Entering the New Year’s Day weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures DC superhero movie Wonder Woman 1984 has reportedly topped $100 million at the worldwide box office, the studio disclosed on New Years Eve. WW84 generated $16.7 million on its opening Christmas Day weekend debut in the U.S. — the same day WarnerMedia made the movie available on the HBO Max streaming video platform.
The sequel to the 2017 Wonder Woman generated $85 million globally through Dec. 27, including $23.9 million in revenue in China, where the movie starring Gal Gadot in the title role first opened.
“Congratulations to Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, Chuck Roven and the entire cast and crew who made Wonder Woman 1984, allowing fans and film lovers to return to the thrilling experience of being at the movies,” Jeff Goldstein, president of Warner Bros. Distribution, and Andrew Cripps, president of International Distribution, said in a joint statement.
Earlier this week, Warner announced it had fast-tracked development on the third installment of the Wonder Woman franchise to be written by Patty Jenkins, who is again attached to direct the third installment.
ESPN+, the sports-themed subscription streaming arm of Disney’s OTT offerings that also includes the Disney+ and Hulu platforms, will increase its annual fee 20% to $59.99 from $49.99 for new subscribers, effective Jan. 8, 2021. Existing subs will see renewal price hikes around March.
ESPN+, which is increasingly being promoted as a live-sports alternative to pay-TV, had more than 11.5 million subscribers earlier this year — more than double from a year ago.
Disney is also increasing the cost of its UFC pay-per-view fights — exclusive to ESPN+ — to $69.99 from $64.99. The fights were $59.99 when ESPN+ launched in April 2018.
Disney’s OTT video universe topped 137 million subs earlier this month — partially due to combining ESPN+ with Disney+ and Hulu in a $12.99 monthly promotion that remains for the time being. The Disney+ monthly fee is increasing to $7.99, from $6.99, on March 26, 2021.
NEWS ANALYSIS — Recapping the home entertainment business in 2020 is best left to an acronym that by now has been ingrained in all of our heads: COVID-19.
One of the most dramatic consequences of the global pandemic was the closure of movie theaters and government mandates to stay at home as much as possible, two developments that benefited home entertainment.
Streaming services reported major spikes in viewership, and the home entertainment divisions of the major Hollywood studios reported significant gains in transactional revenue despite the near-total lack of fresh theatrical product. New movies debuted digitally, at premium prices. And thanks to creative marketing and a rash of high-profile anniversary and 4K Ultra HD releases, sales of catalog movies soared, both digitally and on disc.
“2020 has been a year like no other as a result of the COVID pandemic, which affected the entertainment industry in profound ways,” said Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “Anticipated changes in the home entertainment industry were accelerated this year as the pandemic spurred an increase in demand for content, placing an enhanced importance on the digital availability of our titles as we worked to satisfy consumers’ demand for at-home solutions.”
“The overriding trend we saw in 2020 was consumers’ hunger for, love of, and engagement with entertainment content,” added Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. “When new releases slowed as a result of production halts and theater closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers hardly missed a beat, they just expanded their viewing to include many catalog movies and TV shows, as well as discovering films that were independent productions or may have had limited prior release.”
Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures, agrees. “It has been an incredibly challenging year on many fronts and we are glad to have been able to provide a little relief to people by delivering entertainment into their homes through collaboration with our vendor community and in partnership with our physical and digital retailers,” he said.
A case can be made that COVID-19 didn’t really bring about monumental changes in the entertainment industry. Rather, the pandemic accelerated changes that were already in the works: specifically, declining movie theater attendance and a steady increase in streaming video subscriptions.
Two months before the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic led to the closure of movie theaters around the world, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) in January 2020 reported that the number of U.S. movie admissions in 2019 declined nearly 5% to 1.24 billion from a 2002 peak of 1.57 billion.
Studios had been pushing for shorter theatrical windows for years, maintaining that most movies had pretty much run their big-screen course after 30 days, much less the 90 days that typically elapsed between a film’s theatrical launch and its availability for home viewing. Some top studio executives were even calling for simultaneous releases, with films becoming available for home viewing — albeit at a premium price — the same day as their theatrical bow. The stumbling block: resistance from exhibitors, who balked at any attempts, or even just talk, of cutting into their exclusive window.
But when theaters went dark in mid-March, exhibitor leverage disappeared, overnight. PVOD was no longer a strategic objective, but, rather, a necessity, as studios had no other way to recoup production expenses.
Universal Pictures struck first, immediately making its entire theatrical slate available for home viewing on March 16. Three weeks later, Trolls World Tour was the first big film to premiere simultaneously on PVOD and in the handful of theaters, mostly drive-ins, that remained open, and the results were strong enough that more tentpole releases followed, including Scoob! from Warner Bros., the comedy sequel Bill & Ted: Face the Music and Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan — which debuted on Disney+ as a “Premier Access” title for an additional charge.
At first, exhibitors balked. AMC Theatres, the country’s largest chain of movie theaters, initially vowed to boycott all future Universal Pictures releases. But in a June report, Wall Street analyst Robert Fishman of MoffetNathanson wrote that while exhibitors have until now been able to stand their ground, “this time is different in that all of the major studios … are likely to be more aggressive with windowing strategies. As long as multiple studios push forward with PVOD or some other form of window changes, the balance of power in favor of studios shifts even more in their favor and reduces the leverage the exhibitors have as they would be unlikely to boycott multiple studios’ upcoming releases.”
A month later, AMC and Universal announced a landmark distribution deal for the studio’s new-release movies, beginning in November. The agreement allowed Universal to distribute titles on PVOD three weekends (as little as 17 days) after their initial bow in AMC Theatres, in return for a split. Four months later, AMC CEO Adam Aron called the arrangement a success, telling analysts on an earnings call, “On the only one of [six planned] PVOD movies that has been released as of yet, our analysis is that AMC [not only] came out ahead financially as we had modeled, but much better than some [analysts] had postulated or feared.”
In December, the “balance of power” Fishman referred to in his report shifted further with the bombshell announcement by Warner Bros. that it would simultaneously release all its movies through 2021 in theaters and on Warner’s new streaming platform, HBO Max, beginning with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas. The 17-film 2021 slate includes the new Dune adaptation, The Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad.
The coronavirus pandemic also accelerated the push toward streaming, although subscription video-on-demand, or SVOD, had long been on a roll, with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group reporting annual gains in consumer spending on steaming services of 22% to 45% for the last 10 years.
Part of this was due to the launch of several new high-profile services competing with established leaders Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Two launched in November 2019, Disney+ and Apple TV+. This year saw the rollout of two more high-profile services, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.
Fears that the proliferation of subscription streaming services would lead to cannibalization have been unfounded. Instead, with captive audiences choosing, or ordered, to stick close to home due to the raging pandemic, it’s truly been a case of the more, the merrier.
“Recent research from the NPD Group shows that the average U.S. consumer now relies on seven different streaming video services, up from five in April,” said the DEG’s Amy Jo Smith. “This is another case of the pandemic accelerating a trend that was already underway.”
Disney+ is far and away the biggest success story, with the Walt Disney Co. on its Nov. 12 fiscal call reporting that the service had reached 73.7 million global subs, well ahead of company projections. Less than a month later, on Dec. 2, Disney announced that its branded subscription service had reached 86.8 million subs. Meanwhile, Netflix was no slouch, quieting critics with outsized subscriber growth projected at 34 million additions through the end of this year and double-digit revenue gains.
In November, Hub Entertainment Research found the average person is accessing 60% more streaming video services in 2020 than they did in 2018, while 90% of households with children living at home subscribe to more than one OTT video service.
“We’ve seen the number of providers per [survey] respondent rise to an all-time high during the pandemic,” analyst Jon Giegengack said in a note at the time. “The average respondent had 4.8 services. That was going up anyway, but the pandemic turbocharged it.”
Aside from the crash of the theatrical business, the emergence of PVOD and the near-saturation of subscription streaming, 2020 will be remembered as a year when home entertainment marketers, with no fresh theatrical product, managed to survive and even thrive on their own laurels.
A month into the pandemic, in April, Warner Bros.’s Jim Wuthrich said home entertainment transactional spending shot up 38% since mid-March.
“Our digital sellthrough business as [has] been up over 100% each week since safer at home began,” he said, speaking at the virtual DEG Expo.
The trend slowed as the country began to open back up, but in August the DEG reported that consumer spending on digital entertainment purchases and VOD rentals in April, May and June shot up 54%. Even nine months into the year most studio home entertainment divisions reported year-over-year gains in revenue despite virtually no theatrical product.
“We kept our content pipeline flowing by leveraging our vast catalog and releasing many remastered 4K UHD titles, both physically and digitally, including Beetlejuice, The Goonies, Full Metal Jacket and 300,” Wuthrich said. “The ongoing demand for classic titles in 4K for at-home viewing will continue to make our catalog business a relevant and profitable area for us.”
The DEG reported that for the first nine months of 2020, electronic sellthrough spending was up 15.8% to an estimated $2.2 billion, while electronic rental was up nearly 24% to an estimated $1.8 billion. Only disc sales were down, with DEG estimating combined consumer spending on Blu-ray Discs and DVDs slipped nearly 23% in the first nine months of the year to about $1.8 billion — a not uncommon decline, given the normal transition to digital, but one that observers say might have been compounded by store closures due to regional bans on “non-essential” retail.
The DEG’s Smith notes that during the second quarter, “at the height of new stay-at-home orders across the United States, consumer spending rose 57% on electronic sellthrough. This tells us that consumers are interested in building their digital collections, and that collecting favorite films provides a great value, particularly for families. Electronic sellthrough is also a model undergoing some really interesting innovation and experimentation in terms of pricing and release windows.”
Dametra Johnson-Marletti, corporate VP of the Microsoft digital stores category, said Microsoft Movies & TV “thrives most on new blockbuster content, in the traditional post-theatrical, home entertainment window. With new production shuttered for much of the year, and top content either being released to SVOD or pushed to 2021, our TVOD service has faced some headwinds. Our team had to become very creative and scrappy as they worked with our studio partners to continue to find unique avenues for growth. We had a multi-part strategy that included shifting more focus to our catalog by bringing forward a lot of the fan favorites and classics for consumers to find more easily. We also focused on building great thematic and seasonal collections with our studio partners. Finally, we have the fortune of also managing a thriving gaming business, so the ability to build great movie/game bundles has served us well.”
Looking back, Paramount’s Bob Buchi said it’s been a year of major changes. “We successfully launched our first PVOD releases, shifted our emphasis to catalog titles, and maximized our distribution deals with companies like Saban, Miramax and Romulus, which has greatly helped us to meet consumers’ demand for new entertainment while they also discover old favorites,” he said. “And because of the year’s unique circumstances, we exceeded our revenue projections.”
The effects of the pandemic, he added, “have magnified the shifts across all industries — from telemedicine and online education to flexible work arrangements and the entertainment industry. The transition to digital ownership has been steadily growing amidst the explosion of streaming platforms, all of which has opened up new ways for consumers to enjoy content — a trend that is certain to continue.
“What we saw this year was an anomaly, but it also demonstrated our ability to pivot and continue to monetize our content through the distribution strategies and platforms that are available to us and that make the most sense. All of these options — including traditional theatrical distribution — will continue to co-exist in a post-pandemic world.”
Every year, a number of respected home entertainment executives leave their jobs — and sometimes the business — for an assortment of reasons. Some are laid off — in the press, you’ll typically read that they are leaving “to pursue other opportunities.” Others find work in another field, while some simply retire.
In this unprecedented year, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the natural evolution of home entertainment from the physical disc to digital, and from transactional to streaming.
And in this year like no other, the home entertainment industry lost some of our brightest and our best, as studios are being restructured and even reimagined for what everyone seems to think will be not just the next chapter, but a whole new book.
I’m singling out six industry veterans who left the business this year, all of whom I worked with and had many personal interactions with over the years. We met at industry events (remember those?), we spoke on the phone (remember when we used to do that?), and we connected on social media. We were colleagues, and we became friends.
Over at Warner Bros., WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar — elevated into the post in May — has been the architect of the most drastic studio makeover. Among the casualties was Ron Sanders, the brilliant and visionary home entertainment leader who in January 2018 had been promoted to president of worldwide theatrical distribution while remaining president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, a post he had assumed five years earlier.
Ron had been an integral part of the studio’s retail management for nearly 30 years, a protégé of the remarkable Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD. His early-August departure, I wrote at the time, struck me particularly hard because I never expected him to go, simply because he represented the best of home entertainment all rolled up in one person. He learned the business during the decline of the VHS rental era, and mastered it during the glory days of DVD. Under his leadership Warner was consistently No. 1 in not just market share, but also innovation and creativity.
During a second round of layoffs in November, Warner lost several more valued veterans, including George Feltenstein, Melissa Hufjay, Rosemary Markson and Jay Reinbold.
George Feltenstein, SVP of theatrical catalog marketing, is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge who came to Warner in January 1997 after seven years of effectively running MGM/UA Home Video, during which time he released a significant number of classic MGM and United Artists films on videocassette and laserdisc. At Warner Bros., as David Krause so eloquently wrote on the DigitallyObsessed.com website, he held “the keys to a kingdom of Golden Age treasures, a massive, enviable catalog that encompasses the collections of Warner Bros., MGM and RKO studios.” Feltenstein will always be remembered for giving classics such as Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain and Gone With the Wind the royal treatment for their DVD and then Blu-ray Disc debuts. I still have copies of his lavish 70th anniversary Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind gift sets in my movie room, gorgeous packages that include meticulously restored versions of the films as well as an assortment of collectible extras, from photo books and program reproductions to frame-able prints and even a watch.
(George was informed of his job elimination in November, but remains on the job, “working on all cylinders,” he says, until Feb. 19.)
Melissa Hufjay was Warner’s longtime VP of Publicity for TV, animation and originals. Working alongside Jeff Brown, himself one of the studio’s greatest executive assets, she was remarkably efficient and effective at her job, even though she worked with such a wide variety of material that she might find herself pitching a story about a new animated Batman movie one day and a direct-to-video horror film (think Rest Stop or Otis) the next.
As I wrote when I first learned of her departure two months ago, “Back in the heyday of packaged media, when DVDs were selling like crazy and people still made phone calls, many a weekday morning began promptly at 9 a.m. with a call from veteran Warner Bros. Home Entertainment publicity executive Melissa Hufjay. To be sure, I received many phone calls from studio publicists as well as account executives with agencies such as what is now Bender Helper Impact, but the earliest pitches invariably came from Melissa…. Melissa was one of those publicists who made our job easier: She saw things through our eyes, and her pitches were spot-on and almost always successful. And who could resist a call from someone as personable, as likeable, as ‘Hufjay,’ as we all called her.”
Rosemary Markson, SVP of TV marketing, spent more than 22 years at the studio and played as big a role as anyone in the birth and explosive growth of the TV DVD category.
Her marketing savvy helped turn us into a nation of binge-watchers a decade and a half before the first original series on Netflix, which was still renting DVDs by mail when Rosemary and her team had us clamoring for the next season set of “Friends,” “Smallville” or “Alias,” which more often than not would appear on DVD just as the subsequent season began airing on TV.
(A bit of history: TV shows on VHS never took off because those clunky cassettes took up so much shelf space. DVDs were much smaller, so releasing season — and even complete series — sets on disc became a viable business. At one point, it was estimated that the TV DVD business accounted for $4 billion in annual consumer spending!)
The last time I saw Rosemary was at the December 2019 Video Hall of Fame dinner in Beverly Hills, happily enjoying a meal with a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment team whose camaraderie impressed me so much at the time — a team that, sadly, is no more.
And then there’s Jay Reinbold, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s longtime research guru.
He spent more than 20 years at Warner, the last 16 as SVP of category management, a critical role in which he was charged with developing and executing strategic category plans for key retailers ranging from Walmart and Target to Amazon and Best Buy, developing and maintaining a data warehouse system to support retail analytics, and identifying consumer and market trends.
According to his bio on the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media website (he’s a board member), “Under Jay’s guidance, Warner Bros. Entertainment has achieved the Category Captain role for 28 of the largest sellthrough retailers in the world, including Walmart, Amazon and Carrefour in all worldwide territories as well as Best Buy, Borders and Barnes & Noble throughout North America; Karstadt, MediaMarkt, Albert Heijn in Europe; and Convenience Culture Company (Japan’s largest DVD retailer). Warner Bros has Category Management offices in 11 countries across four continents.” The bio also noted that Jay has been awarded Progressive Grocer’s Best in Class in Category Management “for innovation, execution and growth in the complex category of general merchandise.”
Easily one of the sharpest minds in this business, Jay over the years has helped us out tremendously in compiling our own charts of DVD and then Blu-ray Disc best sellers. He was accessible and efficient and every time I got off the phone with him I remember thinking, “This guy is so much smarter than I am.”
As we near the end of the year, there’s one more executive whose imminent departure warrants a callout. Evan Fong is retiring from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on Dec. 31 after more than 35 years as one of the division’s top publicity executives. Evan’s arrival at what was then MCA Home Video predates my own entry into the business. I remember him as a loyal lieutenant to a quartet of smart, shrewd and savvy publicity leaders, first Jane Ayer, then the late Maria LaMagra, then Vivian Mayer, and, finally, Lea Porteneuve. Evan was always helpful, gracious and kind, and he played a key role in some of my fondest home entertainment memories, including countless VSDA conventions in Las Vegas and that famous press luncheon at the Universal Hilton in support of the VHS release of Fried Green Tomatoes where Maria served us journalists very potent mint juleps.
Ron, George, Melissa, Rosemary, Jay and now Evan, thanks for being part of our business for so many years — and a part of my life, as well. Each of you helped build the home entertainment business, contributing to its growth, development, maturity and continued evolution in your own special ways. We owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that you have done over the years. And on a personal note, I’ll never forget any of you.
$49.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R.’ Stars Philippe Noiret, Enzo Cannavale, Antonella Attili, Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Jacques Perrin, Agnese Nano.
With movie theaters facing an existential threat, there is perhaps no better time to revisit this 1989 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner about the magic of cinema, available in 4K for the first time.
Through extended flashbacks, the Italian film traces one man’s love affair with the movies beginning as a boy in war torn Sicily in the pre-television era. The boy Toto is fascinated by his small town’s movie theater and the projectionist, Alfredo, who creates magic on the screen from his small booth above the balcony. The booth also houses treasure, stolen kiss clips from various films that the local priest has had the projectionist excise from reels shown in the theater. Through his special relationship with the projectionist and the theater, the fatherless boy grows to cherish the magic of cinematic storytelling. Revisiting the town as an accomplished filmmaker, he reminisces about love, movies and loss.
Director Giuseppe Tornatore’s loving homage to the cinema also earned five BAFTA Awards, the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival and many more plaudits.
The original award-winning theatrical version of Tornatore’s classic is presented here for the first time on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray with DolbyVision. Special features include audio commentary with Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus; “A Dream of Sicily,” a 52-minute documentary profile of Tornatore featuring interviews with the director and extracts from his early home movies and interviews with director Francesco Rosi and painter Peppino Ducato, set to music by Ennio Morricone; “A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise,” a 27-minute documentary on the making of Cinema Paradiso and the characters of Toto and Alfredo, featuring interviews with the actors who play them, Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio, as well as Tornatore; “The Kissing Sequence,” in which Tornatore discusses the origins of the kissing scenes with clips identifying each scene; and the original director’s cut theatrical trailer and 25th anniversary re-release trailer. This 4K combo pack also includes the expanded director’s cut on Blu-ray, which delves deeper into Salvatore’s backstory.
While the extras provide interesting backstory information, especially about the climactic and affecting “Kissing Sequence,” the real star here is the film itself polished for 4K. I saw the film when it first came out, and it has lost none of its power. As we move into the digital age, and physical media and theatergoing are increasingly labeled passé, Cinema Paradiso is a loving look back at moviegoing in a time when moving pictures were projected on a film strip of successive photos, capturing moments of magic.
Fiscally challenged AMC Entertainment, parent of world’s largest movie theater chain, AMC Theatres, is selling 50 million shares of Class A Common Stock to generate about $125 million in much-needed funding.
AMC said it will use the proceeds for “general corporate purchases, which include repayment, refinancing, redemption, or repurchase of outstanding debt.”
AMC shares are down 68% in 2020 after the pandemic all but shuttered the chain’s business in mid-March as the coronavirus began to spread. Earlier this month, AMC announced it had enough funds to keep the doors open through January.
Headquartered in Leawood, Kansas, AMC celebrated its 100th birthday this year. The chain is the largest operator of movie theaters in world; as of December 2020 it has a global count of 960 theaters and 10,700 screens, down from 1,004 theaters and 11,041 screens at the beginning of this year, according to its corporate website.
Netflix’s ongoing chess-focused chart-topper “The Queen’s Gambit” and South Korea’s Oscar-winning drama Parasite ranked among the most-streamed episodic program and feature-length movie in 2020, according to new data from JustWatch. The analytics company is an international streaming guide that helps more than 20 million users per month across 46 countries find content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max and Peacock, among other streaming platforms.
A not unexpected movie in the Top 10 was Contagion, director Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 take on a global pandemic that ranked No. 4. The older movie became popular because of the coronavirus and was one of the most popular movies on JustWatch during March and April across several countries.
With the coronavirus pandemic raging, the big Hollywood movie studios made unprecedented changes in their film-release strategies in 2020, rushing top-tier titles into the home and boosting new and existing streaming services.
It truly was a year like no other.
Here are the top 10 home entertainment news stories of 2020 as chosen by the Media Play News editorial staff.
1. Blockbusters Enter the Stream: With movies theaters shuttered during the pandemic, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. took the unprecedented move to send top tier theatrical releases to their sister streaming services.
First, Walt Disney Studios offered the live-action blockbuster Mulan exclusively to Disney+ subscribers over the Labor Day weekend as a $29.99 add-on to unlock access to the movie months before its regular availability — marking Disney’s first-ever Premier Access (PVOD) release and a sea change in studio window strategy. The studio defended the decision — which was followed by sending Pixar Animation’s Soul to the Disney+ streaming service, this time at no additional cost, on Christmas — as a reality of the times. “We thought it was a really nice gesture to our subscribers during the holiday period to provide [Soul] as part of the service,” said Disney CEO Bob Chapek. “I think what we’ve learned with Mulan is that there’s going to be a role for [PVOD] strategically with our portfolio of offerings.”
After debuting such top-tier titles as Roald Dahl’s The Witches on its new streaming service HBO Max, WarnerMedia in December shocked the industry by announcing that the streaming service would offer subscribers free access to all Warner Bros. theatrical releases through 2021 concurrently with their box office debut. The new strategy rankled exhibitors and creators, while offering moviegoers an alternative to the cineplex during the pandemic. The studio bowed Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max and in theaters Christmas day. Notably, WW84 posted the largest opening weekend domestic box office during the pandemic with $16.7 million — driven in part by 10,000 watch parties, or small groups renting out theaters for private screenings.
2. HBO Max Debuts: WarnerMedia in May launched its much-anticipated HBO Max subscription streaming service at $14.99 per month — the most-expensive SVOD platform on the market — with several glaring problems. The platform, which promised an ad-supported edition in 2021, bowed without consumer access via the Roku or Amazon Fire TV platforms (reportedly representing 70% of Internet access), which contributed to stalling the Max sub growth out of the gate. The fact that existing services HBO Go and HBO Now were also still available didn’t help matters, confusing consumers about what they were actually getting with an HBO Max subscription. (Both were mercifully laid to rest two months after HBO Max’s launch.) WarnerMedia eventually inked distribution deals with Roku and Amazon, helping it generate 38.6 million combined HBO/HBO Max subscribers through Sept. 30.
3.Peacock Launches: NBCUniversal April 15 launched its own streaming video platform, Peacock, the media giant’s first over-the-top video platform and an SVOD service with an ad-supported option. The company initially made the premium service available at no cost to Comcast’s X1 and Flex (Internet-only) customers before rolling it out nationally in July. It quickly generated 20 million subscribers. To boost the offering, NBCUniversal wrestled away exclusive streaming rights to the popular comedy series “The Office” from Netflix. The series, to begin streaming in a tiered plan on Peacock Jan. 1, 2021, had been a longtime draw for Netflix.
4. TVOD Has Its Moment: After it and other studios rushed titles to early digital release during the pandemic, Universal Pictures made the bold move to drop Trolls World Tour from its theatrical slate to distribute the animated sequel directly to consumers in April via premium VOD. The strategy generated $100 million in revenue in 28 days and helped revive the PVOD business model — and the transactional VOD business at large — as other studios soon joined suit by rushing titles to PVOD. Soon, titles that might have topped the box office were heading up the charts of such transactional services as Redbox On Demand, FandangoNow and Vudu. The latter two TVOD services in April became sister services when NBCUniversal’s Fandango acquired the 10-year-old Vudu from Walmart.
“All the press is about SVOD and AVOD services, ad-supported or subscription, but transactional sort of quietly had a moment in 2020,” said Fandango VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas during a November panel.
5. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em … : In a peace offering to theater chains, Universal Pictures inked pacts with AMC Theatres and Cinemark affording the studio early PVOD access for select theatrical releases in exchange for splitting the home entertainment revenue with exhibitors. Universal and subsidiary Focus Features picked up the right to offer consumers PVOD access to movies with less than $50 million in domestic opening weekend ticket sales. Under the pact, movies with a higher box office could be released on PVOD 31 days after their theatrical bow. As a result, Universal maintained a steady year-end theatrical slate, spearheaded by The Croods: A New Age, Freaky and News of the World, among other titles.
6. Hail to New Chiefs: In February, former Disney home entertainment head Bob Chapek was named CEO of The Walt Disney Co., with previous boss Bob Iger assuming executive chairman duties. Chapek, who most recently headed Disney’s Parks & Recreation unit, said he was well-suited directing Disney’s renewed focus on direct-to-consumer business.
In another big studio shift, ex-Hulu boss Jason Kilar became CEO of WarnerMedia in the spring and proceeded to announce layoffs — among them longtime executive Ron Sanders — and other shifts to refocus the studio on streaming.
Meanwhile, Netflix in July announced that 20-year veteran and chief creative officer Ted Sarandos would share co-CEO duties with co-founder/co-CEO Reed Hastings. The move appeared to signal a reduction in executive duties and possible retirement for Hastings, who quickly downplayed the shared corporate duties as a strategic maneuver. “Let me be really clear: I’m in for a [another] decade,” Hastings said.
7. Movie Theaters Face Existential Crisis: Movie theaters worldwide shuttered in mid-March due to the expanding coronavirus pandemic. The situation caused havoc for exhibitors, with the world’s largest, AMC Theatres, struggling to remain solvent and later opening some theaters with limited seating and strict safety protocols. Indeed, No. 2 exhibitor Regal Cinemas threw in the towel in the fall, remaining closed indefinitely. Meanwhile, studios shifted blockbuster movies online, a further blow to the exhibition business.
8. AVOD Marches on: Ad-supported VOD upped its growth trajectory with Pluto TV (owned by Viacom) and Tubi (acquired in March by Fox Corp.) expanding distribution worldwide — the latter with first-run Fox Entertainment programming such as “The Masked Singer,” among other programs. Redbox increased its digital presence, launching an ad-supported VOD platform called Redbox Free On Demand.
9. Catalog in the Spotlight: Catalog titles topped the charts on disc and digital as the new-release pipeline slowed due to the coronavirus. Studios polished catalog titles for 4K Ultra HD release, such as Paramount’s Coming to America and Beverly Hills Cop, Sony’s six-film “Resident Evil” collection, and Warner’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. With the pandemic raging, resonating and topical titles such as Sony’s Groundhog Day and Warner’s Contagion caught on with consumers. “It’s uncanny how it kind of mimics what’s going on in the real world today,” Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Games, said of Contagion.
10. Streaming Short Timer: It wasn’t all good news for digital delivery. Quibi, the $1.7 billion mobile device-centric, short form-content video streaming service, announced just six months after starting operations that it was shuttering. Launched by DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and eBay founder Meg Whitman, in the end Quibi reportedly had fewer than 1 million subscribers willing to pay $4.99 monthly for ad-supported content no longer than 10 minutes.
Traditional linear TV may be hemorrhaging viewers and subscribers to over-the-top video, but in 2020 — especially during a pandemic — consumers continued to spend the lion’s share of their TV time with live and time-shifted programming, according to new data from Nielsen. The ratings pioneer said second-quarter 2020 live and time-shifted TV consumption among people 18 and older increased by an average of 4 minutes per day (to 4 hours, 8 minutes) from the prior year. That dwarfs the 1 hour and 14 minutes spent on TV-connected devices each day.
In the second quarter, consumers 18 and older spent just shy of 6 hours each day with video, an increase of 35 minutes from the prior-year period without the pandemic. The programming they were watching the most on the living room TV included NFL football (i.e. the Super Bowl and “Sunday Night Football”), NBC’s “This Is Us,” and Paramount Television’s “Yellowstone,” starring Kevin Costner.
Universal Pictures’ The War With Grandpa debuted at No. 1 on both Redbox’s disc rental and On Demand charts the week ended Dec. 27.
The family comedy, which stars Robert De Niro as a widower who moves in with his daughter, only to have his grandson start a prank war with him for being given the youngster’s room to live in, earned $18.4 million at the domestic box office.
The previous week’s top disc rental, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s Tenet, slipped to No. 2 on that chart, which tracks DVD and Blu-ray Disc rentals at the company’s more than 40,000 red kiosks.
Similarly, the previous week’s top Redbox On Demand title, DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age, from Universal Pictures, dropped to No. 2 on that chart, which tracks digital rental transactions.
Paramount’s Love and Monsters dropped to No. 4 on the digital chart, but landed at No. 3 on the disc chart with it being available early at Redbox kiosks prior to it being widely available on disc Jan. 5.
No. 4 on the disc chart, and No. 6 on the digital chart, was Vertical Entertainment’s The Informer.
Rounding out the top five disc rentals was Paramount’s Fatman.
The top five Redbox On Demand list also included a pair of holiday titles: Universal’s animated The Grinch at No. 3, and Warner’s Elf at No. 5.
No. 4 was STX Film’s Greenland, the new disaster film about a man trying to save his family when a comet threatens to devastate the planet. It was released on PVOD Dec. 18.
Other newcomers to the disc chart included No. 6 The Craft: Legacy, produced by Blumhouse and distributed by Sony Pictures; No. 7 Alone, a thriller from Magnolia about a woman escaping a kidnapper (not to be confused with another movie of the same name from Lionsgate about a zombie attack); and No. 8 Jiu Jitsu, a Paramount actioner starring Nicolas Cage.
The Craft: Legacy also hit No. 9 on the digital chart.
Top DVD and Blu-ray Disc Rentals, Redbox Kiosks, Week Ended Dec. 27:
The War With Grandpa — Universal
Tenet — Warner
Love and Monsters — Paramount
The Informer — Vertical
Fatman — Paramount
The Craft: Legacy — Sony Pictures
Alone (2020-A) — Magnolia
Jiu Jitsu — Paramount
Unhinged — Lionsgate
Mulan (2020) — Disney
Top Digital, Redbox On Demand, Week Ended Dec. 27: