RLJE’s Johnson Tells Entertainment Industry to Embrace Technology and Consumer Choice

Fresh off the news of AMC Networks buying a majority interest in his company RLJ Entertainment, BET founder Bob Johnson exhorted the audience at an Aug. 2 OTT conference to embrace change.

“You can’t stop progress, and you can’t stop the freedom of individual choice,” he said at the OTT & Video Distribution Summit in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Entertainment companies must anticipate the future and learn their core business, which is producing and delivering good content.

“If you don’t produce compelling content — make consumers want to vote with their dollars — you’re going to lose out,” he said, adding “the consumer is the programmer.”

It’s about knowing what business you are in.

“Had the railroad guys been smart, they’d have been in the passenger business and started the airlines,” he said.

OTT channels such as RLJ’s Urban Movie Channel and Acorn TV are capitalizing on consumer targeting.

UMC offers “compelling content for an audience who had never had that opportunity.” It is not beholden to advertisers or cable programmers that might object to certain content.

“The gatekeepers have been torn down,” he said.

Acorn TV is for people “who love and just adore” British content. Owning 65% of the Agatha Christie library gives the channel a leg up in that market.

The future of the cable industry is threatened unless it adapts.

“Cable always from the beginning was a retransmission device of other people’s content,” Johnson said, adding “as long as cable can provide internet service it’s got a role to play.”

But he said the future of content distribution is a la carte, not bundles that include channels consumers don’t want to pay for.

“The industry in my opinion has to find a new model and that model is a la carte,” he said.

Comcast Adding Amazon Prime Video

Comcast Cable and Amazon Aug. 2 announced an agreement to launch Prime Video on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 cloud-based set-top. It marks the first time Prime Video content would be integrated on a pay-TV operator’s platform in the U.S.  The Prime Video app is expected to launch on X1 later this year.

Comcast incorporated Netflix, Pandora and YouTube into the X1 ecosystem last year.

Xfinity TV subscribers – which represent more than 60% of Comcast’s residential foot print – will have access to Prime Originals like “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and “Goliath,” as well as live events and TV, titles available to rent or buy, or to watch with a Prime Video Channels subscription.

Customers can search Prime Video content using Comcast’s X1 voice remote, as well as enjoy shows and movies available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.

“Amazon Prime Video’s growing list of originals, movies, shows, documentaries, and kids’ programming will be an excellent complement to the overall X1 viewing experience,” Dana Strong, president of consumer services at Comcast, said in a statement.

“The addition of the Prime Video app to X1 will make navigating between Prime Video and live TV easier than ever,” said Greg Hart, VP of Amazon Prime Video.


MoviePass: We’re Still Standing

The PR blitz to try and save a flawed business model continues.

MoviePass parent Helios and Matheson Analytics Aug. 2 issued a presser that essentially repeated claims from an Aug. 1 presser suggesting the ticket subscription service is responsible for a rise in moviegoers.

HMNY has to say that. Its stock is currently trading around 10 cents per share – down 53% from yesterday – and 99.97% over the past fiscal year, despite a  1-for-250 shares reverse stock-split rolled out eight days ago.

HMNY claims exhibitors want MoviePass to fail so they can continue to raise ticket prices and charge exorbitant concession fees. The same exhibitors MoviePass pays face-value for each ticket consumed by subscribers.

“This is exactly the attitude the taxicab industry took when Uber entered their market,” the company said in a statement.

Therein lies management’s lack of critical thinking. Unlike Uber, Lift, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, among others, that essentially deliver a product more efficiently to the consumer, MoviePass attempts to deliver an existing product – theatrical distribution – to consumers for free.

For $9.95 (now $14.95), MoviePass subs were afforded daily access to a theatrical screening. Millions took up the offer and went to the movies more frequently – not less frequently. Going to the movies is not as physically or mentally demanding as going to the gym. And MoviePass has to pay for the convenience.

And the service simply can’t afford to do so. Thus, when it raised prices, it also restricted access to any major theatrical movie (1,000+ screens) for the first two weeks of release. The rationale being that consumer demand for the title will have subsided.

But do consumers and investors have the patience to pay for a service that has dramatically changed the rules of usage? The answer would appear to be no.


comScore Partnering with Hulu for Video Measurement

In the rapidly changing home entertainment market where consumers have multiple options for consuming video, advertisers and marketers are left trying to make sense of a fragmented viewer across linear TV, over-the-top (OTT), desktop, and mobile platforms.

Media measurement company comScore in September will bow a pilot program – dubbed “campaign ratings” – aimed at tracking audiences across linear TV and digital platforms with reliable audience demographics.

Media partners include ABC, CBS, CNN, Disney, Fox, Freeform, GroupM, NBC Universal, The CW Network, Turner, Viacom and Hulu – which, unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, includes ads in its SVOD and online TV platforms.

comScore is melding linear TV with OTT measurement after it found that two-thirds of OTT audiences also watch linear TV, demonstrating the convergence of digital and linear video consumption and a growing need for unduplicated, cross-platform measurement.

In fact, another recent comScore study revealed that OTT alone (through catalog programming and time-shifting) increased the average number of linear TV viewers for a specific network program by 20%. When also combined with mobile and desktop, linear TV viewership for that same program increased by 42%, with audience reach increasing by 33%.

“We heard from customers that cross-platform video measurement is a pain point that continues to magnify as audience viewership and engagement proliferates across screens,” CEO Bryan Wiener, said in a statement.

comScore is partnering with Hulu to backend OTT measurement capability, after finding Hulu subs generated the most user time per month out of the major streaming service providers, including Netflix and Prime Video. Hulu had more than 20 million U.S. subscribers as of May.

“By powering comScore’s cross-platform measurement product for OTT, we’re giving marketers more options for measurement and a third-party validation,” said Julie DeTraglia, VP and head of research at Hulu. “Our partnership with comScore is just another step towards achieving comprehensive measurement for the entire industry.”

Robin Garfield, SVP of research and scheduling at CNN, said “campaign ratings” represents an “important step” towards helping the entire media industry accelerate investments in content across a growing number of platforms and environments.

“Industry adoption of new measurement methodologies will be key in keeping up with the changes in consumption of our content,” added Kavita Vazirani, EVP, insights and measurement, NBC Universal.

“Providing measurement that can facilitate accurate planning, and fully value premium video is a priority for both buyers and sellers, and we look forward to expanding on our efforts with comScore through this beta to create measurement solutions that advance the industry,” said Beth Rockwood, VP of portfolio research at Turner.



AMC Theatres CEO: A-List Ticket Service Designed ‘Very Intelligently’

Since launching six weeks ago, AMC Theatres’ $19.95 monthly A-List movie ticket service has generated 7,000 subscriptions every 24 hours, CEO Adam Aron told analysts on the Aug. 1 fiscal call. Launched as a response to MoviePass, A-List has more than 182,000 subs.

“Multiply 7,000 times 365 [days], these are huge numbers,” Aron said.

While MoviePass’ has attempted to alter its loss-leader business model through a price hike and restricted title access, Aron said A-List, which affords subs access to three movies weekly on any screen including Imax, Dolby Cinema and Real 3D, was designed “very intelligently.”

“We designed our program based on a lot of experience,” Aron said. “What gives us confidence that $20 [subscription fee] is the right level for AMC is, it was more than double what anybody else was charging.”

Indeed, A-List is patterned after a similar ticket subscription service AMC operates in the United Kingdom and Germany. Prior to launching A-List, AMC tested the concept ticket season pass in Colorado. Through June 30, AMC owned or operated 1,005 theatres with 10,987 screens across 16 countries.

“We really do know what we’re doing here and we’re off to a great start, and we will continue to manage the program with profitability in mind,” Aron said.

The CEO contends that for every million A-List subscribers, AMC will generate $15 million to $25 million in incremental pre-tax income, based on subscribers frequenting AMC screens 2.5 times per month. The pre-tax income range increases by $10 million should moviegoing frequency among subs drop to 2.25 times per month.

AMC projects A-List will reach 1 million subs by 2020. He admitted the surge in A-List subscriber growth is in part due to MoviePass’ well-documented troubles.

“What we are now learning is that … A-List [is] perfectly positioned to capture new business for as consumers struggle with constantly changing rules, decreasing movie availability and rising prices from other players in this space,” Aron said.

He cautioned that consumer interest in ticket subscriptions has its limit – contending the service’s potential revenue is capped at 10% of AMC annual revenue.

“We will be managing and monitoring this program extremely closely over the months and years ahead,” Aron said.


New In-Home Theatrical VOD Service Launches

A new transactional VOD service offering early home entertainment access to European theatrical releases has launched in the United States.

Dubbed ROW8, the service aims to accelerate home entertainment access to exclusive premieres of foreign theatrical titles in the U.S. market. Users can rent movies for $7.99, watchable on Internet-connected TVs, Roku, Android and Apple devices.

Founded by entrepreneurs George Christoph and Jasmina Christoph, and led by CEO John Calkins (formerly head of digital distribution at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), ROW8 is working with industry advisors Craig Kornblau (former president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, and current advisor to a number of companies in the GV [Google Ventures] portfolio), and Ken Ziffren, co-founding partner of Ziffren Brittenham.

The service features proprietary technology, guided by CTO David Rondan, offering filmmakers the flexibility of tailoring their in-home releases with session-identifiable watermarks.

ROW8 is initially available on Web, iOS, Android and Roku, with other platforms to follow.

Initial titles include Danish box office hit Darkland; The End?, a stylish and imaginative Italian horror film, and Box 27, an emotional family drama from France.

Calkins said ROW8 aims to focus on advances in digital marketing and consumer demand, in addition to creating alternatives to traditional release patterns for “forward-thinking” film distributors.

“We are passionate film lovers who understand the challenges that a rapidly changing landscape has created for theatrically released films the world over,” he said in a statement.

Initial studio partner includes Germany’s Constantin Films, whose titles Adidas vs. Puma, and World War II drama, Friends Forever are available to stream.

“We are excited to be among the first to provide films to the ROW8 service, and believe the time is right in the market for the consumer to have accelerated access to great theatrical films, without compromising the upside to filmmakers or the risk of being lost in a subscription video-on-demand bundle,” said Constantin CEO Martin Moszkowicz.

Vizio Rolls Out Free Streaming Service With Pluto TV

Vizio has announced the rollout of a new streaming service, WatchFree.

Available now on nearly all Vizio SmartCast TVs, WatchFree, in partnership with streaming TV service Pluto TV, offers free, direct streaming access to more than 100 live and linear channels, according to a Vizio press release.

“With the TV landscape continuously evolving, we’re excited to offer consumers a comprehensive entertainment solution packed with free and unlimited content offerings.” said Bill Baxter, Vizio’s chief technology officer, in a statement. “Powered by Pluto TV, WatchFree is a next-generation streaming service with an easy-to-navigate, cable-like interface that delivers creative and thoughtful content selections.”

WatchFree is accessible via a dedicated input. SmartCast TV users press the “Input” button and select “WatchFree.”

“Powering Vizio’s WatchFree service is a pivotal next step in our goal to deliver free, premium entertainment to as many consumers as possible,” said Tom Ryan, Pluto TV co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “From hit TV shows to blockbuster movies, news, sports, lifestyle and more, WatchFree is a gamechanger for cord-cutting enthusiasts.”

Pluto TV channels available through WatchFree include Pluto TV Movies, Action Movies, Black Cinema, News 24/7, NBC News/MSNBC, Fox Sports, Frontdoor, Cats 24/7, Crime Network, MST3K and The Surf Channel. Pluto TV will soon launch two new pop-up channels also available on WatchFree, featuring Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Vubiquity Inks Deal With Verizon

Vubiquity, a provider of content services and media technology solutions, has inked a deal with Verizon to provide the processing and packaging of Verizon’s video on-demand and pay-per-view portfolio across the Fios multiscreen platform.

Vubiquity is owned by Amdocs.

The deal continues to include a content licensing component, which is an extension of the prior relationship, according to an Amdocs press release.

“Verizon remains vigorously focused on making content personal with video that can go anywhere to meet the demands of even the most discerning customers,” said Heather McDavitt, VP of Verizon Fios Consumer Products.

“We are pleased to expand our partnership with Verizon as they continue to innovate for consumers across the complex and transformative media landscape,” said Darcy Antonellis, head of the Amdocs Media Division, in a statement.

As the bridge to more than 630 content owners, Vubiquity will be supplementing Verizon’s expansive collection of assets across existing and future formats, including but not limited to 4K and high dynamic range, for a variety of business models, including TV on-demand, rental, PPV and electronic sellthrough, according to the release.

“This will allow Verizon’s customers to watch a robust selection of films and TV shows from major blockbusters to smaller independent films, as well as television series and digital assets from more than 100 media brands on any device,” according to the release.

FandangoNow Highlights ‘Fresh’ Films Not on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu

Online transactional VOD retailer FandangoNow this week is launching a new feature that offers up recommended films, for digital purchase or rent, not available on Netflix and other subscription streaming services.

The monthly feature, FandangoNOW’s “Fresh Picks,” will highlight films on the service with “Fresh” or “Certified Fresh” Tomatometer scores, according to movie review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes, a sister division. (A movie gets a “Fresh” designation when at least 60% of its critic reviews are positive.)

This month’s “Fresh Picks” include:

  • Aliens (Special Edition)
  • American Psycho (Uncut Version)
  • Avatar
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Black Hawk Down
  • The Book of Life
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • Brave
  • Bridesmaids (Unrated)
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Chef
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Death Wish
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Django Unchained
  • The Expendables 2
  • Elysium
  • The Fault in Our Stars (Extended Edition)
  • The Fifth Element
  • Four Lions
  • The Fugitive
  • Frozen
  • Godzilla
  • Good Will Hunting
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • The Heat
  • The Help
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • The Hunger Games
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  • Ice Age
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Into The Woods
  • Knocked Up
  • Lawless
  • Legally Blonde
  • Limitless: Unrated Extended Cut
  • Lone Survivor
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight
  • Lucy
  • Married to the Mob
  • Mary Poppins
  • The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  • Murder on the Orient Express
  • My Best Friend’s Wedding
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • Ocean’s Eleven
  • Once Were Warriors
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Prisoners
  • The Professional
  • Role Models
  • The Secret of Kells
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • The Social Network
  • Spy Kids
  • Stalag 17
  • Stand By Me
  • Surf’s Up
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
  • That Touch of Mink
  • The Terminator
  • Tombstone
  • Tortilla Soup
  • Toy Story
  • True Romance (Director’s Cut)
  • Walk the Line
  • Wild
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
  • Wreck-It Ralph


In March 2018, digital movie collection service Movies Anywhere added FandangoNow as its fifth digital retail partner. Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu were partnered with the service at launch last year.

Visit FandangoNow here.

FandangoNow has the most comprehensive selection of films in 4K Ultra HD from all the major studios and content providers, according to the service. The service’s catalog is available on more than 200 million devices, offering 70,000 new release and catalog movies, next-day TV shows to buy or rent — no subscription required.

NPD: 17% of U.S. Video Consumers Watch Only SVOD

Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population relied solely on subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to view video content in the 12-month period ended March 2018, according to a study by The NPD Group.

According to NPD’s “Entertainment Trends in America” report, 17% of consumers have abandoned the purchase or rental of content in physical or digital formats, up from 11% in 2017.

Meanwhile, 24% of consumers rely only on transactional methods — buying or purchasing content on physical discs or in digital formats, while 32% use a combination of transactions and SVOD.

Among SVOD consumers in the United States, 40% subscribed to only one service as of March 2018, while 37% subscribed to two services, and 24% subscribed to three or more services.

Millennial consumers (ages 25 to 34) were the demographic most likely to subscribe to three or more streaming video services (42%), but year-over-year growth for this age range was flat. Generation Z consumers (ages 18 to 24) who subscribed to three or more services actually declined by 5 percentage points, year over year, while Generation X (ages 35 to 55) grew 3 percentage points.

“As the technology gets older and less novel, as smart TVs become more common, and as more streaming content becomes available, older consumers with more disposable income are coming on board with streaming video services,” Ricardo Solar, president of media entertainment for NPD, said in a statement. “Although Millennials were the first to adopt SVOD, GenX and Boomers are now driving the growth among those subscribing to multiple services.”