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Animated shows produced for the direct-to-video market, almost universally abbreviated "OVA" or "OAV" (for "original animated video"), and more rarely OAD (same for DVD). The term is almost always associated with Anime; however, this form of storytelling is beginning to become popular in the anglosphere with recent animation based on comic characters and TV shows. Unfortunately, these still labour under the shadow of the term "Direct-to-Video".
While the terms "direct-to-video" and "direct-to-DVD" have negative overtones, essentially being synonyms for shovelware in the United States, "OVA" has almost exactly the opposite connotation. This partially arises from the view that Western "direct-to-video" releases are not good enough (or too explicit) for theaters; OVAs, on the other hand, are seen as a step up from regular television production. Because the production house need not adhere to the rapid-fire schedule or constrained budget of a TV series or feature-length film, more effort and care can be applied to an OVA, resulting in a much higher level of quality.
Additionally, since OVAs aren't aired to the public, Getting Crap Past the Radar is a moot point, which allows shows for older audiences to avoid ducking more mature subject matter. (On the flip side, the vast majority of Hentai series are produced and released as OVAs, just like much live-action pornography is released directly to video or disc formats.) Given the general lack of a clear-cut production schedule, the time duration of an OVA is rather varied — some are 26 minutes long, while others are 60 - 80 minutes, but the idea of an OVA being up to two hours long is uncommon.
There are some caveats to the increased freedom, though. OVAs are often produced "on speculation", with no guarantee that the story they tell will ever be completed — and many are not. At least one OVA series ends with a plaintive plea for more money so the creators can continue making the show. However, even this is not always a guarantee - the Hellsing OVA series is going on as strong as ever.
One trend which has become evident recently is the continuation of broadcast television series in OVA form after they complete their initial run. The aforementioned lack of broadcast standards also allows writers to work in anything they couldn't put into the original TV show. Inversely, the exposure of a broadcast initial run may be a lure for viewer interest in the less censored, more serious story continuing on disc.
OVAs were most common in the 1980s and 1990s, during which many well-known series were released in this fashion. With the recent rise of Twelve-Episode Anime series as an alternate short format, as well as streaming video over the Internet, OVAs have become somewhat less frequent, though by no means extinct, as evidenced by the Hellsing mentioning alone.