DEG Forms New Committees, Defines Terms for Direct-to-Consumer Market

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s D2C Alliance Steering Committee Feb. 25 released a list of industry terminology endorsed by its members to help standardize communication about the various digital streaming models and services and to align the messaging regarding their features and benefits.

The Alliance-adopted terminology spans linear, transactional and subscription businesses:

  • AVOD: Ad-Supported Video-on-Demand services are usually free (no subscription fee) or discounted with the inclusion of advertising.
  • DTC: Direct-to-Consumer services deliver single- or multi-channel content to consumers directly from a network or provider.
  • DTO: Download-to-Own digital content is purchased or licensed from platforms like Amazon Prime and iTunes (similar to EST).
  • EST: Electronic Sell-Through enables standard or premium digital content to be streamed or downloaded by consumers for a fixed one-time fee over an extended period of time across multiple delivery points and devices.
  • FAST: Free Ad-Supported Television linear channels are delivered over the internet and available from third party platforms (e.g., Pluto, Tubi).
  • Linear TV: Linear TV refers to live or prerecorded television programs that are distributed in real time, rather than on-demand, by cable (e.g., Comcast), satellite (e.g., DirecTV), telco (e.g., Verizon Fios) or broadcast OTA (over-the-air) networks, as well as internet-delivered digital program distributors (e.g., Hulu + Live TV, YouTubeTV, SlingTV).
  • MVPD: Multichannel Video Program Distributors offer a variety of different linear content channels from multiple providers over cable, satellite or telco services (e.g., Comcast, DISH, DirecTV, Verizon Fios) on a subscription basis. Virtual MVPDS (vMVPDs) offer channels through internet-delivered services (e.g., Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV).
  • O&O: An abbreviated way to reference a broadcast station that is “owned-and-operated” by the network or company that it’s affiliated with. NBC 4 Los Angeles, for example, is owned and operated by NBCUniversal.
  • OTT: Over-the-Top services bypass traditional cable, broadcast and satellite TV platforms and use the internet to deliver or “stream” video directly to viewers. Netflix, Apple TV, and YouTube are all examples of OTT services.
  • PEST: Premium Electronic Sell-Through for a one-time fee offers a specific piece of digital content to be purchased or licensed earlier than its traditional release “window.”
  • PVOD: Premium Video-on-Demand services permit limited-time access, for a one-time fee, to a specific piece of content earlier than its traditional release “window.”
  • SVOD: Subscription Video-on-Demand services require a periodic fixed fee (most often monthly) for accessing and viewing content an unlimited number of times while a subscriber (e.g., Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, Peacock).
  • TVOD: Transactional Video-on-Demand services charge a one-time fee for viewing a specific piece of content for either a limited rental period (typically 24 or 48 hours), or an extended collection period (EST).

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The DEG’s D2C Alliance is focused on identifying the issues pertaining to both SVOD and AVOD services, including (but not limited to) definitions and standards; uniform messaging; activation and adoption; research and data analytics; consumer consumption patterns; improved quality of service; and generating greater overall awareness about the direct-to-consumer experience.

To this end, the Alliance also recently activated two new committees: TV & Connected Devices and DTC Targeted Services.

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The members of the TV & Connected Devices committee include Amazon, Google, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony Electronics, TiVo, Verizon and Xfinity. The TV & Connected Devices committee seeks open communication with platforms and services as a way to improve the overall consumer streaming experience.

The DTC Targeted Services committee is comprised of specialized content companies, such as A+E Networks, AMC Networks, BBC Studios, FilmRise, National Geographic, The Great Courses, PBS Distribution and ScreenHits TV. The goal of the DTC Targeted Services committee is to ensure that the perspective of specialized services is represented in the key industry issues outlined above.

DEG’s D2C Alliance is guided by a group of Steering Committee executives, including Matt Strauss, chairman direct-to-consumer and international at NBCUniversal, as chair; Ron Lamprecht, director corporate business development at Amazon Prime, as vice chair; and Jonathan Zepp, M&E global partnerships, Google Platforms & Ecosystems, and Dan Cohen, president, ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group, as board officers. The officers were elected by the full D2C Alliance Steering Committee.

“Establishing accepted industry terminology is an important early step in both industry relations and consumer outreach,” said Amy Jo Smith, DEG president and CEO, in a statement. “This is an important milestone for the D2C Alliance as it moves forward with a strong base of support across platforms and services, device makers and content owners and distributors.”

Also Feb. 25, the DEG is presenting “The Maturing D2C Landscape,” an event to provide more insights about the emerging DTC ecosystem. The virtual event features experts from across the industry speaking about the targeted services landscape and the role connected devices play in consumer experience.

Best Buy Q4 Entertainment Revenue Jumps 31.4%

Driven by e-commerce and new video game consoles from Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox, Best Buy Feb. 25 reported a 31.4% leap in fourth-quarter (ended Jan. 31) domestic entertainment sales, a major turnaround from a decline of 21.8% in the previous-year period. International entertainment revenue skyrocketed 59.5% compared to a 16.9% drop a year ago.

The entertainment segment, which includes products such as DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies, video game hardware and software, books, music CDs and computer software, saw same-store sales increase 12.4% compared with a 3.4% increase during the previous-year period. Online sales grew almost 90% to a record $6.7 billion, and made up 43% of total $15.4 billion domestic sales.

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Entertainment generated $1.38 billion (9%) of domestic revenue, compared to $1.1 billion (8%) during the previous-year period. The segment represented 10% ($153.7 million) of international revenue, compared with 7% ($94.3 million) a year ago.

“Our stores played a pivotal role in the fulfillment of these sales, as almost two-thirds of our online revenue was either picked up in store or curbside, shipped from a store or delivered by a store employee,” CEO Corie Barry said in a statement.

Barry said that over the next few weeks, all hourly U.S. employees would cash bonuses of $500 if full-time and $200 if part-time.

“We are encouraging all employees to get COVID vaccinations as they are available by providing them with paid time off when they receive the vaccine and providing them absence time to be used in the event they develop side effects that warrant their needing to stay home and rest after receiving the vaccination,” Barry said.

Notably, Wall Street sent Best Buy’s stock down more than 8% in pre-market trading, in response to soft guidance and missed winter holiday sales projections. Yet, one analyst contends the CE giant could see a $400 million revenue boost from the shuttering of Fry’s Electronics in California.

“While this is not a needle mover for Best Buy’s base of $47 billion in sales, we view it as emblematic of an increasingly attractive landscape for competitors with staying power,” Jonathan Matuszewski, analyst with Jeffries, wrote in a note.

Paramount+ to Cost Less Than CBS All Access

An ad-supported version of Paramount+ will launch in June at a monthly subscription rate of $4.99 — $1 cheaper than the existing CBS All Access plan with limited ads.

Tom Ryan, CEO of ViacomCBS Streaming

ViacomCBS is rebooting the CBS All Access subscription streaming service to Paramount+ on March 4 at $9.99 for the ad-free plan, which also features more exclusive content.

The pricing was disclosed Feb. 24 during ViacomCBS’s marathon special investor event by Pluto TV founder Tom Ryan, who is now CEO of VIacomCBS Streaming.

CBS All Access and Showtime OTT ended 2020 with 19.2 million combined U.S. subscribers — up from 11 million at the end of 2019.

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GameStop CFO Exits, Stock Skyrockets

The rollercoaster Wall Street existence of GameStop took another surge skyward Feb. 24 — the day after CFO Jim Bell announced his resignation, effective March 26. The video game retailer’s shares surged up more than 100% to close at $91.71 per share. The volatility echoed recent market swings for the retailer after it became caught up in a high-profile battle between independent day traders and established hedge funds — the latter looking to short the stock; in effect betting on the retail chain’s demise in an era of online games and subscription gaming.

Bell had been recently criticized by activist investor Ryan Cohen, founder/former CEO of Chewy, for not being more aggressive pushing GameStop toward digital gaming. Cohen, 35, sold Chewy to PetSmart in 2017 for $3.35 billion. He is now reportedly the single largest individual investor in Apple.

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Diana Jajeh
Jim Bell

GameStop said that if a permanent replacement was not in place at the time of Bell’s departure, it intends to appoint chief accounting officer Diana Jajeh to the role of interim CFO. Jajeh has more than two decades of experience operating as an auditor, comptroller and corporate finance executive. After beginning her career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, she subsequently held senior roles at companies such as Visa and e.l.f. Cosmetics.

Pluto TV to Bow Major League Baseball Channel March 2

AVOD platform Pluto TV on March 2 will launch a new channel with Major League Baseball featuring classic games and highlights. The deal was announced Feb. 24 during the ViacomCBS streaming investor day. The branded MLB channel will stream more than 200 hours of ad-supported classic content licensed from the MLB Film & Video Archive, with quarterly refreshes.

MLB Spring Training games begin this weekend in Florida and Arizona, respectively, with Opening Day scheduled for April 1, featuring a quadruple header on ESPN. All 30 clubs are scheduled to play their first regular season games that day.

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The MLB Channel will air a variety of curated content intended to capture the excitement and nostalgia of America’s national pastime. Programming includes World Series and All-Star games and milestones, episodes of “Epic Moments,” “Baseball’s Seasons” and “Cathedrals of the Game” in addition to curated clips and playlists featuring top plays from the legendary sport.

Major League Baseball is the latest sports league to join Pluto TV’s growing lineup, which includes NFL ChannelMajor League SoccerPGA TourBellator MMAPac-12 Insider and more, in addition to hundreds of channels spanning a wide range of other genres, and thousands of movies and TV series.

“To be able to add a Major League Baseball channel for the first time is a landmark event both for us and for baseball fans who are always looking to watch more of their favorite sport,” Will Gurman, VP of global content partnerships at Pluto TV, said in a statement.

Viewers can stream the MLB channel on Pluto TV across all major mobile, connected TV and Web-based devices.

Paramount Theatrical Releases to Stream on Branded SVOD Service 30 to 45 Days After Box Office Release

The pending Paramount+ subscription streaming service will offer access to some Paramount Pictures theatrical releases as early as 30 to 45 days after their box office debut. The SVOD service launches March 4 with a $9.99 ad-free plan, followed in June by a $4.99 monthly ad-supported option.

The higher-priced ad-free plan offers more exclusive content.

The shortened theatrical window, which underscores ongoing industry changes while remaining loyal to the traditional exhibition market, was announced Feb. 24 in a special investor presentation by ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish.

Paramount titles on tap in 2021 include Top Gun: Maverick with Tom Cruise; A Quiet Place II; The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (available on the streaming service at launch as well as PVOD rental March 4); Coming 2 America (sold to Amazon Prime Video); Mission: Impossible 7; The Saint; Clifford the Big Red Dog; sci-fi movies including The Tomorrow War and Infinite; and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, among others.

Third-party studio movies, including MGM Studios, will also be available on Paramount+ 90 days after their box office debut.

Films that are released from theatrical to Paramount+ also will be available, simultaneously, through traditional home entertainment channels, including disc and transactional video.

Some marquee titles, including Top Gun: Maverick and Clifford the Big Red Dog, will follow traditional release patterns, from theatrical to transactional home entertainment (disc and digital).

Original films that are being produced specifically for Paramount+ also will be released later through transactional home entertainment channels.

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“As we always have, we believe in the power of theatrical releases and we have faith that after things get back to normal audiences will enthusiastically return to theaters,” Jim Gianopulos, CEO of Paramount Pictures, said on the webcast. “At the same time, consumers have increasingly embraced streaming as another way to enjoy films. Our strategy accounts for both.”

Separately, Paramount+ in early 2022 will be the exclusive home to Halo, a feature-length movie based on the venerable video game franchise. In addition, the studio and MGM-owned Epix announced an expansion of an existing distribution agreement whereby select MGM titles will be available first on the premium channel before made available to Paramount+. Titles include House of Gucci, Creed III and the delayed latest James Bond movie No Time to Die.


ViacomCBS: CBS All Access, Showtime OTT Combined U.S. Subs Top 19.2 Million

Just days before CBS All Access morphs into the Paramount+ subscription streaming service in early March, corporate parent ViacomCBS Feb. 24 said combined U.S. subscriptions to All Access and Showtime OTT reached 19.2 million at the end of the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2020. That compares with 11 million combined subs at the end of 2019.

ViacomCBS said All Access momentum was driven by demand for sports content, including the NFL, UEFA and SEC, as well as original programming, including “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Stand,” and content from ViacomCBS cable brands. Showtime OTT benefited from strong demand for original programming, including the
premieres of “Shameless” and the limited series “Your Honor,” as well as theatricals.

All Access, which becomes Paramount+ on March 4, costs $5.99 monthly with ads; $9.99 without. Showtime OTT, which is not joining Paramount+, costs $9.99 monthly. Paramount+ is available for a 50% discount through March 2  if consumers buy a year-long subscription  with a special code: PARAMOUNTPLUS.

In the quarter and fiscal year, global streaming subscribers grew to nearly 30 million, with ad-supported VOD platform Pluto TV’s global monthly average users up to 43 million. Domestic streaming subs rose 71% year-over-year, and Pluto TV domestic monthly average users increased to 30.1 million.

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“Despite the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we finished the year with strong advertising and affiliate results that demonstrate the strength of our core businesses and achieved incredible growth across our linked streaming ecosystem,” CEO Bob Bakish said in a statement.

Paramount Q4, Fiscal Year Home Entertainment Revenue Up 14%

Paramount Home Entertainment Feb. 24 reported fourth-quarter (ended Dec. 31, 2020) revenue of $176 million, an increase of 14%, or $21 million, from $155 million in the previous-year period. For the fiscal year, sales of packaged and digital movies and TV shows topped $706 million, up 14%, or $86 million, from $623 million in 2019.

The studio said home entertainment revenue was driven by higher sales of catalog and Miramax titles. Indeed, Sonic the Hedgehog was the studio’s top-selling DVD/Blu-ray Disc title in 2020.

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Q4 2020 revenue decreased 3% year-over-year, reflecting the decline in theatrical revenue, partially offset by growth in licensing and home entertainment revenue. Theatrical revenue was immaterial in the quarter as a result of the closure or reduction in capacity of movie theaters in response to COVID-19.

Licensing revenue grew 39% year-over-year due to higher licensing of catalog titles. Adjusted pre-tax earnings was $18 million, compared with a loss of $119 million in the prior-year quarter as lower revenue was more than offset by lower distribution costs from fewer theatrical releases.

BritBox Promotes Reemah Sakaan to CEO International

BritBox Feb. 24 named Reemah Sakaan to the position of CEO International as the British-centric programming subscription streaming VOD expands operations globally. Sakaan, who begins her new position in April, currently heads SVOD operations at ITV, co-owner of BritBox with BBC Studios. She is also currently chief brand & creative officer at BritBox Global.

Reemah Sakaan

Sakaan will oversee all BritBox operations outside the United Kingdom, which bowed service there in 2019 following previous launches in the U.S. (2017) and Canada (2018). With more than 1.5 million subscribers, BritBox bowed operations in Australia last year and plans to roll out service in South Africa later this year.

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BritBox management includes Moira Hogan, country manager for Australia, and Emily Powers EVP and head of BritBox North America — all of whom report to Sakaan.

“The role attracted a very impressive field of external candidates which reflects the strength and appeal of the BritBox brand,” Carolyn McCall, ITV CEO said in a statement. “Reemah was deservedly successful and I am really pleased that she will lead BritBox internationally.”

Tim Davie, director general BBC, said international audiences are increasingly turning to British TV shows and movies — a reality not lost on Netflix, Amazon Studios and Disney, which all have content production operations in the U.K.

“This is an important moment for BritBox and its ambitions to become a truly global brand,” Davie said.


Zombie Film ‘Legion of the Night’ Available on DVD From MVD

The 1995 zombie film Legion of the Night is available on DVD from MVD Entertainment Group and Film Trauma.

In the film, Taylor Bloom comes home and finds that his father has been murdered by the mob and his secret experiments stolen. Taylor’s father Dr. Bloom had created the ultimate soldier using reanimated corpses. He called these soldiers CZA’s or Cybernetic Zombie Assassins and now they are being used by the mob as the ultimate hit men. Eager for revenge, Taylor and his father’s assistant create an army of the dead to reclaim his father’s property and take out the mob. Things however don’t go quite as planned and Taylor finds himself in a life and after death struggle.

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The film features performances by Bill Hinzman (Night of the Living Dead), Ron Asheton (“The Stooges”) and Jeff Rector (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “NYPD Blue”).