BBC Video Abandons the Colonies to Mediocre British Television; Fails to Release Civilisation on DVD in US

Media companies are incredibly arrogant and condescending to the people who keep them in business buy buying their music and videos. Perhaps that explains why people don’t feel guilty about downloading music from the Internet.

Here’s a real example of the lack of responsiveness you get from the custoidans of culture:

For some inexplicable reason vaguely hidden behind claims that there is insufficient customer demand, the BBC has failed to release a DVD version of the award-winning Civlisation: A Personal View series that appeared on PBS in the United States more than 30 years ago.

The 13-part series of lectures, based on Lord Kenneth Clarke’s highly praised book of the same name, is available in the US only on VHS cassette. The four-cassette series retails for about $100, but a search of web video merchants indicates that the DVD version of the series is only available encoded for “Region 2” — or the UK. There is no “Region 1” version of the DVD available, and the BBC’s customer service has been somewhat evasive about why it has not made DVDs available in the States.

Here’s the email I received from BBC when I first raised the question with them:

—–Original Message—–
From: []
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 11:03 AM
Subject: I am Looking for a Specific Product

Thank you for your comments. We try to release the most popular titles
first, based on feedback from our customers; unfortunately we have not
received many requests for “Civilisation” by Kenneth Clark. I will
forward your email onto our Home Video Department.
We appreciate your taking the time to contact us at
Kind regards,

I wrote back:

—–Original Message—–
From: Steve Lubetkin []
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 11:20 AM
To: Customer Service
Subject: RE: I am Looking for a Specific Product

I’m shocked. All the email traffic I see at Amazon and elsewhere about the
VHS set always asks, “Why isn’t this available on DVD?”
In the US, Civilisation is a classic of PBS. We desperately need a DVD
version in your catalog that can be played on DVD machines in the US.

Dan’s response:

—–Original Message—–
From: Daniel Behalf Of
Customer Service
Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2005 11:34 AM
To: Steve Lubetkin
Subject: RE: I am Looking for a Specific Product

Hi Steve,
Please except my apologies, I wish I had better news for you then I do but
at the moment “Civilisation” is in the hands of licensing and rights so hopefully any issues attached to this title will be resolved so all fans can enjoy this great program. In the
meantime I will pass your email onto our Home Video team.

When I reiterated to Dan that there seemed to be strong interest in the US, and offered to start a letter-writing campaign, his response was:

Unfortunately a flood of emails will have little impact, our Home Video
Department is aware of the interest in this title but cannot move forward at
the moment. I will definitely reiterate that there is big interest in the
DVD format.

There has been no comment from the Home Video team at BBC since this email exchange took place in February.

Today, another Civilsation fan, Steve Wolf, shared with me the following email he wrote to BBC:

—–Original Message—–
From: Steven M. Wolf, Esq []
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2005 1:42 PM
Subject: Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation on DVD

I have been advised, from the response I received from Daniel Dowling’s
e-mail address, to direct my message to your address.
I discovered on a comment from a devoted Civilisation fan that
Mr. Dowling had informed him there is not enough interest in providing us in
the US a properly-encoded DVD version of Civilisation. I have been waiting
for years for such a product, and my comments appear among Amazon’s reviews
of the VHS release. If Mr. Dowling’s message to the individual who inquired
is accurate, why do you find that the UK deserves a DVD version and we do
not? What exactly are your product researchers looking at? I am amazed
that you can reach such a decision, especially considering the large volume
of inferior programming we have no problem at all buying over here. Have
you at the BBC simply decided that Civilisation won’t make enough cash over
I find the lack of a US-encoded Civilisation DVD to be absolutely baffling.
I feel the same about the lack of a US-encoded Ascent of Man. Both are, in
my mind, the best of the best from the BBC. Please do not advise me to be
satisfied with the VHS version. We both know the limited life such products
I have owned and enjoyed BBC videos for years. More recently, I have
purchased DVD products as well. However, if you have decided not to provide
US customers with a DVD version of Civilisation (or The Ascent of Man, for
that matter, which I also know UK customers will be offered soon), then I
have purchased my last product from you, and will advise friends with
similar cultural tastes to do the same.
The favor of a reply is requested.
Steven M. Wolf

Why does BBC refuse to explain why there is no US DVD version of Civilisation? We have to put up with the other rubbish they ship over among the gems, but when there is true quality programming, we can’t get it in the format we want. Why?


  1. I agree with you completely. However one solution is to buy a dvd player that can be encoded to read region 2 products. I have one made by Phillips, it cost well under 100 (about 70 if I recall correctly) and while the documentation itself didn’t tell how to re-code it (choosing Region “0”–that is zero lets one play both US and GB dvds) I found directions on a web site through Google. I have played several GB purchased dvds with nary a problem. The main current hangup is that the dollar is so low compared to the pound that GB purchased dvds are expensive. (However shipping from and those listed in Amazon is quite moderate.)

  2. The sales to US college and university libraries by themselves should justify the DVD Region I release of The Ascent of Man and Civilization. After all, it’s our civilization, too.

  3. Here posts another distressed would-be U. S. purchaser of a Civilization series DVD. Having recently watched my old VHS copy of the series, I find that I appreciate Clark’s wonderful series more now than in hectic pre-retirement days. At least three families who not get the gift of “Civilization” this year because there is no U. S. DVD. Tom Shuford, Lenoir, NC

  4. THE FATE OF “CIVLIZATION”UPDATE FOR ALL INTERESTED IN PERSUADING THE BBC TO PRODUCE A DVD OF KENNETH CLARK’S “CIVILIZATION” SERIES IN AN AMERICAN DVD FORMATI got the idea to call the British Embassy hoping to locate someone with clout in a cultural affairs office. I was directed to call BBC-Home Video in NY and speak with an assistant there, Tuhin Menon, who would, I was told, know with whom to speak. I called Menon (212-705-9323). He seemed eager to connect me with the appropriate person. (Her name escapes me: I should have made sure I could pronounce it). I had a sense from Menon that I was about to speak with a key decision-maker. Alas, she was not in. I left a voice message, which somehow did not seem effective. If I do not hear in a week, I may try again. I am sharing these details and the number in case anyone wishes to give this project a try. There are probably far better sales people — and there may be strength in numbers. BBC-HOME Video, NY — Tuhin Menon (assistant) — 212-705-9323 Tom ShufordLenoir, NCPS: The fate of “Civilization” is in the balance.

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