Best Buy’s Entertainment ‘Switch’

NEWS ANALYSIS – Best Buy has been a go-to retail source for consumer electronics and household appliances – but less so for home entertainment. That changed in 2017.

The Minneapolis, Minn.-based company, which operates about 1,500 stores nationwide, reported a 12.6% increase in same-store entertainment sales through Feb. 3, 2018.

“Comparable sales gain was driven primarily by gaming hardware,” Best Buy said in the fiscal 10Q report.

A notable turnaround from fiscal 2016 (ended Jan. 28, 2017), which saw nearly 14% drop in entertainment sales – driven by declines in sales of video games, music CDs and movie DVDs due to continued industry softness.

Packaged media’s decline at Best Buy has been ongoing for years. CEO Hubert Joly cut back shelf space on DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies shortly after joining the retail chain in 2012.

Billboard earlier this year reported Target would begin selling packaged media on consignment basis instead of buying wholesale from distributors. Best Buy, it said, would phase out packaged music from stores.

So, what prompted Best Buy’s entertainment redux? Long-lost video game manufacturer Nintendo, which jumpstarted its relevance March 3, 2017 with the launch of the Switch platform and related software.

Switch help Nintendo generate $9.2 billion in revenue in 2017 – up 172% from 2016, with Switch hardware accounting for 60% of sales, according to industry data. That compared to 34% of PlayStation hardware revenue for Sony and 26% for Microsoft’s Xbox platform.

“Most remarkable is that Nintendo generated these revenues with hardware and full-game sales only,” video game research firm Newzoo said in a statement.

Indeed, Best Buy saw entertainment revenue top 8% ($3 billion) of domestic revenue, up from 7% ($2.5 billion) in 2016.

“It’s all related to Switch,” said Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

 

TiVo Inks License Deal with Starz

Home entertainment technology pioneer TiVo April 3 said it signed a long-term intellectual property license agreement with Starz.

Lionsgate-owned Starz is acquiring a license to the TiVo patent portfolios and over-the-top video assets of the “intellectual ventures” patent portfolio under the TiVo/IV licensing partnership.

“This agreement emphasizes the importance of TiVo’s patent portfolios, especially for companies who are working to keep up with rapid developments and changes in the OTT video space,” Arvin Patel, EVP and chief intellectual property officer, Rovi Corp., a TiVo company, said in a statement.

TiVo, which created the digital video recorder market in 1999, has spent decades investing in R&D to enhance digital distribution technologies for the media and entertainment industry.

In 2016, Rovi acquired TiVo for $1.1 billion, incorporating the TiVo name as its new corporate identity. Between the two companies, they reportedly hold more than 6,000 patents used in practically every aspect of consumers’ day-to-day interaction with their entertainment.

“By leveraging [our] innovations, TV networks and other OTT [distributors] can quickly strengthen or upgrade the entertainment experiences they provide and in turn, spend more time and energy focused on other business priorities,” Patel said.

Indeed, patent litigation has proved to be a lucrative side business for TiVo. The company has been awarded by courts more than $1 billion in patent settlements through 2012.

Earlier this year, TiVo filed a lawsuit against Comcast, alleging the pay-TV operator’s X1 set-top infringes technology invented and patented by Rovi, including pausing and resuming shows on different devices, restarting programs in progress, advanced DVR recording features, and advanced search and voice functionality.

Fox: Disney Could Buy Sky News Separately

Media giant 21st Century Fox April 3 floated the prospect The Walt Disney Co. could acquire Sky News in an independent deal to assuage British regulators in its $16 billion acquisition for the remaining 61% stake of the European satellite operator.

Disney’s acquisition of Sky’s news division would be separate from its $52 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film Corp., which includes the corporate parent’s stake in Sky, according to The Wall Street Journal. Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch owns The Journal.

British regulator Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in January issued a report critical of the merger, claiming Murdoch’s majority ownership of Sky would place too much (i.e. conservative politics) control of British media in hands of one person.

Fox contends selling Sky News to Disney (which owns ABC TV) should alleviate regulatory concerns. It has also pledged 15 years of guaranteed funding for the news division.

“The enhanced remedies we proposed to safeguard the editorial independence of Sky News addressed comprehensively and constructively the [CMA’s] provisional concerns,” Fox said in a statement.

Regardless, Fox faces competition from Comcast, which has submitted an unsolicited $31 billion bid for Sky – nearly twice that of Murdoch’s offer.

Comcast, which owns NBC Universal and DreamWorks Animation, is eying Sky for its European distribution plans. Comcast in 2004 attempted a hostile takeover of Disney, which was scuttled by the latter’s shareholders. Comcast also reportedly offered a 15% premium on Disney’s bid for 20th Century Fox, which was rejected by Murdoch over U.S. regulatory concerns.

 

While the City Sleeps

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Ida Lupino, George Sanders, Vincent Price, John Barrymore Jr.

Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps was the first movie I ever saw by a director in Andrew Sarris’ Pantheon who wasn’t named John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock, though Lang was getting along by 1956, and in fact made only one subsequent American movie. That would be the same year’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, which Warner Archive is concurrently releasing on Blu-ray as well — though I’ve never liked it as much as Sleeps by a long shot, even if it’s much preferable to the somewhat refashioned Michael Douglas-Amber Tamblyn remake that deservedly went direct to video. Out of a cannon.

I first caught the Sleeps trailer right after I’d turned 9 and knew that this was a movie for me: A greasy serial killer (John Barrymore Jr.) strangles women in their New York apartments and leaves taunting clues after his crime, the most revealing of which is his writing of “Ask Mother” on the wall of the first victim we see. Because I was visiting my grandparents at the time, it was easier to feign it 400 Blows or Day for Night flashback style that I was running off to catch a kiddie matinee — when, in fact, the bill was Sleeps and a British RKO ‘B’ (The Brain Machine), which also looked and sounded essential formative years material.

Sleep was a new kind of movie for me, and after this, Disney kids’ stuff like, say, The Littlest Outlaw just wasn’t going to cut it. Lang’s wall-to-wall tawdriness also served as my first newspaper movie, pretty sure — and even more of one than it was a serial killer melodrama because there’s still 15 or so minutes of narrative to go after the killer is caught. As my first look at big-city journalism (aside from watching Walter Winchell bark on TV), I was impressed by how much everyone in the picture drank. There’s even a drunk scene here by real-life alcoholic lead Dana Andrews to compound the 80-proof ambience, though this is subtext I wouldn’t have appreciated at the time.

Even at a reasonable 99 minutes, Sleeps gets ground down by a clunky boilerplate romance between Pulitzer-winning print newshound/TV commentator Andrews and co-worker Sally Forrest — though it isn’t exactly without interest that he basically would end up using his pert girlfriend as bait for the killer. But at its best, this is a fitfully entertaining portrayal of corporate backstabbing in the kind of burgeoning media complex that gets bonus points for anticipating today’s conglomerates — one of multiple components that made Lang’s cheapie with name (sometimes fading-name) cast a little ahead of it time.

Another of these is the narrative’s prevailing luridness despite a screenplay by the normally tasteful Casey Robinson (here adapting a Charles Einstein novel) — with blatant adultery, imbibings and mildly graphic killings that would be far more common just a couple years later on screen yet here results in a surprisingly randy movie for 1956. Another is its grabber of an extended pre-credits sequence, which was something still fairly rare in the days when Robert Aldrich (whose early films almost always had them) had only a handful of big-screen credits to his name. There’s also a mild hint that broadcast news might be the division that inherited the Earth when it came to journalistic corporate bucks. And though it opened in May 1956 — in the same five-day period that also saw the launches of The Searchers and The Man Who Knew Too Much; you think movies are better today? — someone here was topically savvy enough to make Barrymore’s hood-ish killer resemble Elvis (though Gene Vincent would be an even closer comparison).

So here’s the deal. When the conglomerate’s aged founder dies — his makeshift hospital bed is actually in the office just yards from reporters’ typewriters and Andrews’ broadcast studio — his useless son (Vincent Price, perfect casting) has to take a few hours away from his polo ponies and actually try to run the joint. His solution is to create a new top-dog position and set up a cutthroat competition to get it; the candidates are an old-school print type played by Thomas Mitchell with more ink in his veins than even the internal booze that flowed through his tributaries in Stagecoach); wire service chief George Sanders; and photographer James Craig, who gets kind of sweaty every time he sees Rhonda Fleming (so did my dad). She plays Price’s wife, and it turns out the two are having an affair, even though Craig and Price are nominal buddies. It doesn’t on the face of it sound like a durable long-term strategy with which to land the gig.

Less of a factor here in these machinations is Andrews, who’s more preoccupied with catching the killer with the aid of an old cop buddy (Howard Duff) and also getting Forrest into the sack — the latter a tough order in ’50s Hollywood (the movie wasn’t that advanced). This situation is a point of consternation with Ida Lupino (she plays what newspaper pics used to call a “sob sister’), who comes off as not just enamored with Andrews but so man-hungry that you can almost imagine her taking up with Barrymore were he something more than a drugstore delivery boy who lives at home with … well, mother.

Too many of the scenes are flat, and the office settings are closer to Ed Wood than Trump Enterprises in their drabness, but every once in a while Lang comes up with a shot or full scene that crackles. The opening set-up is very punchy, and there’s a visual that I never forgot from my childhood: Fleming doing stretching exercises behind an opaque portable barrier that suggests a nude state — and then continuing the process while standing in a circle of sand that’s a) either supposed to give her bare feet the feel of the beach; or b) serve as a practice sand trap for Price’s indoor golf putting (you sense that out on the links, most of his Titleists likely end up in one).

The printing source here seems uneven, which means that Sleeps in high-def isn’t as snappy-looking as other Warner Archive Blu-rays, though it’s at minimum a cut above the old Image laserdisc, Warner DVD and even (if memory serves) a 35mm print I ran at the AFI Theater. To compound the casting amusements here, Barrymore’s not quite doddering mother (who dressed him as a girl during childhood) is played by D.W. Griffith star Mae Marsh, who had a long post-silent career in small roles for John Ford (a lot) and others. The segue from The Birth of a Nation to being cast as the mother of a psychopathic Elvis knockoff in the ’50s isn’t one I’d have predicted — but then, who would have anticipated Sylvia Sidney ending up with Tim Burton for Beetlejuice and Mars Attacks!, ack! ack!?

Mike’s Picks: ‘While the City Sleeps’ and ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’

Mike’s Picks: ‘While the City Sleeps’ and ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’

While the City Sleeps

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Ida Lupino, George Sanders, Vincent Price, John Barrymore Jr.
1956. Even at a reasonable 99 minutes, Fritz Lang’s newspaper crime drama While the City Sleeps gets ground down by a clunky boilerplate romance between Pulitzer-winning print newshound/TV commentator Dana Andrews and co-worker Sally Forrest — though it isn’t exactly without interest that he basically would end up using his pert girlfriend as bait for a greasy serial killer who strangles women in their New York apartments.
Read the Full Review

Don’t Bother to Knock

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisa Cook Jr.
1952. Filmed on three or four simple sets and clocking in at just 76 minutes, Don’t Bother to Knock is an unusual movie for Marilyn Monroe to have made just as she was on the brink of superstardom.
Extras: Julie Kirgo provides another of her well-researched Twilight Time essays.
Read the Full Review

Don’t Bother to Knock

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Drama;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisa Cook Jr. 

Filmed on three or four simple sets and clocking in at just 76 minutes, Don’t Bother to Knock is an unusual movie for Marilyn Monroe to have made just as she was on the brink of the Twentieth Century-Fox superstardom that was obviously on Darryl Zanuck’s mind (along with, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear, one of two other things). Though professionally speaking, Julie Kirgo notes in another of her well-researched Twilight Time essays, that he did make Monroe test for the part, a lesson that one wonders if he forgot when it came to Bella Darvi.

Knock was one five movies that marked Monroe’s 1952 output — along with two Fox comedies, a cameo in the opening segment of the studio’s all-star anthology O. Henry’s Full House and a loan-out to RKO for Clash by Night. Though the last was a drama, she didn’t have to carry large chunks of it, but in Knock, she has to bring off a case of frightening bonker-dom brought on by her lover’s death — an emotional condition that ends up threatening a child’s life.

It’s a somnambulant performance somewhere between effective and one she gets away with — though some will tell you that I’m underrating it, and possibly so. Call Monroe’s approach a second cousin, say, to Kim Novak’s deadpanned dialogue deliveries in Vertigo, though the passage of time has pretty well rendered Novak’s turn a complete success, no matter how she and Alfred Hitchcock got there. Monroe, of course, just got better as she aged, which more people should have told her at the time.

The surprise for me here (or at least something I’d forgotten) is how sympathetic lead Richard Widmark’s characterization is — as an edgy guy not exactly imaginable as, say, some neighbor’s backyard-barbecue invitee but one who ends up being sincerely moved by Monroe’s plight. This unlikely duo gets thrown together because her elevator-operator uncle (Elisha Cook Jr., getting a little extra something out of his role) has ill-advisedly elected to set her up as a one-shot babysitter in the hotel that employs him, not long after she’s been released (too soon) from an institution. After squabbling with his hotel chanteuse squeeze (Anne Bancroft in her feature debut, a component that’s not without interest itself) over his lack of commitment, Widmark sees Monroe through an adjacent hotel window and thinks her might get lucky with her as a one-night companion.

Well, she does have a bottle of booze plus some glasses in the room — but also a younger girl (Donna Corcoron, real-life sister of Kevin “Moochie” Corcoron and Noreen Corcoron of Bachelor Father), who is probably going to be traumatized by what happens or at least have some good material later in life if she ever decides to become a short-story author. The kid’s parents (Lurene Tuttle and Jim Backus in a tux) are no further away than downstairs for dad to get some kind of award involving his newspaper career, but the evening didn’t exhaust Tuttle’s in-room perfume supply, which means there’s some for Monroe to apply (so much of it that Widmark immediately notices). Alcohol, perfume … say, what else can Monroe make hers? Well, there’s always Tuttle’s negligee to put on for much of the movie’s running time — and with its owner just a few floors away, and you just know that no good is come of this. No one ever talks about this, but I think one of the most compelling angles of this story is poor Uncle Elisa learning that no good deed goes unpunished. You have to believe that this longtime employee with the corny jokes (he says his job has “its ups and downs”) is going to get canned after what eventually happens and that his resumé won’t have a very satisfactory answer to the question: “Reason for leaving last job.”

Fox was obviously trying to figure out what to do with Bancroft: She’s a singer here, then did a commercially DOA Sol Hurok biopic (Tonight We Sing), and then there was Gorilla at Large, whose lunacy was possibly a good warm-up for enjoying a happy real-life marriage with Mel Brooks. Despite her presence and that of a lot of welcomely familiar faces, this is Widmark, Monroe and Cook all the way.

Yet let it be said that the faces include the ever ubiquitous Willis Bouchey, who must have fought it out with rank Ferguson and Ray Teal for the “hardest-working white man in show business”; December Bride’s Verna Felton as an ancient biddie — and one who shares a frame with Monroe for contrasting views of womanhood; Joan Blondell’s real-life sister Gloria, who played “Honeybee” on TV’s The Life of Riley; and even the actor who played the police pathologist on the first go-round of “Dragnet” and eyeballed the gradations on the bullets dug out of the human versions of Joe Friday’s workday.

So as Kirgo notes, the result is “unexceptional if always entertaining.” Future Peckinpah right hand Lucian Ballard shot it (no Verna Felton in those collaborations), and the director was Roy Baker (aka Roy Ward Baker), whose later bragging rights over The One That Got Away, A Night to Remember and Quatermass and the Pit just by themselves made him more than a journeyman. And for a movie that’s relatively obscure, I’ve run into not a few people who harbor kind of toasty feelings for it and its sympathetic treatment of mental illness (and, of course, Monroe’s mother spent a lot of time I institutions).

This said, the reviews at the time were only fair, and in the capital city that would soon be my home turf, one of the downtown movie palaces bolstered the bill (or tried to) by adding Models, Inc., with Howard Duff (he’s back), Coleen Gray and — deep down in the cast — Joe E. Ross (hey, I think I’d like to see this). To bolster the Blu-ray, Twilight Time has also included the Richard Widmark “Biography” episode that they’ve issued before and another from that same Fox-associated TV series, this time devoted to Monroe. It gets into the actress’s marriages and, of course, her once famous battles with her home studio — though there’s not even a still photo from MGM’s The Asphalt Jungle to mark how important John Huston’s best movie was to the breakthrough part of her career.

Mike’s Picks: ‘While the City Sleeps’ and ‘Don’t Bother to Knock’

Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner Coming May 22 on Blu-ray, Digital from Sony

A Fantastic Woman, the Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film and the first Chilean movie to win an Oscar, will be released on Blu-ray and digital May 22 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film stars Daniela Vega (the first transgendered Oscar presenter in history) in the story of a young transgender aspiring singer who must confront society and her older lover’s family when he dies unexpectedly.
Special features include “The Making of A Fantastic Woman” featurette and an audio commentary with director Sebastián Lelio.

The film also won Best International Film at the 33rd Independent Spirit Awards, won Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival and was named one of the Top Five Foreign Language Films by the National Board of Review.

ESPN+ Streaming Service Launching April 12

ESPN+, Disney’s much-anticipated first standalone over-the-top video service, is launching April 12, priced at $4.99 per month. ESPN+ will be an integrated part of a redesigned ESPN App, also available through ESPN.com.

“ESPN was built on a belief in innovation and the powerful connection between sports and a remarkable array of fans. That same belief is at the heart of ESPN+ and the new ESPN App,” James Pitaro, president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks, said in a statement.

The OTT platform is the first direct-to-consumer service offering from Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, the newly-created multimedia unit created by Disney’s Media Networks and Studio Entertainment groups.

A Disney-branded direct-to-consumer service, offering SVOD viewing of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm movies along with a host of exclusive content, will launch in late 2019. Both streaming services are powered by BAMTech, a unit of Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

“The launch of ESPN+ marks the beginning of an exciting new era of innovation for our media businesses – one defined by an increasingly direct and personal relationship with consumers,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Co.

The ESPN+ programming lineup will offer four key pillars of content: live sports events, original shows and films, exclusive studio programs, and on-demand content. Additional details about content in the ESPN+ programming lineup will be announced in the coming days.

Analyst Calls Appeals Court’s Gambling Decision ‘Dangerous Precedent’ for Online Video Games

Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a lower court ruling that found free-to-play online video games don’t constitute gambling under Washington state law.

Specifically, the appeals court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, who had spent $1,000 on “coins” on a virtual casino slot game to extend play. Players are provided a number of free coins daily but can purchase additional coins to extend play within a 24-hour period.

That payment option, according to the appeals court, held “intrinsic value,” and constituted gambling under state law.

To Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, the decision has ramifications for free-to-play online video games that allow players additional turns for a fee.

Activision’s King Casino generated nearly $2 billion in revenue in 2017, including a $1 billion in the U.S. Most of the revenue coming from the purchase of “boosters” in games, which accelerate the solving of the particular game or extending play.

Zynga generated $850 million in revenue, with an estimated $400 million coming from the purchase of time-saving options.

“Should the Circuit Court’s decision be applied in other states, these companies may face a series of lawsuits,” Pachter wrote in an April 2 note.

The analyst expects the latest decision to be appealed by a “more rationale” court that does not render value on virtual video game pieces.

“However, until that happens, there is some risk that Activision and Zynga will see increased legal risk to their ongoing operations in Washington state,” Pachter wrote. “Should other states decide to cite the [lower court] decision as precedent, we may see an uptick in legal activity elsewhere.”

Redbox Partners with Mediamorph to Expand Digital Footprint

Redbox April 2 announced an agreement with cloud-based software company Mediamorph to help expand its digital distribution of movies and video games.

Last December, Redbox bowed Redbox On Demand, a transactional VOD platform available on the Redbox website, the Redbox app for Android and iOS-enabled devices, as well as Apple TV, Chromecast, LG and Samsung Smart TVs and Roku.

“We sought out a partner to help streamline our avails management, content ordering and pricing management processes,” Lowell Bike, director of product management at Redbox, said in a statement. “By leveraging Mediamorph’s cloud solution and industry-specific systems, we can seamlessly scale our content offering and ramp up to support consumer demand.”

Mediamorph CEO Rob Gardos said Redbox would now be able to “quickly scale,” bringing more content and the right mix of offers to consumers.

“We … look forward to helping the company add even more titles to the Redbox On Demand offering,” he said.

Privately-held Redbox continues to rent DVD, Blu-ray Disc movies and video games through a nationwide network of more than 41,500 kiosks.