testing the direct-to-consumer market was a natural for Sony Pictures TV, Mosko told Variety, given its status as a studio not aligned with any TV network. Without that direct pipeline, the company was looking for alternative means to distribute “ideas that we were passionate about.”

Meanwhile, Sony is talking to advertisers about various partnerships to further cover some of the costs of producing the DVDs. And it's still experimenting with broadband as another means of distribution.