TV networks now sell programming online ahead of DVD releases

In a new shift in the home video industry, television networks have begun selling their programming online ahead of their Blu-ray and DVD releases.

Showtime has begun selling previously aired episodes of its show “Weeds” on Apple’s iTunes before their release on packaged DVDs. This breaks with a long tradition of often holding back on Internet releases of whole seasons or movies before physical copies appear.

Many TV networks release new episodes through online services the day after airing but seldom release complete packages ahead of time. The new trend emerged several weeks after Sony began offering a movie on networked TVs about a month ahead of the retail release.

These and other efforts are believed to be a concession to a sudden shift away from DVD format, which has been a staple of the video industry for a decade. During the recent after-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales — normally a high point for movie purchases — DVD sales slipped about 8 percent. Blu-ray and online downloads made up the difference in sales.

Analysts believe convenience and image quality have become greater factors in video purchasing habits. As more movies come online and Internet connections become fast enough to download full-length titles, customers are avoiding physical copies of media.

The emergence of Internet-connected Blu-ray players, TVs and networked media devices like the Apple TV, LG BD390 and Xbox 360 have also meant that significantly more potential DVD buyers already have a source for Internet video at their TV than they had a year ago.