More Layoffs This Week as Disney Integration of Fox Continues

A second round of layoffs is reportedly rocking the Walt Disney Co. this week as the studio continues to integrate the 20th Century Fox film organization it officially acquired March 20.

The layoffs, initially reported by Variety and then by the Los Angeles Times, are expected to hit hardest in the former Fox motion picture division, in distribution and marketing.

The first round of layoffs occurred in late March, a few days after the $71.3 billion acquisition closed, when some two dozen executives were let go, including Mike Dunn, the longtime head of the home video unit.

At the time insiders told Media Play News that the layoffs were progressing from the top down, and that a total of about 4,000 people would ultimately lose their jobs.

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On the home entertainment front, sources say that Janice Marinelli, who in December was promoted to president, global content sales and distribution at Disney, has in recent weeks opened an office at Fox. Other than that, sources say, it’s been business as usual in the home entertainment organization, with marketers and publicists continuing to prep for the home release of films such as The Aftermath, whose home release days were announced last Monday.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney Studios last week announced its upcoming release slate, with an integrated schedule of Disney and Fox films.

The Walt Disney Studios 2019 summer slate includes Disney’s Aladdin on May 24, Fox’s Dark Phoenix on June 7, Pixar’s Toy Story 4 on June 21, Fox’s Stuber on July 12, and Disney’s The Lion King on July 19.

Fox 2000’s The Art of Racing in the Rain moves up to Aug. 9, and Fox Searchlight’s Ready or Not will debut on the big screen Aug. 23. Three other films have been moved to later dates: Ad Astra, Sept. 20; The New Mutants, April 3, 2020; and Artemis Fowl, May 29, 2020.

The 2019 slate rounds out with Fox’s The Woman in the Window Oct. 4 and Ford V. Ferrari Nov. 15, Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Oct. 18 and Disney Animation’s Frozen 2 Nov. 22, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Dec. 20, and Blue Sky Studios’ Spies in Disguise, moving from September to Christmas.

Among early 2020 titles are Fox’s Underwater Jan. 10, a new Kingsman movie Feb. 14, and Call of the Wild Feb. 21, followed by Pixar’s Onward March 6 and Disney’s Mulan March 27.

The updated calendar also sets release dates for new installments in the franchises “Avatar” and “Star Wars.” With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker bringing the original “Skywalker Saga” to its conclusion, three new as-yet-untitled “Star Wars” films will come out on the pre-Christmas weekend every other year beginning in 2022.

Four new “Avatar” films will bow theatrically on the pre-Christmas weekend every other year beginning in 2021.

Industry Golf Tournament, Benefiting CF Foundation, Returns July 15

A popular entertainment industry golf tournament benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is back.

Industry veteran Mark Horak, who produced the annual golf tournament as part of the annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit (LAES) trade show from 2012 to 2017, is once again inviting studio executives, content distributors and other industry players to a day on the greens.

This year’s golf tournament will be held on July 15, the Monday prior to the ninth annual LAES and OTT Conference, produced by the Entertainment Merchants Association.

The event will be held at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, an exclusive country club with 27 championship holes.

Attendees will include executives from the major and independent studios involved with the production and distribution of content, retailers and distributors of digital and physical content, consumer electronics manufacturers and various suppliers of supporting products and services for the media and entertainment industry.  Confirmed attendees include Google Play, Warner, Transworld, Redbox, Deloitte, DTS and others.

All proceeds will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – a cause near and dear to the heart of Horak, who has two daughters with cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.

Horak, a former high-ranking executive at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Redbox, said that through the LAES and golf tournament, the industry has raised nearly $2 million for the charity.

“LAES and the golf tournament are a great place for industry executives, distributors and vendors who value the chance to network and socialize with key clients and fellow industry executives they might not see in person very often,” Horak said. “Bringing the golf tournament back provides a great networking opportunity in a fun, casual environment and provides important financial support for the CF community”.

Registration for the event opens at 9:30 a.m., with a four-man “Best Ball Scramble” tournament with various skill contests and prizes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The day concludes with a cocktail networking reception silent auction, followed by a plated dinner, a live action and an awards presentation honoring key industry leaders and influencers who are driving the future successes of media and entertainment and helping raise awareness and funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Various sponsorships are available, ranging in price from $2,000 to $25,000. The individual participant rate is $350 or $500 with a tee sponsorship.

For more information, or to sign up, click here.

 

Power Marketing 2019: Home Entertainment’s Top Campaigns and the People Behind Them

Welcome to Media Play News’ first-ever Power Marketing special report. Here, we profile the campaigns behind some of the year’s top-selling disc and digital home releases — and the marketing executives and teams that made them happen.

Our focus is primarily on the big studios — and the big titles — but we kept an eye on independents and retailers as well. As you’ll see, there’s no shortage of ingenuity and innovation.

The Power Campaigns

Avengers: Infinity War — Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International

To capitalize on audience reaction to the epic and unexpected story arc of Avengers: Infinity War during the film’s theatrical run, Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International’s worldwide marketing team formed an aggressive pre-sell campaign. The campaign began at the theatrical window and reinforced that this film is the “beginning of the end of a 10-year journey” for the Marvel brand and is an essential must-have for both hardcore MCU collectors and general movie-loving audiences. The campaign capitalized on Marvel’s year-long 10th anniversary celebration, in which the brand was “always on” in theaters, and tied in with creative promotions driving the entire Marvel catalog.

Disney released a timed trailer with Marvel 10th anniversary events taking place at San Diego Comic-Con International a short time before the film’s July 31 digital release, resulting in a 109% lift in orders. The trailer generated 3.5 million organic impressions on Facebook within a 24-hour span. Additionally, Comic-Con attendees were given the opportunity to take part in a Twitter scavenger hunt that sent fans looking for “infinity stones” throughout the show floor. While only attendees participated in the actual hunt, it trended in Twitter’s top 10 nationally.

The Disney marketing team also launched innovative promotions with leading tech and gaming communities, including Marvel Studios’ first-ever Amazon Alexa Skill trivia game, which included a call to action to purchase the film on Amazon Prime Video.

On digital platforms, the team deployed several creative executions that generated excitement and increased sales. Thanos “took over” all Marvel and talent social media pages. A Facebook AR activation allowed users to apply Thanos’ “fade to ash” effects to their own pictures, and a video series was launched to bring casual consumers up to speed on the MCU backstory. The Russo brothers hosted a Vudu viewing party that generated hundreds of millions of impressions on Twitter and spiked digital sales by more than 33%.

The Disney marketing team also leveraged excitement about the film to create robust integrations with Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Freeform, as well as leading sports brands, including ESPN’s e-sports airing of the Overwatch league, regional MLB home games and a custom Dodger Stadium takeover.

The international team planned big, bold stunts, including the installation of a massive fist gauntlet that “broke ground” in a key London mainline station, a light show in London where the Avengers “A” was beamed into the city skyline, and huge Blu-ray Disc cover installations that were erected in malls throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Avengers: Infinity War wound up being the No. 1 physical and digital release of 2018, and the fastest-selling digital release ever.

Batman: The Animated Series — Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (TV)

Jeff Brown and his team crafted an innovative, interactive 13-month campaign to successfully publicize and market the long-awaited release of the fully-remastered Batman: The Animated Series — Deluxe Limited Edition Blu-ray boxed set. The campaign strategically balanced traditional mainstream approaches with topline genre outreach, global entertainment promotion and grassroots social interaction.

The campaign utilized the two largest fan gatherings in the United States — San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con — as tentpoles for announcements, exhibitions, media activations, and direct interaction with press and consumers. The promotional window opened with a surprise revelation of the remastering of the episodes at the “Batman: The Animated Series” 25th anniversary celebration panel before a capacity crowd of 3,000 at New York Comic Con in October 2017. WBHE continued a teaser approach for the following eight months until San Diego Comic-Con in 2018, with a full day of high-profile and genre-based media interviews capped by an at-capacity 2,000-seat panel, where most details were revealed. From there, WBHE enacted an aggressive three-month publicity blitz, leading up to a final New York Comic Con panel before 3,000 enthusiastic fans 17 days before the DVD and Blu-ray Disc’s street date.

Over the course of the 13-month campaign, WBHE employed numerous engaging publicity tactics to maintain fan interest, ramping up as street date approached. These efforts included:

  • A stealth initial soft launch that garnered more than 2,000 preorders before officially announcing the product, resulting in a greater immediacy for initial demand;
  • An announced lower-than-expected exclusive limited-edition number that drove even greater sales and forced an eventual expansion of that production run to more than double the original total;
  • Inclusion of a digital copy with each disc set, as a consumer value add;
  • Continuous social presence utilizing the acting stars of the series (Kevin Conroy, Tara Strong, Loren Lester, John Glover, Diane Pershing), as well as Bat-friendly celebrities (Kevin Smith, Troy Baker, Diedrich Bader, Jason O’Mara) to garner millions of impressions;
  • Maintaining an active and responsive social presence to keep fans engaged and interested, as well as addressing their concerns for the myriad technical issues that befell the release;
  • The creation of special split-screen videos to better exemplify the vast improvement between the original footage and the remastered episodes;
  • The creation of an unboxing video featuring the series’ star with largest online following (Tara Strong), posted on street date;
  • The production of a series of GIFs featuring cast and filmmakers with Tenor that garnered 250,000 added impressions;
  • And a Twitter-based two-week promotion — “BTAS on Tour” — that allowed fans to “follow” the travels of an actual boxed set, including visits to Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Park, Springsteen on Broadway, the World Series at Dodger Stadium, Warner Bros. Studio Tour, Universal Studios, L.A. Comic Con, Randy’s Donuts, Voodoo Donuts, the “Friends” couch and more.

Bumblebee — Paramount Home Entertainment

For the global home entertainment release of the hit film Bumblebee, the Paramount Home Entertainment (PHE) marketing team executed a multi-phase campaign to drive digital and physical sales and generate tons of buzz. The team additionally elevated the title with an innovative product offer: 14 deleted/extended scenes and an animated motion comic with a new Bumblebee adventure — also offered as a printed comic in the Blu-ray. The gift-ability of the title was heavily promoted on packaging and through a special trailer, helping to drive pre-Easter sales.

PHE targeted multiple audiences through comprehensive media buys during both the electronic sellthrough and physical windows. From major sporting events such as MLB’s opening day to Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards and promoted posts across social media, the carefully orchestrated advertising campaign reached parents, kids, “Transformers” fans and more to ensure awareness and drive purchases across all consumer targets.

Augmenting the paid media was a robust social media campaign that included multiple custom activations for the various fan segments. Among the highlights were a partnership with Volkswagen that blended contextual storytelling with custom social creative, concerted messaging for National Women’s Day highlighting the film’s heroine, and a wildly successful April Fool’s activation that included a vintage-looking 4:3 digital trailer for a special VHS release that generated online coverage reaching 53 million unique monthly visitors and garnered 12 million social impressions.

The campaign was rounded out by widespread publicity including news coverage of a towering Bumblebee at WonderCon and San Francisco’s Pier 39, a behind-the-scenes press day with the film’s screenwriter, foley artists and Bumblebee in VW form as well as talent interviews, Easter segments and more.

Ultimately, the combined marketing efforts drove both digital and physical sales that exceeded expectations and sent Bumblebee to the top of the sales charts.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

To market the global home release of the huge blockbuster hit Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the marketing team at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment developed a groundbreaking interactive campaign in partnership with Facebook and Messenger. The campaign focused on sharable in-store and in-home augmented-reality (AR) experiences showcasing the film’s celebrated dinosaurs. It was not only the largest effort of its kind for both partners, but also the first integrated AR experience across the Facebook family of apps — specifically Facebook and Messenger.

The day the film was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray Disc and DVD, participating retailers across 18 countries set up eye-catching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom displays with instructions on how to activate the AR experience. Shoppers could scan a special QR code to launch the sharable AR effect that placed the ferocious Indoraptor directly in their path, providing them with an up-close encounter with one of the newest dinosaurs from the “Jurassic” franchise. In the United States alone, the experience spanned more than 17,000 stores across multiple national retail and grocery chains.

A second experience awaited buyers in the United States, Canada and 14 other countries. The in-home experience was activated through
a collectible insert that came with each purchased disc, using the Messenger camera. The experience unveiled an interactive baby version of the film’s Velociraptor hero, Blue. The animated Baby Blue could be placed in any environment, and images and video of her behaving curiously, playfully and aggressively could be captured and shared with friends.

“Just as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom transports viewers into an immersive world of discovery and wonder, the new AR offerings extended that excitement and innovation to retail stores and consumer homes,” said Hilary Hoffman, UPHE EVP of global marketing. “We were thrilled to have a world-class partner in Facebook to help power these engaging AR experiences.”

The AR activation was one of several successful elements of the overall integrated marketing campaign, which also included broadcast and digital marketing as well as a global press event. The AR activation was used to directly target consumers, offering them an additional incentive to purchase the film.

Ready Player One — Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (Film)

To market the global home entertainment release of Ready Player One, Jessica Schell, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment EVP and GM of film, and her team developed and implemented a successful comprehensive marketing strategy targeting fans of both the film and the book — along with general film enthusiasts. The campaign culminated with an immersive experiential activation at San Diego Comic-Con, leading to strong physical and digital sales, making it one of the top-performing home entertainment titles of the year.

Drafting off of Warner Bros.’ successful theatrical marketing campaign for the film, the WBHE marketing team worked closely with Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, to align campaigns and leverage best practices from the film’s theatrical opening. Marketing data insights from the theatrical team helped WBHE hone in on key Ready Player One fans, while tapping into relevant expansion audiences, focusing on sci-fi/adventure aficionados, Steven Spielberg fans, and consumers who buy a lot of home entertainment product.

During the theatrical marketing campaign, WBHE used “homage” poster art featuring Ready Player One lead character Parzival incorporated into one-sheets of classic Warner Bros. films such as Bullitt and The Lost Boys, providing the imagery to key digital retailers iTunes and Vudu.

WBHE also created a new interactive activation at Comic-Con. Featuring iconic sets and moments from the film, the activation also incorporated a pivotal scene from The Shining. 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, a VHS copy of the film was designed and created and was given 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.
The activation was a social media success, reaching more than 3.2 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The activation also secured the No. 1 spots across the Ready Player One social accounts, including the highest-performing posts on Instagram for the activation announcement as well as a post giving a look inside the exhibit. The Facebook page also saw the highest-performing post with a photo album featuring images from SDCC weekend, and the No. 1 Tweet featuring the “Riverdale” cast at the activation.

Venom — Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Following a top-grossing run at the box office and overwhelmingly positive audience reviews, Lexine Wong, Senior EVP of worldwide marketing, and the SPHE marketing team took advantage of the holiday gift-giving time period with a December release. They set goals to create an innovative marketing campaign for the home entertainment release of Venom that would break through the holiday clutter, be buzzworthy, have the potential to go viral, and proclaim collectibility. The campaign took a multi-pronged approach to target consumers, press and media with various standout activations.

Leveraging social analytics and fan conversations, the team took a risk and leaned into the comedy and fandom of the Eddie Brock and Venom relationship. The result was a new home entertainment announce trailer that was a tongue-in-cheek parody of traditional romantic comedies. Debuting the trailer exclusively with Entertainment Weekly and garnering widespread pickup across mainstream, fanboy and entertainment press, the trailer was further integrated across paid media and all digital touchpoints of the campaign. The response was outstanding, accumulating millions of views over the life of the campaign.

In addition, to celebrate the digital release, the team partnered with Super News Live to host a Venom Block Party with a special guest appearance by Venom co-creator Todd McFarlane, a live mural painting by local and well-known street artists, Venom-themed snacks and special cast appearances. The event generated extensive press coverage with both local and national press outlets.

Next, in a first-of-its-kind co-branded NFL broadcast partnership, Wong and her team worked with the NFL to create a series of hype videos integrating Venom with football highlights to get sports fans excited about the upcoming match-ups.

Amazon had an exclusive limited-edition Venom Blu-ray with glossy foldout packaging and art from illustrator Marko Maney.

Finally, to drive customers to Walmart, SPHE created special 1980s “throwback” Venom action figures packed in a Blu-ray gift set, complemented by a themed commercial that was amplified on paid and organic social, digital media and on the retailer’s channels.

Through pulling all marketing levers and taking a unique approach to a holiday campaign, the Venom home entertainment campaign made Adweek’s “The 7 Biggest Movie Marketing Moments of 2018,” the only home entertainment campaign to be featured.

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The Power Marketers

Jeff Brown
EVP and GM, Television, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Brown for more than two decades has been an instrumental member of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (WBHE) team, helping guide the division to the forefront of home entertainment innovation. Brown’s team manages all digital and physical WB Television (WBTV) content for both new-release and catalog on a global basis. WBHE content includes live-action TV series, non-theatrical family and animation programming. Additionally, Brown manages third-party partner relationships with content owners such as BBC as well as original content development exclusively for home distribution. In recent years, under Brown’s tenure, WBHE has achieved five years of television transactional share growth; over 50% expansion of its made-for-video slate, including the Home Media Award-winning top DTV of 2018, The Death of Superman; leadership in TV digital with innovation in pricing, promotion, new customer acquisition strategies and use of data-driven analytics; and leadership in “collection offerings,” including the Home Media Awards presented by Media Play News title of the year for 2018 —
Batman: The Animated Series — Deluxe Limited Edition Blu-ray boxed set.

Regarded as a digital pioneer in the home entertainment realm, Brown has paced WB’s television digital efforts for high-profile series such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “Friends,” as well as for evergreen animation brands such as “Scooby-Doo.” Brown further grew WB’s success with an unprecedented expansion into made-for-video content.
Early in his career, Brown was an instrumental member of the Warner Bros. team that led the DVD/Blu-ray Disc revolution. He was later based in London as Warner Bros. head of EMEA, where he helped engineer the company’s adaptation of a global franchise marketing planning process. He then moved back to the United States and assumed responsibility of WBHE’s television business unit.

Before joining WBHE in 1996, Brown worked in marketing management for General Mills and Nestle, as well as operating as general manager/owner of two successful entrepreneurial ventures.

Hilary J. Hoffman
EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Hoffman has consistently shown a knack for leveraging creativity, data and intuition to craft marketing plans for the home release of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters and franchises, from Jurassic World to Despicable Me and the “Fast and Furious” line. With an eye on maximizing revenue, she defines go-to-market consumer strategies and the overall approach for consumer engagement, both through traditional media and through new platforms and technologies. Hoffman and her team focus on the complete packaged-goods and digital product lifecycle. Her marketing ability and leadership strengths were recognized in 2014 when she was asked to transform the marketing department into an innovative global organization.

Hoffman currently oversees strategic marketing and business strategy for Universal Pictures and its distributed lines worldwide across new-release, catalog and TV properties for both physical and digital. She is currently implementing new data-driven decision-making tools to optimize media spend and measure effectiveness of marketing elements.

David Kite
SVP, Global Marketing, Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International
Kite oversees global marketing for the in-home release of studio and TV content distributed by The Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Television. He is responsible for the global in-home release calendar of new-release and catalog titles across physical and digital retailers, overall creative product strategy, linear and digital marketing and customer relationship management that drive sales, ownership and consumption of the company’s content. This includes the creation and implementation of all creative marketing and bonus materials.
With nearly 20 years of experience at The Walt Disney Company, Kite has held leading roles in digital marketing, product management and distribution strategy. Most notably, Kite’s team has spearheaded campaigns for six of the top 10 bestselling in-home titles of the past 36 months: including the top selling physical releases of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, which currently holds the record as the bestselling 52-week digital title of all time. Kite and his team are currently working on campaigns for Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Alita: Battle Angel and Dark Phoenix.

Amanda Kozlowski
EVP, Home Entertainment and Digital Distribution Marketing, Lionsgate
Kozlowski oversees marketing efforts across traditional and emerging platforms and technologies for Lionsgate’s entire home entertainment and digital distribution division. The division includes the distribution of Lionsgate’s feature film slate, titles from one of the largest television businesses in the world, Starz original programming, a 17,000-title film and television library, and titles from leading content partners such as Roadside Attractions, A24, CBS Films, Grindstone, Pantelion and Saban Films. Kozlowski recently transformed the global marketing team to focus on complete lifecycle marketing and distribution strategies, planning for content from its initial release through the streaming and TV windows. In addition, Kozlowski plays a lead role in the studio’s enterprise-wide marketing technology, ad technology, market research, marketing analytics, CRM and customer acquisition initiatives.

Kozlowski previously served as SVP of digital marketing, leading Lionsgate’s digital marketing strategy. She has also overseen the execution of Lionsgate’s domestic EST/VOD sales efforts and distribution deals with Roadside Attractions, Miramax Films and StudioCanal. Prior to joining Lionsgate, she oversaw campaigns for marketing agency A.D.D. Marketing + Advertising as well for the nonprofit organization Film Independent.

Her biggest challenge, she said, is “creating clever campaigns that generate attention while remaining authentic to each IP and its audience. With a wealth of content available to consumers and so many marketing messages targeting them, cutting through the clutter authentically is more important than ever.” Her biggest opportunity, she said, is the fact that more content is being consumed than ever — and there are more channels for audiences to choose from, as well. “As someone who grew up in a smaller Southern city with a love for indie film, I had to really work to access content that interested me,” Kozlowski said. “The immediacy that consumers have to connect to all kinds of stories today is incredibly exciting.”

Kozlowski said that the arrival of motion picture group chairman Joe Drake and president of worldwide marketing Damon Wolf to Lionsgate the past year “has reinvigorated our data marketing initiatives. With their support, we launched the Lionsgate Data Center this year to help us better locate and understand our consumers. As someone who’s been working on marketing technology and consumer data for over four years, it’s incredibly exciting to see data-driven decision making taken the next level.”

Vincent Marçais
EVP, Worldwide Marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment
Marçais has served as EVP of worldwide marketing for Paramount Home Entertainment for just over a year, overseeing brand, creative, media, customer marketing, international marketing and consumer research for all of the studio’s home entertainment releases on physical and digital. He reports to Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Marçais previously served as EVP of worldwide brand and customer marketing for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. In this role he oversaw the release campaigns for all transactional businesses (Video-on-Demand, DVD, Blu-ray Disc and Digital HD) and also managed joint consumer marketing efforts with digital retailers and U.S. and international operators. During his tenure Marçais was a key driver of the division’s transformation from a pure physical distribution company into a digital new media company. His marketing savvy helped spur sales to consumers of such films as The Martian, Joy, Brooklyn, and the “X-Men,” “Ice Age” and “Planet of the Apes” franchises.

Marçais began his career with French car manufacturer Citroën and joined Fox Video France in 1991, where he held numerous marketing and sales positions. From 2002 to 2006 he served as Fox’s VP of marketing for the European home entertainment operation. Marçais relocated to Los Angeles in 2006 to serve as SVP of international marketing for Fox and became EVP of worldwide brand and consumer marketing in 2012.

Jessica Schell
EVP and GM, Film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Schell joined Warner Bros. in 2014 and has global responsibility for all operations related to the physical and digital sales, marketing, creative, distribution, finance and administrative functions of the studio’s film home entertainment releases, including new theatrical titles and catalog. Schell has been successful in combining traditional marketing strategies with her extensive background in digital marketing and new media to create cutting-edge campaigns for such titles as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, It, Ready Player One, Crazy Rich Asians, American Sniper and the “Lego” franchise, driving both digital and physical sales. Schell also identifies and engages new technology marketing opportunities and platforms for the studio’s home entertainment offerings, including virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality.

Schell oversees the continued growth of WBHE’s Blu-ray Disc business, and also manages the growing market for 4K UHD Blu-ray titles, including the top-performing 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, The Matrix Trilogy and The Dark Knight Trilogy. She has been instrumental in the continued growth of the digital transaction business, including electronic sellthrough and VOD. During her tenure, Warner Bros. has been the No. 1 home entertainment theatrical studio with a 17% share, the No. 1 home entertainment theatrical catalog studio with a 20% share, and the No. 1 home entertainment physical 4K studio with a 22% share, with consumers spending more than $100 million in combined sellthrough and rental sales of WB 4K theatrical product.

Additionally, under Schell’s leadership WBHE received three Home Media Awards presented by Media Play News for 2018 home entertainment offerings, including Best Blu-ray Disc and Best Restoration for the 2001: A Space Odyssey 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, and Best Horror Disc for It.

Prior to joining Warner, Schell spent nine years at NBC Universal, most recently serving as EVP of worldwide new media and digital entertainment for Universal Pictures.

Lexine Wong
Senior EVP,
Worldwide Marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Wong leads Sony Pictures Television’s Global Home Entertainment marketing team. She is charged with delivering breakthrough marketing campaigns across a wide range of product from Sony Pictures Entertainment’s studio labels, spurring consumer engagement and driving transactions across both digital and physical windows. Her specific areas of oversight include consumer and brand strategy, creative advertising, media and digital, PR and strategic partnerships, content development for digital/physical product, and new product development.

Wong began her career at Young & Rubicam, the ad agency, and after joining what is now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment rose to EVP of Worldwide Marketing in 2001 and her present position five years later, just as the industry was launching Blu-ray Disc.

Wong’s focus is on providing value and measurable impact for consumers through entertaining, shareable and highly interactive experiences across all channels. Wong’s insights-driven marketing strategy provides a strong foundation for product development and continued marketing innovation around new platforms critical for growth in the industry, such as Movies Anywhere, virtual reality, augmented reality, 4K UHD and other direct-to-consumer digital offerings.

Under her direction, Wong’s team in 2018 was responsible for buzzworthy publicity and media campaigns for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Venom and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The Power Teams

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Jennifer Anderson, SVP, Marketing, is responsible for leading the strategic development and execution of brand marketing and creative for all SPHE new release and catalog business. She oversees a cross functional team including brand and product marketing, promotions and creative advertising.

Jane Mohon, SVP, Marketing Services, is responsible for data-driven consumer strategy overseeing digital and social media marketing, traditional and digital media planning and buying as well as publicity. She finds synergies across paid, owned and earned media by connecting the dots among consumer activation opportunities.

Joe Burg, Executive Director, Content Development, leads a team of content producers in the ideation and production of home entertainment original content and is a lead producer on new technology initiatives.

Gregg Shack, VP, Creative Advertising, guides the team’s creative strategy, developing key art, print and audio visual assets for ad campaigns.

Jana Simmons, VP, TV & Customer Marketing, partners with the commercial teams and customers to develop marketing programs for all SPHE’s transactional retail partners.

Lionsgate

Amelia Rogers, SVP, Integrated Marketing, oversees the integrated marketing team covering both owned and third-party content.

Erin Carter, SVP, Integrated Marketing, focuses on retail marketing and distribution efforts.

Whitney Dickinson, VP, Media and Data, runs media planning and the division’s efforts for the Lionsgate Data Center.

Tom Gundred, SVP, Creative Development, oversees print, AV and digital creative direction across film and television content.

Paramount Home Entertainment

Dina Marovich, SVP, Worldwide Media & Interactive Marketing, oversees all media planning and buying for the division.

Rozita Tolouey, SVP, Brand Marketing, drives the division’s global marketing strategies for new releases and acquisitions.

Michele Bell, SVP, Worldwide Creative Services, is responsible for all of the division’s creative advertising materials.

Brenda Ciccone, SVP, Worldwide Publicity & Communications, oversees all publicity and corporate communications for the division on a global basis.

Melinda Froelich, SVP, International Marketing, is responsible for international marketing, advertising, public relations, promotions and release strategy.

Hilarie Hildebrandt, SVP, Customer Marketing, focuses on executing consumer-focused programs with each retail client.

Alanna Powers, VP, Brand Marketing, oversees strategies for catalog titles.

Leda Chang, VP, Digital Marketing, drives interactive initiatives.

Jacqueline Gustafson, VP, Home Media Content, supervises bonus material strategies.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Pam Blum, SVP, UPHE Marketing, oversees creative marketing services and the development of value-added content for UPHE’s releases on a worldwide basis.

Lea Porteneuve, SVP, Global Publicity & Communications, oversees global business, technology and executive communications for UPHE, spearheading all strategic publicity initiatives in support of the studio’s digital and physical home entertainment offerings.

Jeff Ackermann, SVP, Global Brand Marketing — Live Action New-Release & Catalog, spearheads global strategic marketing, product development and management of new-release titles from Universal Pictures and Focus Features, and the studio’s extensive catalog library.

Stephanie Lutjens, VP, Global Brand Marketing — Family, TV & Promotions, leads global strategic marketing, product development and management of family new release and TV, in addition to managing worldwide home entertainment promotions.

Joe Eibert, VP, Digital Marketing, leads digital marketing strategic planning and execution for UPHE releases.

Nadia Haney, VP, Global Marketing, Emerging Technology, is responsible for consumer-focused global strategic marketing for
emerging formats.

Denise Haro, SVP, Global Consumer Insights & Strategy, oversees business insights, marketing data analytics, and UPHE’s consumer insights and research with a focus on aligning global commercial strategy around product, window, messaging and innovation.

Ted Chi, VP, Digital Marketing Strategy, is responsible for establishing and leading the strategy and execution of marketing for the Digital Distribution group.

Sandy Choi, SVP, Brand Marketing, North America Partnerships, manages the North American third party partners which includes developing marketing campaigns for partner releases across both physical and digital platforms and leading the cross-functional team that oversees the overall management of partner relationships.

Kelly Harrington, VP, Global Brand Marketing, Catalog, 1440 Productions & Licensing, leads global strategic marketing and management of UPHE catalog releases, 1440 Production new releases, and commercial marketing for licensing.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Kristina Fugate, SVP, Marketing, Film, handles all theatrical new-release and catalog brand marketing efforts across disc and digital platforms, which also includes creative advertising, franchise lifecycle management and global strategy.

Chris Baldwin, SVP, Worldwide Promotions & Partnerships, oversees all global promotions and partnerships for WBHE, including new-release, catalog, TV, family and animation titles.

Jack Walker, SVP, Media & Digital Marketing, oversees all media and digital marketing for WBHE, including new-release, catalog, TV, family and animation, and games. Walker reports to Jessica Schell and Jeff Brown.

Emily Zalenski, SVP, Worldwide Publicity, Film, oversees worldwide publicity, events and experiential marketing efforts for new-release and catalog titles. She also manages corporate communications for WBHE.

Nicole Coleman, SVP, Trade Marketing and Sales Integration, oversees the theatrical catalog P&L for the home entertainment group across the physical and digital retail landscape, and also leads trade marketing and sales planning for both physical and digital film and television content.

Laura Lupinetti, VP, Film Trade Marketing, is responsible for driving go-to-market strategy for WBHE’s new-release and catalog businesses, curating content and price variability to maximize sales and placement across various retail windows.

Rosemary Markson, SVP, TV Marketing, leads global marketing for Warner Bros. TV series across all transactional platforms, with responsibility for strategy development, product management, consumer marketing and business planning for current on-air series and library/catalog content.

Mary Ellen Thomas, VP, Television Marketing, Family & Animation, oversees product development and marketing for animated and live-action made for videos, episodic animation, and partner brands (Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, Viz Media, and WWE).

Melissa Hufjay, VP, Publicity, Television, oversees worldwide publicity, events and Comic-Con presence for all television, family, animation and live-action/animated made-for-video titles.

Zandra Palmer, VP, Trade Marketing, provides strategic direction to field sales and brand marketing teams in the development of effective retail programs across all distribution platforms in North America, both physical and digital, to achieve or exceed financial objectives.

Beyond the Majors

In addition to major studio promotions, Media Play News selected some notable campaigns from the independent studio and consumer retail realm:

The Final Wish — Cinedigm

The Final Wish has become one of Cinedigm’s highest-grossing VOD, digital and physical releases of 2019 due to a well-structured campaign consisting of grassroots, social media, publicity and traditional media. The horror film, released on digital, VOD and theatrically Feb. 8 (on disc March 19), premiered at Screamfest, the largest horror festival in the United States, and maintained its momentum through word-of-mouth screenings with horror site Dread Central. Social media consisted of a seven-month campaign in which engagement was high, boosted by an extremely targeted paid campaign and organically by a supportive cast and crew. A 30-second spot was created for TV and YouTube highlighting the film’s pedigree and cast.

About the Marketer: Kim Staruk, executive director of marketing, Cinedigm

Staruk joined the company in March 2014. She oversees the general partner relationship, overall business strategy and marketing plans for key content partners such as Hallmark, Status Media and the NHL. Staruk previously spent four years as a brand manager at Universal Music and two years at Sony.

“Awards Watch” — FandangoNow

Capitalizing on Fandango’s position as the destination for all things movies, FandangoNow’s annual Awards Watch Campaign was a Fandango-FandangoNow, cross-company collaboration. As part of a promotion with “The Today Show” and to help drive tune-in to the Golden Globes, FandangoNow offered a code for 50% off all Globe-nominated movies, from the day the nominees were announced on “Today” through the following weekend. During Awards season, culminating with the Academy Awards, nominated movies contributed up to 50% of FandangoNow’s business. Both past winners and new-release nominees were supported across the platform with all marketing touchpoints, including homepage takeovers and dynamic awards checklists, across connected devices and TVs, and on social media.

About the Marketer: Nantalie Song, senior director of marketing, FandangoNow

Song is the brand and consumer marketing lead for Fandango’s transactional video-on-demand service. She oversees marketing strategy and ad campaigns across owned-and-operated platforms, including social, smart TVs and OTT devices. She weaves research into stories to drive customer acquisition and retention, as well as collaboration among internal and external partners.

About the Marketer: Chad Ludwig, head of brand marketing, Fandango

Ludwig leads brand strategy and growth efforts for Fandango (ticketing), FandangoNow and Rotten Tomatoes. Previously, he has served in similar leadership roles, including COO of Oxford Road (a direct-to-consumer advertising agency), head of marketing for JibJab (expanding their subscription eCard business and launching the kids entertainment brand, StoryBots), and GM for Disney Movies Online (Disney’s initial foray into streaming movies and premium content). He’s successfully led a variety of efforts across business models (direct-to-consumer subscription, micro-transaction and/or e-commerce) and platforms (mobile, web, social and app-based).

“Back to the Movies” — Redbox

Redbox executive Ash Eldifrawi leveraged his experience as both a licensed clinical psychologist and a marketing executive to forge the “Back to the Movies” campaign. The continuing campaign, which began in August 2018, is aimed at combating digital isolation and creating meaningful consumer dialogue around the power of Movie Nights in bringing people together. The campaign encouraging co-watching has become part of “the overall positioning and core mission of our company,” he says.

A Redbox August 2018 Omnibus Survey found 61% of Americans missed the days when movie nights were a planned activity with friends and family; 58% of Americans said binge-watching TV shows — an activity most often done alone on the small screen — has replaced their movie-watching experience; 68% of Americans said having a regular movie night would bring them closer to friends/family; and 81% of Americans said watching a movie is therapeutic/makes them feel better. As a psychologist, Eldifrawi backed up the campaign with further research that showed binge-watching stimulates the pleasure center of the brain that drives addiction while watching a feature together with others stimulates a different part of the brain that has to do with deeper meaning.

The campaign is promoted on social media with videos on millennial-targeted ATTN:, with a spot that explains the psychological dangers of too much isolated binging, and on mom-targeted Scary Mommy, with a spot that features a mother who neglects her family to watch her phone.

The Redbox site further promotes the continuing campaign with a page asking viewers to take a pledge to “escape your digital bubble” and “enjoy more movie nights” with the hashtag #BacktotheMovies. Pledgees get a surprise offer. Next up, engaging studio partners in the cause and a wider media campaign.

About the Marketer: Ash Eldifrawi, chief marketing and customer experience officer, Redbox

Eldifrawi is responsible for all functions of product management and marketing, where he works to drive alignment and collaboration between different functions for new products, services and enhancements. Prior to joining Redbox, he served as chief commercial officer at Gogo, where he joined in 2010 after serving as CMO at Hayneedle. Earlier in his career, he served as director of brand advertising at Google, and spent time at Wrigley and in management consulting at McKinsey & Co. He recently co-authored the book The Ten Worlds: The New Psychology of Happiness, building on his doctoral work in clinical psychology at The Chicago School of Psychology, where his research focused on neurology and biopsychology.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Prange.)

 

 

 

 

WarnerMedia Consolidates Home Entertainment Distribution

WarnerMedia on May 8 announced the transfer of HBO Enterprises and HBO Home Entertainment, home to the enormously popular “Game of Thrones” franchise, to Warner Bros.

The distribution of the US Turner Originals also is part of this realignment.

Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution, will take leadership responsibility for activities of HBO Enterprises and the distribution of Turner content produced in the United States, according to a WarnerMedia news release.

HBO Home Entertainment will transfer to Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment and Games under the leadership of its president, Jim Wuthrich.

“Bringing these businesses all under one roof means we improve cooperation and create scale,” Gerhard Zeiler, chief revenue officer at WarnerMedia, said in the release. “Acting as one will strengthen our position in an increasingly challenging marketplace.”

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Jim Wuthrich

Schlesinger added, “For the first time at our company, the diverse and unparalleled portfolio of genre-defining new and library programming created by HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner will be distributed globally by one group. This structure will enable us to speak with one voice, as we create new and innovative ways to license our top-quality programming to networks, channels and services globally, helping them grow their audiences and subscriber bases.”

Wuthrich, whose full title is president, Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment and Games, said, “While we have had a strategic alliance with HBO in the past that involved physical product distribution, we are now excited to welcome the digital transactional sales and marketing teams into the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment family. We look forward to sharing their iconic and acclaimed original programming with home entertainment audiences worldwide.”

Home Entertainment Divisions Change Names

Two of the five major studios have quietly changed the names of their home entertainment divisions.

Paramount Pictures is once again using Paramount Home Entertainment, after several years of operating as Paramount Home Media Distribution.

And Walt Disney Studios’ home entertainment arm is now known as Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

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Originally, studios used the “home video” moniker for their home entertainment units, but then the launch of DVD shifted consumer habits away from renting video cassettes at dedicated video rental stores. Instead, consumers were buying discs — priced low for initial sale, unlike VHS cassettes — at large mass merchants and consumer electronics stores such as Walmart and Best Buy.

Soon, “home video” divisions became “home entertainment” business units, in the belief that “video” was a throwback to the old mom-and-pop video stores, which were rapidly closing up as the business shifted. Even Blockbuster Video became Blockbuster Entertainment, while trade publication Video Store Magazine in 2004 became first Home Media Retailing and then Home Media Magazine.

DEG: Q1 2019 Consumer Spending on Home Entertainment Up 6.4%

Fueled by digital — subscription streaming as well as transactional  — home entertainment spending in the first quarter of 2019 rose 6.4% from the first quarter of the previous year, to $6.04 billion, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Subscription streaming, led by Netflix, rose 21% in the quarter to an estimated $3.6 billion, DEG said, citing IHS Markit estimates.

The increase shows that with the reliance by streamers on original and TV content, the at-home sector is becoming increasingly impervious to the whims of the box office.

The theatrical value of films that came to the home market in the first quarter, according to DEG, was down nearly 20%.

Take streaming out of the equation and consumer spending on home entertainment was down 9.3%.

Consumer spending on digital transactional video, both purchase (electronic sellthrough, or EST) and limited-time viewing, came in at nearly $1.23 billion, up 4.6% from just under $1.18 billion in the first quarter of 2018.

EST sales rose 6.7% to $665.5 million, up from $623.7 million, while limited-time VOD, the digital equivalent of rental, generated an estimated $564.1 million in consumer spending, up 2.3% from $551.6 million.

Disc sales continued to decline, falling below the $1 billion mark in the first quarter of 2019 to an estimated $822.25 million, a drop of 23% from $1.06 billion in the first quarter of 2018 — pretty much in line with the decline in the collective box office earnings of movies that were released to the home market in the same time frame, to $2.89 billion from $3.59 billion in the year-ago quarter.

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The disc rental market fared better, with consumers spending just under $400 million to rent DVDs and Blu-ray Discs from Redbox kiosks, freestanding video rental stores and Netflix’s disc-by-mail rental option. That’s down 14.6% from the prior year’s first quarter.

Citing CTA numbers, DEG noted “there is continued significant growth among 4K Ultra HD hardware products,” with Ultra HD TVs now in about 53.4 million households, an increase of 55% from a year ago. The number of households with at least one 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback machine rose 63% to 14 million.

The top-selling disc release of the first quarter, according to NPD Group’s VideoScan tracking service, was 20th Century Fox’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

The top 10 DVD and Blu-ray Disc sellers of 2019, through March 31:

  1. Bohemian Rhapsody (Fox)
  2. Aquaman (Warner)
  3. Ralph Breaks the Internet (Disney)
  4. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Warner)
  5. A Star Is Born (2018) (Warner)
  6. The Grinch (Universal)
  7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)
  8. Mary Poppins Returns (Disney)
  9. Halloween (2018) (Universal)
  10. Creed II (Warner)

Source: NPD Group

High-Definition Redefined

A little more than a year after the grand opening of its new flagship store in the Westfield Century City mall, Video and Audio Center on April 17 held another showcase event. More than 200 invited guests at “High Definition Redefined” got the chance to preview Samsung’s latest 8K TVs, ranging in size from 65 inches to 98 inches. The new TV sets have built-in Artificial Intelligence (AI) processing to upconvert content to 8K. And that’s a critical factor, says Tom Campbell, Video and Audio Center corporate director and chief technologist. “Content is king,” he says. “Content drives our business.” Video and Audio Center carries a limited selection of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, currently the optimum way to view content in the home.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment: A History of Distinction

With the March 20 closure of Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, much has been written about the storied history of the celebrated film studio, responsible for nearly a century’s worth of big-screen favorites, from Shirley Temple musicals to Star Wars, from The Sound of Music to Avatar.

And yet hardly anything has been said about the legacy of the studio’s home video division, which in many respects is the birthplace of home entertainment.

“It was the first,” recalls Bill Mechanic, the veteran film producer — and chairman and CEO of Pandemonium Films — who later ran 20th Century Fox studios.

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More than 40 years ago, in 1978, entrepreneur Andre Blay licensed 50 films from 20th Century Fox, including The Sound of Music and Patton, and released them on his own Magnetic Video banner. The occasion marked the first time movies were available for home viewing on demand, a key tenet of home entertainment. The films were sold through an ad in the back of TV Guide.

A year later, Blay — who died last August at the age of 81 — sold Magnetic Video to 20th Century Fox and became the first president and CEO of the industry’s very first studio home video division.

“Fox was the first studio that instead of fighting the videocassette, recognized that it was another market for its product,” says former Warner Home Video president Warren Lieberfarb, the celebrated “father of DVD” who at the time was a marketing executive at Lorimar Productions, the largest independent television production company. “Fox was a pathfinder that saw the videocassette as a new way for people to watch movies at home.”

Beginnings

In those early days of home video, the business was split apart by a format war between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s Video Home System, or VHS, cassettes. Meanwhile, studios like Fox that were putting movies out on cassette were looking for consumer sales but weren’t counting on enterprising retailers to buy them and then rent them out repeatedly to the public, pocketing the proceeds.

In early 1980, 20th Century Fox launched a pilot program with the Plitt Theater chain directly, and United Artists Theaters through a distributor, to sell videocassettes in select theater lobbies.

But Fox, like the other studios, soon found that consumers didn’t necessarily want to buy movies — particularly when they could rent them for a fraction of the cost. The concept of being able to bring movies home and watch them, at will, was a novelty; consumers wanted to watch as many movies as they could as cheaply as possible, and the burgeoning rental trade allowed them to do precisely that.

The format war was effectively resolved when VHS sales began to mushroom, primarily because VHS was an open format while Betamax was a proprietary one. The proliferation of video rental stores frustrated the studios and they went to court, seeking injunctions against retailers from renting their movies. But the First Sale Doctrine, which holds that a copyright owner’s exclusive right to distribute a particular copy ends with the “first sale” and the new owner can then distribute it as he or she pleases, was ultimately upheld — and the wave of video rental stores grew into a veritable tsunami.

In March 1982, Fox changed the name of its home video enterprise to 20th Century Fox Home Video. By then Blay had been ousted and veteran Fox executive Steve Roberts — who had struck the initial licensing deal with Magnetic — was placed in charge in his capacity as president and CEO of Twentieth Century Fox Telecommunications. Roberts, who died in May 2017 at the age of 78, was a native of Manhattan who began his career in 1958 at Columbia. He later moved to the international sales division of Fox and ultimately became president of two Fox units: president of the International Theaters Division and Licensing Corp., and then president of Fox’s Telecommunications Division and Chairman of Fox Video. In 1996, Roberts was inducted into the Video Hall of Fame.

Roberts in the early 1980s directed Fox’s rapid and early expansion into home video and pay-per-view television. In June 1982, just three months after the Magnetic Video name was dropped, Roberts oversaw the merger between Fox’s video operations and CBS Video Enterprises, resulting in the creation of CBS Fox Video. He served as president of the new venture until January 1983, when the unit got a new president, Larry Hilford, a former Columbia Pictures executive. Hilford was a vocal critic of the rental business, but when it became clear the studios had no say in the matter, he tried to make the best of the situation.

To maximize revenue, Hilford and his fellow studio home video chiefs instituted a steady progression of cassette price hikes, from $60 to $65 to as high as $100.

See a photographic retrospective of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

At the same time, they doubled down on their quest to get consumers to buy rather than rent their movies by wooing established retail chains with the promise of direct sales. In July 1985, CBS Fox Video signed the industry’s first direct deals with Toys R Us and Child World, prompting Walt Disney Home Video to immediately announce its own plans to go direct with Toys R Us.

Meanwhile, the video rental business soared throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. At one point there were more than 50,000 separate video rental stores, most of them independents, generating billions of dollars from consumer rentals. Many of them attended the annual Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) conventions, mostly in Las Vegas each July, where studios spent hundreds of thousands of dollars wining and dining upwards of 15,000 retailers and treating them to elaborate booths on the show floor and even more extravagant parties each night.

Over time, the indies were gobbled up by fast-growing chains such as Erol’s and National, and ultimately an outfit out of Texas called Blockbuster Video would conquer much of the country with its ubiquitous blue-and-yellow motif and “Make It a Blockbuster Night” tagline.

As the 1980s came to an end, studios began to experiment with lower cassette prices on hit movies geared toward families and kids. Banking on the repeat viewing factor, they hoped enough consumers would buy these movies to compensate for the lower unit cost, which drove down revenue from sales to rental dealers.

In June 1991, Fox announced plans to release Home Alone at a suggested list price of $24.98, a new low. Then VP of marketing Bruce Pfander said the studio expected to sell more than 10 million copies.

By then, the CBS-Fox joint venture had taken a back seat and 20th Century Fox began distributing its movies on videocassette under the FoxVideo banner. The newly created division also had a new president, Bob DeLellis, who had joined CBS Fox in 1984 and risen to group VP and, ultimately, in 1991, president.

DeLellis got into the home video business when it was hot — red hot — after selling air-conditioners with another future home video executive, Len White. His bombastic personality and tendency to boast to the trade press whenever a rental title set a new advance-order, or “prebook,” record, seemed to fit in well with the Wild West atmosphere of the video industry in the early 1990s.

“He was doing great numbers,” recalls Peter Balner, who in the 1980s ran Palmer Video, a Union, N.J.-based video chain he sold to West Coast Entertainment Corp. in 1990.

“They were putting out a lot of great movies, and selling the larger ones in record numbers,” he recalls. “We had a great relationship with them.” Indeed, years later, after they had both exited the home video business, Balner and DeLellis would team up on Quintessentials, a retailer of home leisure equipment such as pool tables, shuffleboard courts and jukeboxes.

The Bill Mechanic Era

Three years after DeLellis was named head of FoxVideo, he found someone looking over his shoulder. In 1993 Bill Mechanic was named the first president and COO, and then chairman and CEO, of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Mechanic had spent the previous nine years running home video, among other divisions, for Walt Disney Studios. He aggressively drove Disney into sellthrough, and was the architect of the studio’s celebrated, and successful, moratorium strategy, in which animated classics were available on videocassette for only a short time before they were returned to “the vault.” This sense of urgency led to impressive sales. A high-water mark under Mechanic was set in October 1993 when Aladdin in its first week of availability sold more than 10.6 million videocassettes. By the end of the year, Disney had sold more than 21 million VHS cassettes.

“I came to fix all of Fox,” Mechanic recalls. “It was the weakest of the studios, and I began by setting up multiple creative divisions. I also set out to bring FoxVideo, which I thought was a solid company, but not extraordinary, into what I saw as the modern age — doing not just what everyone else was doing — rental — but taking them into sellthrough.”

Mechanic initially let DeLellis run the home video show. He even promoted him, elevating DeLellis in May 1995 to domestic president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, a newly created distribution entity that would handle sales and inventory management for FoxVideo, three other labels and a pair of new media outfits. The new business unit “leaves us open to any kind of shrinkwrapped product,” DeLellis told Billboard at the time. “We felt the umbrella was necessary to take advantage of studio resources.”

Over time, however, Mechanic made his presence known. “He couldn’t help himself,” said one longtime industry observer. “He had built Disney into the most successful home video studio of all time, and he felt he knew all the tricks.”

Disney had a library of animated classics, which were relatively easy to sell because they were aimed at children, and kids tend to watch the same film or show over and over again. Fox didn’t have nearly as many cartoons as Disney, but Mechanic still saw a sellthrough business just waiting to happen, with the right films at the right price.

“It was the same as when I first came to Disney — nobody wanted to sell cassettes because there was no business,” he recalls. “Video stores didn’t want to sell, and to reach the big retailers like Walmart and Kmart you had to go through third-party wholesalers, known as ‘rackjobbers.’ So it was impossible to build a business until Disney went around the rackjobbers and set up direct distribution deals with retailers, from mass merchants to grocery stores and drug stores.”

Shortly after Mechanic’s arrival, Fox issued the Robin Williams comedy Mrs. Doubtfire at a low sellthrough price — and sales far exceeded expectations at about 10 million units, Mechanic recalls.

“From my perspective, I saw my role as letting other people do the work, but I would help guide them, and kind of get to a shared vision,” he recalls. “I would get them to see what’s possible and not be afraid to fail.”

In August 1995 FoxVideo released the three original “Star Wars” movies and, taking a page from the Disney playbook Mechanic had helped write, announced they would be placed on moratorium four months after their release. “This is not a joke,” DeLellis told Billboard at the time. “Star Wars is going off the market forever.” The other two movies in the trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, would be removed until the fall of 1997, he said. Sales ultimately topped 30 million copies, exceeding expectations.

“Again, people were saying, ‘You can’t sell a 20-year-old movie,’ and, again, people see only what they see — they don’t see what they can’t see,” Mechanic says. “Everybody’s a doubter, and you can’t let the doubters ruin it. You can’t be afraid of failing.”

In 1996 the FoxVideo release of Independence Day became the industry’s bestselling live-action home video release, with an 18 million-unit sales tally.

Also in 1996, Steve Feldstein took over as the division’s first communications chief. Hired by DeLellis, Feldstein had previously worked under Mechanic at Walt Disney Home Video, and in the words of one observer, “spoke Bill fluently.”

DeLellis left Fox Home Entertainment in May 1997 and Mechanic promoted international chief Jeffrey Yapp, a former Pizza Hut and Gallo Winery marketing executive, to lead the division. Yapp lasted only four months, leaving to head up Hollywood Entertainment Corp., at the time the nation’s No. 2 video rental chain behind Blockbuster.

Mechanic turned to Pat Wyatt, head of Twentieth Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising, and appointed her interim president of Fox Home Entertainment in September 1997.

In the meantime, Mechanic had become even more vocal when DVD was launched in March 1997 with an initial batch of movies from Warner Bros. — and a strategic vision to shift home entertainment from rental to purchase through convenience, affordability and higher quality than VHS. Warner Home Video had a vested interest in the format, and its president at the time, Warren Lieberfarb, is in the history books as “the father of DVD.”

But Mechanic was not so quick to chime in. Under his direction, Fox sat out the DVD launch and instead advocated first digital VHS and then Divx, a “watch it and toss it” DVD variant launched in June 1998, more than a year after DVD, by the Circuit City consumer electronics chain.

Asked by a reporter in 1998 when Fox would start issuing movies on DVD, Mechanic quipped, “Ask Warren Lieberfarb.”

Aimed at perpetuating the rental model, which Mechanic believed would generate more revenue for the studio than a single sale of a low-priced DVD, Divx cost consumers about $4.50 for unlimited viewing for a 48-hour period. After that, consumers could pay more to have the viewing time.

But with consumers enamored by DVD’s promise of being able to buy — and own — first-run movies for as little as $20, Divx died a quick death — and Fox and the handful of other studios that supported it ultimately did join the DVD juggernaut.

“Eventually, Bill got on board for the greater good of Fox and News Corp.,” Feldstein recalls. “[News Corp chief] Rupert [Murdoch] was launching Fox News and he wanted carriage in New York City on Time Warner’s cable system, and Fox entering the DVD business played right into it. Once we were in, Bill’s competitive nature took over and he wanted us to win … so we all went for it, big time.”

Lieberfarb says another factor was that Fox wanted a lower dial position on Time Warner cable systems for its family channel, and sought to curry favor with Warner by supporting DVD.

Big Business

In the meantime, Wyatt’s interim role as division president turned into a permanent one. She ended up running Fox Consumer Products, a combined video and licensing unit, although she eventually had to shed licensing as FoxVideo became all-consuming. In the five years that Wyatt ran the division, DVD sales soared and the industry routinely enjoyed double-digit revenue gains. Studios struck up direct sales deals with big national chains such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart, and consumers switched from renting movies for the night for $2 to buying them for $20 or more.

“There was so much DVD money flooding the town it was insane,” Feldstein says. “Potential DVD revenues were a big factor in the greenlight process, and as DVD became the industry cash cow, home entertainment all of a sudden went from the studios’ stepchild to the studios’ ATM.”

Wyatt also reorganized Fox Home Entertainment and reengineered the division into a mighty distribution enterprise, thanks to a unique partnership with replicator Cinram. She also pioneered the use of data mining to drive margins for the division’s retail business partners. Fox was well ahead of the other studios and began to distribute product from other labels, with the fees more than covering the division’s overhead. Fox handled all backroom functions for its distributed labels, and at the same time forged partnerships with the industry’s leading retailers to manage the entire home entertainment category for them and won multiple Vendor of the Year awards. The system Wyatt built gave Fox a significant edge for years to come.

“Coming from a consumer products background, she embraced not only what the business was, but also what it could be,” Mechanic says. “There’s that shared vision again — I have the push, but that’s about it. It wasn’t me doing it, it was Pat.”

While at Fox, Wyatt also pioneered the TV-on-DVD business by releasing whole seasons of “The X-Files,” “The Simpsons” and “24.” Feldstein noted, “These TV on DVD packs established the concept of binge-watching, which is now a given for anyone watching Netflix, Hulu, Prime or whatever.”

Meanwhile, the videocassette rental business was in a state of decline. Blockbuster and other retailers cut “revenue-sharing” deals with the studios so they could bring in more copies of the hits at a lower price and then share the spoils with the studios on the backend, satisfying more customers.

Mechanic left Fox in June 2000, replaced by Jim Gianopulos, who ran the studio until 2017 and now holds the same post at Paramount Pictures.

In December 2002, Wyatt resigned to start an indie film production and financing company specializing in Japanese-style animated programming produced specifically for home viewing. Wyatt’s departure came as Fox was enjoying one of its biggest holiday sales seasons ever, with huge tallies for marquee titles such as Ice Age and Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.

Mike Dunn, who as EVP of domestic marketing and sales was one of Wyatt’s top lieutenants, was tapped as her successor. Dunn had joined FoxVideo in 1987 as manager of marketing and steadily progressed up the ranks. In 1995, he was promoted to SVP of international marketing and in 1998 was named SVP and GM for Fox home video operations in Europe. Two years later, he was promoted to EVP of domestic marketing and sales.

“I think Mike Dunn’s leadership set the company on a trajectory that put it in a leadership position, along with Disney and Warner Bros.,” Lieberfarb recalls.

The Glow of DVD

Dunn had it made those first few years running home video for Fox. DVD was the most successful consumer product launch in history, and consumer spending on home entertainment soared, with the industry posting double-digital sales gains, year after year. Aside from new theatricals, TV on DVD became a significant business, with consumers collecting complete seasons, and even series, of their favorite shows — something that due to space constraints simply hadn’t been feasible in the VHS era.

“DVD became a lifestyle,” Feldstein says. “Owning movies may have been a novelty, but DVD turned it into a way of life — it was an impulse purchase, an any-occasion gift, something you collected and treasured and showed off. Just like people used to collect books to tell guests what kind of person they were, now they were doing the same things with movies.”

Accordingly, studios revved up their marketing as well, and Feldstein and Fox were leading the charge. New DVD releases were heralded with creative stunts and elaborate parties. “There were so many new and catalog movies and we made events out of all of them,” Feldstein recalls. “We did The Simpsons on Ice in Bryant Park, turned the Empire State Building yellow and handed out yellow Santa hats that were all over town. For Cast Away, we did a promotion with the Coast Guard where we ‘rescued’ Tom Hanks’ co-star ‘Wilson,’ the volleyball, at sea via Coast Guard helicopter, as part of their water safety awareness campaign that was all over TV through local and national newscasts. And we held a 75th birthday party for Marilyn Monroe at the Playboy Mansion — her diamond birthday — and had De Beers, the ‘Diamond Is Forever’ people, as a sponsor. We teamed with AMC as a media partner and produced an amazing documentary about her last film. At the mansion, I had a flawless 75-carat rock on my hand and four security guys trailing me all night.”

“We had the good fortune of providing PR services to Fox Home Entertainment for over 17 years, and one thing truly stands out — their creative ability to support their titles,” says veteran Hollywood publicist Dean Bender, head of what is now Bender/Helper Impact. “Led by Bruce Pfander, the marketing group at that time was extremely bold in the creation of collateral materials, trailers and launch events. Because of the huge revenue created by the selling of DVDs in those years, marketing budgets were at their highest and Fox was not shy about supporting their titles.”

A Maturing Business — and the Shift Toward Digital

However, by 2005 sales growth had slowed, as the novelty of DVD began to wear off. With the advent of high-definition TVs studios realized they needed a high-definition disc to compete. Unfortunately, by the spring of 2006 it became apparent that two competing formats would come to market — and in the summer of that year they did, with half the major studios behind Blu-ray Disc, the other half behind HD DVD, and one or two choosing to release movies in both formats.

The crucial fourth quarter of 2006 got off to a good start when 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: The Last Stand and Buena Vista’s The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition generated $80 million in consumer spending in a single day. And despite the format war, Dunn had high hopes for Blu-ray Disc, the format that Fox was betting on.

“We’re seeing tremendous growth in household penetration for high-definition displays and big-screen televisions,” he said at the time. “Given the popularity of purchasing and collecting movies, the next logical step is making those films available in a packaged-media format.”

As 2006 gave way to 2007, however, it became clear that the home entertainment business was not rebounding. As if the format war wasn’t bad enough, disc sales were further hit by the emergence of digital delivery options. Eager to capitalize on the steady increase in bandwidth capacities, Netflix in 2007 augmented its disc-by-mail rental business with the launch of a subscription streaming service, allowing consumers to watch an unlimited number of movies and TV shows over the Internet for less than $10 a month.

And yet 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment had one of its best years ever, buoyed by a new distribution pact with MGM — headed by former Paramount Home Video president Eric Doctorow. The studio rose to No. 2 in the annual market share sweepstakes, behind Warner Bros. — and, notably, ahead of Walt Disney Studios.

In October 2007, 20th Century Fox became the first studio to include a digital copy of a movie on a physical disc. As The Hollywood Reporter noted at the time, “the special-edition DVD of Live Free or Die Hard will come with an electronic copy of the complete movie that can be played on a computer and select portable video players.” Dunn commented at the time, “This may be the killer app, where you have physical media that allows you to have a big-screen experience and at the same time move the file around to other devices and have a great experience there as well.”

Things looked even better in 2008, when the format war finally ended and studio executives hoped the death of HD DVD would give Blu-ray Disc a chance to really catch on with consumers — particularly with the rapid rise of high-definition TVs.

“Consumers are telling us that Blu-ray is the future of home video entertainment,” Dunn told Home Media Magazine. “If you have an HDTV, you can’t maximize your entertainment experience without Blu-ray.”

Also in 2008, Mary Daily joined Dunn’s team as North America marketing chief. Earlier in her career she had worked in Fox’s London office and helped market the release of Titanic and Braveheart outside the United States.

As the year progressed, the expected resurgence in disc sales didn’t materialize. The triumph of Blu-ray Disc as the sole high-definition format didn’t get consumers buying their movie libraries all over again, as some observers had hoped. And then came the Great Recession. Consumer spending, which had continued to inch upward, all of a sudden reversed course and began to decline. And while studio executives and retailers put on a brave face and talked up home entertainment’s resiliency in hard times, it was becoming clear even tougher times lay ahead.

In early 2009 Feldstein left and later that year James Finn was hired as the division’s second PR chief. Finn had been VP of national publicity at Fox Searchlight Pictures for six years; he first joined the studio in October 2000, doing theatrical publicity.

In 2010, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment scored the year’s top-selling title with Avatar. The film also became the top Blu-ray Disc seller since the format’s launch, with 5 million Blu-ray units sold.

The following year, Fox issued the entire “Star Wars” theatrical catalog — which at the time consisted of six films — on Blu-ray Disc. The nine-disc “Star Wars” saga sold 1 million units its first week in stores, an unprecedented number for a premium-priced box set. First-week sales generated an estimated $84 million in worldwide consumer spending.

In February 2012 Daily was promoted to president of worldwide marketing with the mandate to give a high priority to integrating the digital ownership of films. Accordingly, Fox that year pioneered the early window policy that is now commonplace among all studios, in which the digital version of a hit movie is made available through digital retailers two or three weeks before the physical disc.

Fox launched the concept in September 2012 with the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. The release kicked off the studio’s Digital HD initiative, which allowed consumers to download or stream more than 600 Fox films on connected devices. The titles, which cost less than $15, could be accessed through Amazon, CinemaNow, Google Play, iTunes, PlayStation, Vudu, Xbox Live and YouTube.

The Digital HD name would soon be dropped, however, as the industry was already preparing for the next-generation format with an even clearer, more lifelike picture than HD. Initially dubbed “4K” at the 2012 CES, the new format failed to make much of splash, so a year later it was introduced as Ultra HD, or UHD. This time, people noticed.

It was a busy, and confusing, time — for Fox, and for the home entertainment industry. On the one hand, studios were working to transition consumers from buying discs to buying digital copies of movies, with far better margins and no additional expenses for manufacturing, shipping or returns. Yet at the same time, with the lion’s share of home entertainment revenue still coming from physical discs, and UHD TVs coming onto the market, studios were working with CE companies on a next-generation Blu-ray Disc, initially called UHD Blu-ray, and more formally referred to as 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

And in the midst of all this, Netflix, with its inexpensive all-you-can-watch subscription streaming service, “was eating everyone’s lunch,” one observer quipped.

Studios plowed ahead on both fronts: promoting digital movie sales while at the same time laying the groundwork for UHD Blu-ray.

In December 2013, Dunn acknowledged the growing importance of building a digital business, which he said was fueled by the rapid rise in popularity of tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices. “We are in a renaissance of connectivity, fueled by technology, and this is driving consumer appetites for high-quality digital content,” he told Home Media Magazine.

The following year, 2014, saw the launch of the Fox Innovation Lab, a high-tech think tank. The lab was established under the auspices of Dunn, research and tech strategy EVP Danny Kaye, and chief technology officer Hanno Basse as a way to meld the often disparate worlds of technology and entertainment, of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

In September 2015, Samsung unveiled the industry’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray player at IFA 2015, the big global trade show for consumer electronics in Berlin. And 20th Century Fox promptly announced its intent to release upcoming movies on Ultra HD Blu-ray on the same day as standard Blu-ray and digital copies. The studio also said it would go back and reissue recent hit films in Ultra HD.

“When my colleagues and I at Fox first saw the side-by-side comparison of Ultra HD with high dynamic range versus HD, it was reminiscent of the difference between standard-def and high-def,” Dunn said in Berlin. “This is a massive leap forward for the consumer experience.”

The first Ultra HD Blu-ray films hit the market in March 2016. Fox was one of four studios participating in the launch, with more titles than Sony, Warner or Lionsgate: The Martian, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Exodus: Gods and Kings, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Maze Runner, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Wild, Hitman: Agent 47, Fantastic Four and Life of Pi.

In December 2016 Dunn was given a new title: president of product strategy and consumer business development. “2016 was the year of connection,” Dunn told Home Media Magazine at the time. “The consumer journey is more diverse and more connected than ever before. They are inundated with choices that range from traditional cable to OTT services to user-generated content, and everything from their actual devices to their viewing habits are connected.”

The Fox and the Mouse

In March 2017, Dunn gave up his old title, president of worldwide home entertainment, to Keith Feldman, who previously had been president of worldwide home entertainment distribution, and, before that, president of international. Feldman began his career in 1987 as a sales rep for the E & J Gallo Winery and joined Fox in 1995 as international business development director in London.

While disc sales overall continued to slide, there was a new sense of optimism, not just at Fox, but throughout the entire home entertainment industry. Digital sales at last began to show signs of life, and Ultra HD Blu-ray sales, while a small part of the overall business, climbed faster than anyone had expected. At Fox, spirits were particularly high due to the culture of innovation fostered by Dunn and his team.

Then came D-Day: Disney’s announcement in December 2017 that it had agreed to buy 21st Century Fox’s filmed entertainment, cable entertainment and direct broadcast satellite divisions, including 20th Century Fox, FX Networks and National Geographic Partners, for $52.4 billion.

After a competing bid from Comcast, Disney upped its offer to $71.3 billion, a 10% premium over Comcast’s offer, and in July 2018 the U.S. Department of Justice gave the deal its antitrust approval.

The end came on March 20, 2019. Until then, it was business as usual at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Indeed, the division in the summer of 2018 launched one of its biggest marketing campaigns ever for the August home release of the superhero comedy Deadpool 2, with a massive presence at San Diego Comic-Con International that included a panel discussion, “Super Duper Dance Party” on the show floor, and a partnership with Walmart and its Vudu digital storefront. Fox and Vudu decorated a suite at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel to look like Deadpool’s apartment and held a sweepstakes for one Comic-Con attendee to stay in “Deadpool’s Dream Suite” on the Saturday evening of the convention.

Editor’s Note: 20th Century Fox’s home entertainment division remains operational, since there are still several releases in the pipeline. There has been no word yet on whether it will continue to operate concurrently with Walt Disney’s own home entertainment arm or whether it will be absorbed.

Redbox Bows First On Demand Original Movie With Bob Saget Film ‘Benjamin’

Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu aren’t the only ones getting into original content.

Redbox on April 9 announced its first exclusive, Bob Saget’s new film, Benjamin.

The dark comedy, which tackles the serious topic of drug addiction, will be released exclusively on Blu-ray Disc and DVD at more than 41,500 Redbox kiosks nationwide on April 23.

Also on April 23, the film will be available for a la carte streaming or digital purchase on Redbox On Demand, the company’s on-demand digital movie store.  The film is the first “Redbox Original” released on Redbox On Demand.

Saget directed and stars in Benjamin, which also features a heavyweight cast of comedians and actors, including Rob Corddry, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kevin Pollak, Peri Gilpin, Dave Foley, Cheri Oteri, Max Burkholder, Clara Mamet, David Hull, Jonny Weston, and James Preston Rogers.

The story unfolds as a family calls an intervention on Facebook for Bob Saget’s on-screen son, Benjamin; a 15-year-old they think is under the influence of drugs. Yet soon it becomes clear that those confronting Benjamin’s problems have many problems of their own.

“We’re making Benjamin available at Redbox because we believe in the power of movies to bring people together around topics that matter,” said Redbox CEO Galen Smith. “Redbox has the unique ability to market films directly to our more than 50 million customers who like the choice of renting from $1.75 a night from the kiosk or instantly on their favorite device or smart TV via Redbox On Demand.”

Now in the midst of a national standup comedy tour, Saget reveals his dramatic, nuanced side while directing and starring in Benjamin.

“This film tackles serious subject matter – our kids and the temptations and challenges they face – but tells it through the lens of a familiar cast of comedic actors who make the topic approachable and poignant,” Saget says. “An exclusive Redbox release brings the important message of the film directly to communities nationwide that are facing the battle of addiction.”

Saget is a Grammy-nominated comedian, actor, director and New York Times best-selling author. Saget hosts, writes and executive produces the new ABC series “Videos After Dark,” featuring home videos with an edgier twist. The show premiered an hour-long first look on March 12 with the full season debuting later this year.

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Saget also can be seen in the upcoming Season 5 of the Netflix series “Fuller House.” His new hour stand-up special, “Zero To Sixty,” is streaming on Amazon Prime and is available to rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes and many other platforms. Saget continues to tour across North America with his standup comedy act.

Benjamin is produced by Nicholas Tabarrok and written by Joshua Turek.  The director of photography is Arthur Albert, the editor is Bruce Green and the music composer is Peter Melnick.

Consumers can watch the trailer at Redbox.com/Benjamin and add it to their “Wish List” before the April 23 release date. On April 23, consumers can visit Redbox.com/Benjamin to reserve a copy for rental at their local Redbox kiosk or stream it via Redbox On Demand.