FandangoNow Creates Playlists for San Diego Comic-Con

With Comic-Con in full swing in San Diego through July 21, FandangoNow, Fandango’s transactional VOD service, is hosting two new playlists devoted to fan favorites and genre films.

Fandango correspondent Alicia Malone, author of the feminist film histories The Female Gaze and Backwards and in Heels, July 19 is moderating a Comic-Con panel entitled “The Future of Film is Female.” The panel on genre films by female filmmakers features Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley, Fast Color director Julia Hart, Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd and Black Panther cinematographer Rachel Morrison.

Malone has curated a FandangoNow playlist of her favorite female-helmed genre films, including Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy, Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time.

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Also in honor of the convention’s 50th anniversary, Rotten Tomatoes has curated a special playlist of 50 Movies that Defined Comic-Con on FandangoNow, featuring such titles as Iron Man, Twilight and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ Coming to Digital Aug. 13, Disc Aug. 27 From Universal

The family film The Secret Life of Pets 2 will debut on digital Aug. 13 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Aug. 27 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

From the studio Illumination (Despicable Me, Minions, Sing), the animated sequel features the pets and their growing families in a new chapter that explores the deep bond between them and the humans that love them. Again, the film answers the question: What are your pets really doing when you’re not at home? Terrier Max (voice of Patton Oswalt) is coping with major life changes after Katie’s marriage and the arrival of a toddler, Liam. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy from a cat-packed apartment with a little help from her feline friend Chloe (Lake Bell), who has discovered the joys of catnip. And Snowball (Kevin Hart) believes, despite the other pets’ teasing, that he’s a superhero after his owner starts dressing him in superhero pajamas. But when Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), a fearless Shih Tzu, shows up to ask for Snowball’s help on a dangerous mission, he has to summon the courage to become the hero he’s been pretending to be.

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Other voice talent includes Eric Stonestreet, Nick Kroll, Dana Carvey, Ellie Kemper, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan and Harrison Ford in his first ever role in an animated film as new farm dog, Rooster.

Bonus features on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital include two mini-movies — Super Gidget, featuring the film’s Pomeranian Gidget and her best friend Max, and Minion Scouts, starring the Minions. Also included are deleted scenes, making-of featurettes and drawing tutorials. An interactive Captain Snowball motion comic allowing viewers to direct the bunny hero on his next move is exclusive to the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray versions.

‘Robotech’ Catalog Streaming on AVOD Platforms

All series and the feature Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles from the anime franchise “Robotech” are available to stream at no cost on AVOD platforms, including The Roku Channel, Vudu and FilmRise, FilmRise announced.

The announcement was made July 18 during the Robotech panel at San Diego Comic-Con by Harmony Gold.

The content available to stream includes all 85 episodes of  the original syndicated television series, all 85 re-mastered “original edit” episodes of the entire series, all 36 episodes of “Super Dimension Fortress Macross,” all 23 episodes of “Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross,” all 25 episodes of “Genesis Climber Mospeada,” the feature The Shadow Chronicles, and up to 11 hours of bonus features from both the series and the film.

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View the trailer here.

Disney Names Justin Connolly President, Media Distribution, Combines Units

The Walt Disney Co. will combine all of its media sales and channel distribution into one organization under Justin Connolly, who has been named president, Media Distribution.  Based in New York, Connolly will report to Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International segment.

Connolly’s appointment comes just days after the abrupt departure of Disney veteran Janice Marinelli from her position as president of Global Content Sales & Distribution for The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer & International (DTCI) segment, ending a 34-year career at the media giant.

“By combining all of our media, affiliate, content and syndication sales, and distribution efforts into the Direct-to-Consumer and International segment, we continue to transform the ways in which we distribute the great stories and characters created by The Walt Disney Company’s studios and media networks,” said Mayer in a statement. “I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Justin for many years and believe his experience makes him well-suited to drive Disney’s media sales and distribution efforts. He is a consummate professional, a fantastic dealmaker, and a great leader.”

“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead the industry’s best multi-platform sales and distribution teams,” said Connolly in a statement. “Through our combined efforts we will achieve the company’s vision for an even stronger, more agile organization that is better able to pivot and capitalize on the many opportunities present in today’s fast-changing and increasingly complex global marketplace.”

In his new role, Connolly will spearhead global app distribution deals for Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming services — including Disney+, ESPN+ and Movies Anywhere. Connolly will also be responsible for the distribution of film and television programming via home entertainment, broadcasting platforms, digital platforms, SVOD and pay networks.

He will continue to oversee all aspects of North American distribution, affiliate marketing and affiliate-related business operations for all the services provided by Disney and ESPN media networks including, among other services: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, SEC Network, ACC Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild, and related WATCH, HDTV, video-on-demand, interactive television and retransmission consent agreements for Disney’s eight-owned ABC stations. He will also continue to have oversight of the ABC Affiliate Relations and Marketing team.

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To ensure alignment between content licensing and direct-to-consumer priorities, a Disney release stated Connolly will work closely with DTCI’s international content sales teams who now report directly into their respective regional leaders. Connolly will have final approval on all content sales agreements for Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox Film, Fox Animation, Disneynature, ABC Studios, ABC Entertainment, National Geographic, FX Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, WABC, Freeform, Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior.

Connolly previously served as EVP, affiliate sales and marketing, Disney and ESPN Media Networks — overseeing all aspects of domestic distribution, ABC affiliate relations, affiliate marketing and affiliate-related business operations for all the services provided by Disney and ESPN media networks. In June 2017, he added oversight of ESPN’s strategy and business development teams to his portfolio.

Prior to that, Connolly served as SVP, college networks, and under his direction, SEC Network was the most successful network launch in cable history. Before working with the college networks, Connolly served as SVP, national accounts for Disney & ESPN Media Networks. He was responsible for all domestic distribution and licensing efforts for Disney’s linear networks, broadband and VOD content within the Media Networks Group.

He joined ESPN in 2003 and served in various capacities including director, ESPN strategy and operations, where he helped ESPN with its long-term affiliate negotiations. In August 2004 he was promoted to VP, distribution strategy. Prior to joining ESPN, Connolly worked in the corporate finance group for Disney’s corporate treasury department in Burbank, Calif.

Connolly, a Boston native, graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in 1998 and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2003.

Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International segment includes Disney’s international media operations stretching from Europe to Asia to Latin America and the company’s direct-to-consumer streaming businesses, including Hulu, Hotstar, ESPN+, and the upcoming Disney+ service set to debut in the United States Nov. 12. DTCI also houses global advertising sales and ad technology for Disney media properties, which include ABC, ESPN, Freeform, FX Networks, National Geographic, and the Disney Channels. The xompany’s media distribution operations — including global distribution of film and TV content to Disney+, Hulu and other third-party platforms, as well as Movies Anywhere — are also part of the Direct-to-Consumer & International business segment.

EMA Event Spotlights Digital Delivery

The over-the-top market is exploding, and the Entertainment Merchants Association this year at its annual Los Angeles conference gave it a starring role.

The OTT_X conference, focusing on the OTT market, ran July 16-17 concurrent with the eighth annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit presented by the EMA. In addition to OTT panels and spotlight presentations, the EMA facilitated OTT business meetings in addition to meetings scheduled for LAES participants. The joint event attracted about 400 attendees.

The new focus is part of a bigger shift for the EMA.

“It was really apparent last year that the event needed to change,” said EMA CEO and president Mark Fisher July 16 in opening remarks, adding “as the industry changes so does the EMA.”

“We’ve intentionally shed our support and income from the video game segment,” he said, to be more focused. The organization has also shed physical retail members and distributors.

“It’s a pivot,” he said, but “we’re not going to leave behind the TVOD space.”

A leader in that transactional VOD market, FandangoNow chief Cameron Douglas, also chair of the EMA board, noted the annual confab “used to be an event with meetings between retailers and studios.”

Now, the EMA, via its Ultimate Movie Weekend promotion, is promoting cooperation between studios and digital retailers.

“Who would have thought there would be a major studio backed campaign — except Fox and Disney — that was focused on rental instead of EST,” Douglas said.

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks and chair of the OTT_X  conference, explained the name in opening remarks.

“The X in the name really reflects the core mission of why we’re all here today,” he said. “It’s an exchange. First and foremost, it’s an exchange of ideas.”

Such collaboration is crucial in an era of fast digital disruption.

“These changes are happening so frequently and at such a precipitous pace, the only way we can come out of this is by fostering a community,” he said.

Key challenges for OTT video platforms are customer acquisition and retention, monetization and content discovery, according to speakers at OTT_X.

Having original content is one way OTT platforms are meeting these challenges, said presenter Kathi Chandler-Payatt, executive director and entertainment analyst, The NPD Group. Using Netflix Originals as a case study, she noted that while both original movies and episodic shows are a small percentage of content on Netflix, they garner an outsized share of viewing. Originals made up 16% of new seasons vs. licensed in 2019, but those originals garnered a prodigious 24% of minutes watched. The same holds true for original movies, which are 11% of content and 22% of minutes.

Part of the reason for the uptake of originals is preferential marketing, she noted.

“It’s very smart from a platform perspective to push originals,” she said because the platform owns it. Thus, making a show with Netflix may give content producers a leg up in discovery.

“People think content is king, but discovery is king,” she said.

Originals have a short window to prove themselves, she said. She quoted Netflix VP of originals Cindy Holland as saying that the service generally knows within 28 days whether a new show or season meets Netflix’s expectations in terms of audience reach. In addition to viewership during that period, metrics such as season completion also figure in renewal.

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OTT_X event chair Opeka moderated the panel “Monetization Trends in OTT.” Ad-supported VOD streaming services, such as Xumo, whose CEO Colin Petrie-Norris was on the panel, are ascendant, many speakers noted. Xumo has 160 curated channels and 40 million households in the United States, Petrie-Norris said.

AVOD “can generate very high yield per consumer” with advertising, he said.

Tubi chief content officer Adam Lewinson also cited the growth of AVOD in a keynote presentatoin. AVOD aggregator Tubi has 20 million monthly active users, with 100 million minutes streamed in June and well over 15,000 titles or 44,000 hours of content, “more than double the content volume of Netflix,” he said. June yielded its largest revenue month ever, he said.

“AVOD is for real,” he said.

There are challenges, however.

“The biggest challenge in streaming right now … in all VODs, it’s really about customer acquisition, retention and churn,” he said. “A subset to that is content discovery. Once you crack those problems, that’s when you get to scale.”

A seamless experience on the platform is also “incredibly important,” he said, “just having a seamless experience where the tech fades away.”

“You also want to be ubiquitious,” he said. “You do want to be everywhere that people are streaming.”

Tubi has also employed machine learning in its proprietary content personalization engine.

“The more data that we have on our viewers the more we are able to personalize,” he said.

A key advantage to AVOD is the “barrier to entry is so low” because viewers don’t have to pay, he said.

As for Tubi getting into original programming like its paid SVOD counterparts, “we have no intention of going down that road,” he said. “It’s tremendously competitive. You wind up overpaying for content.”

There is already too much content, he noted.

“Original series are just whizzing by at an epic pace,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Tubi isn’t willing to spend on content.

“I have a nine-figure content budget for the year, and we’re spending it,” he said.

On a panel about windowing of content, Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media, said he was “worried that [AVOD is] the emperor’s new clothes,” a false hope of a monetary savior, noting the amount of revenue that trickles down to content producers who license their titles to such services is small.

Still, competition from increased content is pushing content owners to find new outlets.

“It used to take years for us to put up content on AVOD,” said Cinedigm’s Natasha Pietruschka, adding that now, “Where else can we fill those revenue gaps?”

Transactional digital retailers took the stage during the LAES session. Panelists noted that since consumers are paying directly for content, whether for rental or purchase, the key concern for TVOD platforms is making that experience seamless and easy and the quality top notch.

“The bar is so high because you have paid specifically for that title whether rental or purchase,” said FandangoNow’s Douglas, who was on the transactional panel. “It better play.”

He said FandangoNow has concentrated on making the viewing experience top-quality with extensive 4K offerings and a living room app that rivals any.

While Redbox has made its name on physical disc rentals, Chris Yates, GM of Redbox On Demand, said the new digital sales and rental arm doesn’t cannibalize that core business, it supplements it. It offers a choice when consumers don’t want to go to a kiosk and has resulted in “improved affinity for our brand,” he said.

Speakers at both events discussed the looming launch of new SVOD services, including Walt Disney Co.’s $6.99 Disney+.

Disney is “out in front of the others,” said IHS Markit’s Sarah Henschel during a research presentation. Awareness of the service jumped from 24% in Q1 to 35% in Q2 even before the Disney marketing machine really gets rolling, she said.

The firm expects upcoming services to add 36.7 million paying domestic subs by 2023.

“I think Disney and Apple [with its pending SVOD service Apple TV+] have a leg up because they are already consumer facing brands,” Henschel said. “Disney has the strongest hold in my opinion right now.”

When asked how many in the audience would buy the new service when it launches, the majority of attendees raised their hands.

Doc ‘Ring of Faith’ Due on DVD, VOD and EST July 23 From Virgil

The boxing documentary Ring of Faith, exploring faith’s role in boxing, is coming to DVD, VOD and EST July 23 from Virgil Films.

Featuring interviews with professional boxers (Paulie Malignaggi and two-time Welterweight World Champion Shawn Porter), religious leaders (including Vatican officials) and influencers in sports, Ring of Faith gives an in depth look at the impact that boxing has made on communities while looking at the way faith and religion have played roles in the sport and lives of the boxers.

Ring of Faith, which features actor/entertainment journalist Mario Lopez and boxing trainer/analyst Teddy Atlas, was recently nominated for a New York Emmy Award.

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Netflix’s ‘Stranger Things’ Top Binge, ‘3Below: Tales of Arcadia’ Top Rising Show on TV Time Charts

Viewers continued to binge “Stranger Things.” For a second consecutive week, the Netflix series topped TV Time’s “Binge Report.”

Meanwhile, viewers picked Netflix’s animated “3Below: Tales of Arcadia” as the top “Show on the Rise” on TV Time’s charts for the week ended July 14.

TV Time is a free TV viewership tracking app that tracks consumers’ viewing habits worldwide and is visited by more than 1 million consumers every day, according to the company. The weekly “Binge Report” ranks shows with the most binge sessions. A binge session is when four or more episodes of a show are watched and tracked in the app in a given day. The “Shows on the Rise” chart is calculated by determining the week-over-week growth in episodes watched for a given program.

Season three of “Stranger Things” debuted on Netflix July 4. Set in the 1980s, the series follows four friends who find a girl with telekinetic powers, an alternate dimension and monsters coming out of it.

The animated Netflix show “3Below: Tales of Arcadia” is the story of a teenage girl, a Latino boy, and an old man who just happen to be aliens. With their home planet torn apart by Civil War, Princess Aja Tarron and Prince Krel Tarron find themselves marooned on the most backwater, primitive world in the galaxy: Earth. The three take on human guises to conceal their alien form as they search for a safe passage back to their home planet, but while searching, they develop a real affection for Earth and its inhabitants.

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Top Binge Shows Week Ended July 14 by Share of Binges:

  1. “Stranger Things” (Netflix) — 14.53%
  2. “Lucifer” (Neflix) — 3.01%
  3. “Friends” (NBC) — 2.24%
  4. “Glee” (Fox) — 2.21%
  5. “Dark” (Netflix) — 1.68%
  6. “The Big Band Theory” (CBS) — 1.57%
  7. “The 100” (The CW) — 1.30%
  8. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC) — 1.27%
  9. “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC) — 1.22%
  10. “Riverdale” (The CW) — 1.15%

 

Top Shows on the Rise Week Ended July 14 by Rise Ratio:

  1. “3Below: Tales of Arcadia” (Netflix) – 95.8%
  2. “Scream: The TV Series” (VH1) — 91.7%
  3. “Vinland Saga” (NHK) — 86.8%
  4. “You Me Her” (Audience Network) — 81.3%
  5. “Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon” (Tokyo MX) — 79.9%
  6. “Free Rein” (Netflix) – 46.3%
  7. “Dr. Stone” (Tokyo MX) — 45.9%
  8. “Fire Force” (MBS) – 43.9%
  9. “The Last Czars” (Netflix) — 40.5%
  10. “Pose” (FX) — 37.6%

Hellboy Resurfaces

Fifteen years after the first film and numerous comic book movies later, producers felt Hellboy was ready for a comeback — with a darker hero, a new focus on adhering to the source material and involvement by creator Mike Mignola.

Lionsgate’s reimagining of Hellboy is available now digitally and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc (with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio) July 23 including deleted scenes and previsualizations. The Blu-ray and digital versions also include the making-of documentary featurette “Tales of the Wild Hunt: Hellboy Reborn.”

“I loved the story, and I loved that it was based very much on the comics,” says David Harbour (Hellboy) in the featurette, adding “it’s a Hellboy with more internal struggle, with more sort of torture.”

“For me it’s actually fun to kind of get a second chance to create Hellboy,” comic creator Mignola, who is also an executive producer on the film, says in the featurette. “We’re doing in some ways some-thing that’s much more close to my material, but we’re creating a new variation on the Mike Mignola Hellboy.”

Based on the Dark Horse comic book created by Mignola, the film finds the half-demon super-hero Hellboy as he is called to the English countryside to battle a trio of rampaging giants and finds himself confronting an ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich). The film also stars Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim and Thomas Haden Church.

The 2010 comic anthology Hellboy Vol. 9: The Wild Hunt, which reveals Hellboy’s origin story, is one of the inspirations for the film.

“The story of Hellboy is baked into the story of the Wild Hunt,” producer Lloyd Levin says in the featurette.

Much of the dialog, in fact, is taken directly from the comics.

“It created an opportunity to do a Hellboy movie that was more faithful to what Mike Mignola had created,” he adds.

“This one feels very different than the other films,” Mignola says. “While it’s not a direct adaptation of one of my stories, it’s taken so many pieces of so many of my stories and fit them together in a way that really works.”

McShane, who plays Professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm and father figure to Hellboy, also notes the comic influence in his character.

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“They’ve made this character more like the original sort of Indiana Jonesy kind of character that he was when he found Hellboy,” he says in the featurette.

As part of her preparation for her role of Nimue, the Blood Queen, Jovovich went out and bought hardbound editions of several comic collections. “The illustrations are phenomenal,” she says. “I saw how beautifully they were done, and how much heart and soul the stories had, and thought, wow, we could really do something great here.”

Going back to the source was a mantra for the Lionsgate marketing team as well. In keeping with the strategy of staying close to the comics, the team created retail exclusives with unique custom artwork and other extras to harken back to the film’s comic book roots:

BEST BUY:

Hellboy comic creator Mignola designed artwork exclusively for the Best Buy 4K UHD Combo Pack Steelbooks.

WALMART:

With purchase of the 4K UHD  Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack or DVD at Walmart, Hellboy fans receive a PIN on their receipt for the download of Mike Mignola’s comic Hellboy: The Wild Hunt — the inspiration for the film. The comic is redeemable through Walmart’s Kobo e-reader or through Rakuten Kobo’s eBooks app on mobile.

TARGET:

The Target Blu-ray Combo Pack  double-sided Steelbook features  collectible poster art.

Conventional Wisdom: An Inside Look at Comic-Con and Fan Shows From a Home Entertainment Perspective

In an increasingly fragmented entertainment landscape, connecting with fans is essential for home entertainment marketers.

In addition to traditional media, social media and other online platforms, consumer conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con International, New York Comic Con and WonderCon can provide a unique opportunity to reach fans.

One of the biggest meccas for fans, celebrities and studios remains the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which draws more then 130,000 attendees and this year runs July 18-21. Other shows are catching up, and some brands have gotten big enough to sustain shows all by themselves, including Disney’s D23 Expo. All these confabs give marketers access to a pool of consumers who are enthusiastic about their titles.

“The Cons can be meaningful amplifiers of awareness and engagement, given their high-profile nature and broad consumer appeal,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “They pose a special opportunity to generate visibility and reach among entertainment enthusiasts seeking exclusive interactions and even wish fulfillment with their favorite entertainment properties.”

“Conventions are a great way for us to spread our messaging and increase awareness of our films to a captive audience of both general entertainment fans and specific genre groups,” says Kristina Fugate, SVP of film marketing at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “In addition to attracting hundreds of thousands of fans to these events, social media posts and social media influencer stories have pushed the convention’s reach far beyond their physical location. Additionally, entertainment press coverage of these conventions is global in reach and helps us get our marketing messaging to a much wider audience.”

Consumer shows are “absolutely” a key tool for gathering consumer eyeballs, adds Mary Ellen Thomas, VP of TV marketing for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

“We are able to directly reach our core target audience and the media that covers the genre as well as media for a broader audience,” she says. “The core fan will not only absorb the information, but because they are at a premiere event that allows them some exclusivity, they will spread the word for us through word of mouth and social media.”

Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, agrees.

“These conventions provide a unique opportunity to speak directly to a core audience who know these properties and have followed them since they were in comic or video game form,” says Wong. “Unlike any other outlet, these events enable a space in which both the studio and the fans benefit equally and celebrate the properties via first looks, products and direct engagement with creators. When approached with that fanbase in mind, conventions can be ideal for driving awareness and creating advocates for our upcoming releases.”

“Conventions like these draw dedicated fans from a wide range of demographics and can provide an excellent opportunity to reach a receptive audience in an engaging environment,” adds Brenda Ciccone, SVP of worldwide publicity and communications at Paramount Home Entertainment.

Instances of studios pulling out of consumer shows, particularly San Diego Comic-Con, may have been in the news in recent years, but that is not the case with marketers in the studios’ home entertainment divisions.

Indeed, these shows are more relevant than ever, says Warner’s Thomas.
“As these cons become more and more influential across all audiences, they make it possible to reach both our target and mainstream consumers,” she says.

Still, consumer shows can present a challenge to home entertainment marketers, in part because they are so well attended and popular.

“Over time, the Cons have become increasingly crowded and competitive, with properties all vying for the same attention,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “Only the most memorable and unique events and activations are able to rise above the ambient noise to garner distinct notice from press and fans and create a meaningful impact.”

“Depending on the title and the activation, a convention presence can have a positive impact on consumer awareness and interest, but the challenge is to cut through the many titles vying for attention,” agrees Paramount’s Ciccone.

“It is important to be strategic about the properties we bring to the conventions and how we best deploy them to break through to the attendees,” says

Sony’s Wong. “San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con are often the launching ground for big announcements, so anything we would consider bringing must align perfectly with the audience and make sense for our scale and scope.”

One of the key targets of marketers is the online or social media “influencer,” the Web personality/expert/enthusiast who has the clout to promote a title or franchise to its biggest fans. One such influencer is Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com, a source since 1997 for DVD/Blu-ray industry news, reviews and analysis. Hunt is a longtime panel moderator at San Diego Comic-Con, focusing on home entertainment. About five years ago he ended his annual panel with disc featurette producers, but “they still all come to Comic-Con,” he says. “It is a mixture of work and recreation for those guys.”

For the 2019 Comic-Con, Hunt will moderate a Saturday panel for independent supplier Shout Factory! called “A Look Inside Shout Factory!” He’s also weighing in on a panel Thursday featuring “The Inglorious Treksperts” who run a podcast for “Star Trek” fans.

Online influencers such as Hunt help amplify title marketing at a show.

“Originally our convention ‘bang for the buck’ came from press days with filmmakers and talent, press coverage of panels and activations, and screenings for convention attendees,” notes Warner’s Fugate. “While those are still relevant today, social media coverage from conventions has brought our activities and messaging to a much wider audience. The creation of custom hashtags related to our films showcased at Comic-Con along with coverage of events posted by social media influencers definitely enhance the awareness of the content that we are promoting at these events. We also use conventions as buzz builders, stretching between announce and street date. This worked well for us when we had Iron Giant: Signature Edition panels with director Brad Bird at both WonderCon and SDCC.”

In targeting influencers, “there are a variety of approaches to consider, from talent panels, Q&As and signings, to high-tech activations and innovative ‘surprise-and-delight’-type of moments,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “Being organic to the brand and developing a one-of-a-kind experience is key.”

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Separating the marketing for the title from the cacophony of promotional activities is key.

“When approaching influencers at events, we look to create experiences that are shareable and memorable,” says Sony’s Wong. “We try to create unique and original interactive opportunities that they can’t get anywhere else.”

“Offering exclusive first looks at our properties and providing in-demand talent (production and actors) to represent those properties and give special insight proliferates the ‘must have’ sensibilities about our product,” says Melissa Hufjay, VP of publicity at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

“Fans and influencers are inundated at conventions with content, activations and experiences,” adds Stuart Herriott, executive director of publicity at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “So, we have to make our convention activities really stand out from the crowd. We put great effort into creating unique experiences for convention attendees, such as a 1980s video arcade and a replica of the bathroom from The Shining for Ready Player One, and for the chance to see the Batmobiles from all of the Batman films and the TV show, including George Bariss’ original 1960s vehicle, for Batman’s 75th anniversary. We also offer key influencers advanced exclusive access to our activations prior to opening, which allows them to post their stories early and help build title awareness.”

For Ready Player One, the Warner team brought an immersive experiential activation to San Diego Comic-Con last year. Featuring iconic sets and moments from the film, the installation contained two Ready Player One-themed escape rooms, which tested fans’ knowledge of 1980s culture; re-creations of several sets from the film; a full arcade; props and costumes from the film; and photo opportunities accompanied by custom hashtags. The “surprise” element exclusive to WBHE was a faithful re-creation of the Overlook Hotel hallway, elevators, the doors to room 237, and the iconic bathroom from The Shining, along with atmospheric sound and visual effects. WBHE hosted a media and influencer preview prior to the activation opening that included a private guided tour and stand-up and photo opportunities. In keeping with the retro 1980s themes included in the film, Warner designed and created a VHS copy of the film and gave it to press along with a copy of the film’s soundtrack on vinyl, which was released by WB’s Water Tower Music. The highly coveted VHS giveaway was signed by Ernest Cline, author of the Ready Player One novel.

“Last year’s Ready Player One immersive activation reached 3.2 million users across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and secured a 93% increase in RPO followers during SDCC as compared to the same time period one month prior, and also resulted in a 140% increase in social media mentions of RPO during SDCC as compared to the title’s announce week,” says Warner’s Fugate. “The Comic-Con activation definitely created a strong social media presence and broadened the audience for the film’s online following, creating heightened awareness to complement our traditional marketing, media and publicity campaigns.”

Traditional panels during the show also can create buzz and boost titles.
“We see great success both from our Comic-Con premieres but also when we anchor our titles with Con presence,” says Warner’s Thomas. “For example we had a Batman: The Animated Series panel at San Diego Comic-Con last year and timed our preorders to our panel. We saw an extraordinarily large number of preorders come in immediately.”

Photo ops help with viral spread as well. For New York Comic Con in 2015, the Universal team re-created the towering entrance gates to Jurassic World. The 34-foot-high and 60-foot-wide gates were installed in the main entrance hall at the Javits Center, leading fans, press and influencers from around the world into the exhibition hall.

Supplemented with foliage, smoke effects, and of course, the film’s score, the installation also featured Zulu the Velociraptor. The raptor made special appearances throughout the convention for photos, fan interaction and media coverage.

In another photo op strategy, for the release of the hit film Bumblebee, the Paramount Home Entertainment marketing team brought a towering Bumblebee to WonderCon this past March.

“The whole point of these conventions is for consumers to interact with their favorite properties and with other fans who share their enthusiasm,” says Paramount’s Ciccone. “The key to winning over fans is to offer a unique experience that resonates with them in an authentic way.”

While marketers don’t necessarily time home entertainment releases to take advantage of consumer show exposure, they look for shows that might line up.

“Once we’ve determined our release timing, we consider whether an opportunity to leverage a Con aligns with a respective campaign’s strategic marketing goals and priorities,” says Universal’s Hoffman.

“Fortunately, our late-spring theatrical tentpole titles often fall into San Diego Comic-Con timing,” says Warner’s Fugate. “So, while not necessarily a factor in dating our home entertainment titles, Comic-Con’s July timing is often beneficial for some of our year’s biggest films.”

Warner’s franchise and animation team, however, does time certain releases to take advantage of San Diego Comic-Con.

“We anchor several of our titles to follow our presentations at Comic-Con,” says Warner’s Thomas.

The Warner Bros. studio home entertainment divisions are planning a major presence at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International, with premieres of new animated and horror movies, celebrations of iconic character anniversaries, and immersive fan experiences for major theatrical releases heading to home video.

“We are hosting world premieres of Batman: Hush, The Banana Splits Movie, Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters and Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island,” says Warner’s Hufjay. “We are celebrating Scooby-Doo’s 50th Anniversary and the 20th Anniversary of ‘Batman Beyond.’ We’re also spotlighting Critters Attack! with The Banana Splits Movie in a combined horror panel.”

“We will have fan activations for Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Shazam!,” says Warner’s Fugate. “Both will be interactive and immersive and will be fun for all Comic-Con attendees and will have lots of photo opportunities and prize giveaways. We will also be screening a documentary on the history of the character Shazam! which will be introduced by Asher Angel, who played Billy Batson in the film.”
The activations will be adjacent to the Omni Hotel near the convention center.

The Pikachu activation will offer guests a chance to explore an immersive walkthrough pop-up of the film’s Ryme City, including photo ops featuring a neon cityscape, the marketplace, film prop displays, an infinity room and characters from the film. WBHE releases the film digitally July 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Aug. 6. Fans can also visit the Chilladelphia Winter Carnival from the superhero film Shazam!, which will be available digitally and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from WBHE just before the convention begins.

The world premiere of the DC Spotlight: Shazam! documentary will take place at 6 p.m. July 18, at the Horton Grand Theatre. The documentary will stream later this summer on the DC Universe service.

While Disney in recent years has reserved its consumer show promotional activities for its own D23 Expo fan confab (taking place this year Aug. 23-25) in Anaheim, Calif. Marvel Studios properties will be highlighted on at least two panels at San Diego Comic-Con. Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of this summer’s $2.77 billion-earning blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, will be hosting a panel in Hall H at 11 a.m. July 19. The title arrives on digital July 30 and on disc Aug. 13. Also, Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige and “surprise panelists” are scheduled to take the stage in Hall H at 5:15 p.m. July 20. Some form of an Avengers reunion is in store at SDCC, according to rumors cited by online site Deadline, with some of the cast members showing up at one of the panels.

Continuing a trend at San Diego Comic-Con in recent years, the streaming goliaths will also be out in force promoting their original properties. Among other events, Amazon will promote its new series “The Boys,” co-created by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and hitting screens July 26, with a sneak-preview premiere and press event July 19. The series follows a group of vigilantes who embark on a quest to take down selfish superheroes The Seven, a group who abuses their powers rather than using them for good. Netflix will promote its new series “The Witcher,” starring Henry Cavill as a monster hunter, at a panel July 19. The series is based on the bestselling fantasy books.

Third Season of ‘Into the Badlands’ Coming to Disc Aug. 27 From Lionsgate

AMC’s martial arts drama comes to an end in Into the Badlands: The Complete Third Season, arriving on Blu-ray (plus digital) and DVD Aug. 27 from Lionsgate.

In the final season of “Into the Badlands,” Sunny’s son contracts a mysterious illness that pressures him to join forces with Bajie. They journey back into the Badlands, where The Widow and Baron Chau are entrenched in a drawn-out war that has destabilized the entire region.

The series stars Daniel Wu, Aramis Knight, Emily Beecham, Orla Brady, Sherman Augustus and Babou Ceesay.

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