Redbox Rising: Rental Giant Banks on a Digital Transformation to Reinvent Itself

Digital transformation is the buzzword of the tech era, but for Redbox, it’s a mission statement, marching order and battle cry, all rolled up in one.

Since taking the helm of the Bellevue, Wash.-based company in September 2016, the same month the company went private in a sale to Apollo Global Management, CEO Galen Smith has been working on expanding the brand into the digital realm, gently easing its core value-conscious customers into transactional video-on-demand (TVOD), free ad-supported TV (FAST) and, most recently, ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD). The latter is effectively a free alternative to subscription streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and HBO Max.

Up next: An SVOD platform, scheduled to launch in 2022, where Redbox will offer streaming subscriptions from other services directly to its customers.

Moving into the digital space may seem like a leap from renting DVDs and Blu-ray Discs for a couple of bucks a night through the company’s more than 40,000 bright-red kiosks, placed near the entrances of high-traffic supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores, and mass merchants including Walmart. But as far as Smith is concerned, it’s a natural transition.

“Redbox is a home entertainment destination,” he says in an interview in the conference room of Redbox’s corporate headquarters in Bellevue, just east of Seattle. “Going back to 2016, the thesis that we had when Apollo bought the company was that the opportunity for Redbox was to invest in serving its customers better. That meant expanding the number of offerings that we have for them. And that included digital transactional and then moving on to free live TV and ad-supported on-demand, and now what we’re really excited about is building an SVOD channels platform — so you create this one-stop shop for home entertainment.”

Redbox’s twin aces in the hole: More than 40 million customer emails with data about what they like to watch, and a loyalty program that allows the company’s crack marketing team to cross-promote digital and physical.

“Our loyalty program is something that really differentiates us,” Smith says. “We’ve got 39 million members in our loyalty program, and you’re able to earn points whether you’re renting physically, buying a previously viewed disc, or renting or buying digitally. So this gives an incremental value to the customer, to allow them to consume more content through those loyalty points. And if you think about how this program underlies everything, that is key. Redbox has always been about value, simplicity and convenience, and what we really want to do with this decentralization of entertainment everywhere is find a way to bring it back to the consumer. It’s almost like the rebundling we know has to happen.”

On the TVOD front, Redbox in December 2017 launched Redbox On Demand, where consumers can buy or rent digital copies of the latest Hollywood movies as well as a deep catalog of classic films. During the pandemic, the service was boosted by studios shifting new releases from movie theaters, which were closed, to premium VOD channels, giving Redbox On Demand and other digital retailers a significant boost.

A free live TV service launched in February 2020 with 25 channels and has since expanded to 100, with a lineup of free movies and television, news, lifestyle and sports entertainment programming. With no subscription or even log-in required, consumers can watch anything from vintage “Johnny Carson” and “The Carol Burnett Show” episodes to hundreds of classic movies, from Cheddar News to Bloomberg Television, from “Unsolved Mysteries” to “The Bob Ross Channel,” from CourtTV to Crackle to Popcornflix, the latest addition.

Last December, Redbox announced its entry into the booming AVOD marketplace with Redbox Free On Demand, an ad-supported streaming video service featuring hundreds of movies and television series curated for Redbox’s kiosk-centric consumers. The company thus entered a market that according to Ampere Analysis is being enjoyed by 20% of all domestic Internet users. The most prominent player in AVOD is Fox-owned Tubi, with a content catalog said to be larger than Netflix’s. Redbox now provides access to such niche streamers as Crackle, Popcornflix and Shout! Factory TV, among others.

“We have this really unique customer base, we have 40 million customers, they’re value-conscious and they’re looking for a great entertainment experience,” Smith says. “And one of the things, even going back to 2017, when we launched the transactional video-on-demand service, was we needed to confirm, with our customers, that we have permission to be able to serve them digital content. And what we’ve seen from them is the answer is absolutely yes. There’s interest in streaming digitally from us. And so we’ve continued to build out that business. And then if you think about a value-conscious consumer, they really do care about free content, whether it be free live TV, or movies and TV shows with ads inserted in them. Ad-supported free content is on point for us and how we serve our customer base.”

Down the road, Redbox envisions partnering with SVOD players battling over customer acquisition and churn reduction. The company plans on selling subscriptions through its various platforms in return for a share of the proceeds — effectively acting as an aggregator. The incentive, especially to smaller, niche streamers, is a simplified consumer experience, with billing and playback in a single app. Customer acquisition and retention efforts could also be furthered through Redbox’s
loyalty program.

“There are plenty of opportunities that consumers have to watch some kind of subscription video-on-demand,” Smith says. “We’ve seen, over the past few years, an explosion in the number of offerings. For us, we think we’re better served to be a retail partner to those SVOD services as opposed to launching something ourselves. We see an opportunity to really serve our customer base, these 40 million customers, by being able to create a very simple interaction where they can access all of this content in one place.”
Redbox can also help with the “discovery” aspect that continues to plague smaller streaming services. “We’ve helped customers discover content for years and years,” Smith says. “We know what people like based on their rental histories, and now we’re able to pull all this additional information together from our digital services — what are you watching at the kiosk, what are you watching on transactional, what are you watching on Free Live TV and AVOD, and then what channels are you subscribing to. And that gives us the opportunity to say to someone, ‘We know you probably have never heard of this particular channel, or you may have heard about it, but you are not subscribing to it, but based on your viewing history we think this is the perfect channel for you.’”

So far, Redbox’s digital strategy appears to be working. According to a May 2021 investor presentation, total digital revenue in 2020 doubled to $40 million, from $20 million in 2019, while the “legacy” part of the business, mostly kiosk disc rentals, fell to $506 million, from $809 million in 2019 — a drop Smith attributes largely to the dearth of new DVD and Blu-ray Disc titles. Looking ahead, Smith says he believes the physical business will bounce back as theaters reopen and studios start releasing new movies on Blu-ray Disc and DVD at a normal clip, while digital — led by the new additional PVOD window for digital retailers as well as explosive growth in AVOD — will continue its rapid ascent. Redbox projects that in 2022 legacy revenue will come in at about $712 million, nearly as much as before the pandemic, while digital revenue will mushroom to $193 million, for a total of $906 million — an increase of more than 9% from the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Like the big streaming services, growth is the No. 1 priority on Redbox’s agenda. Hence the announcement in May that the company plans to go public through the formation of a “special purpose acquisition company,” or SPAC, a relatively new phenomenon that allows a private company to go public without going through the traditional initial public offering approach.

“If we think about where we’re going, and the opportunity ahead, one of the things that’s so exciting about our SPAC transaction is that it’s going to provide additional capital that will really allow us to accelerate this digital transformation, allow us to invest in more ad-supported content, allow us to market not only within our base but even beyond our base, because we know there are other value-conscious consumers out there who would love to watch content through us,” he says. “We just have to get our story out more and tell them that we’re here and that we can serve more and more of their needs.”

To feed its proliferation of platforms, Redbox in October 2019 announced the formation of Redbox Entertainment, a new label focused on acquiring films. One of its latest: The Last Son, set in the Sierra Nevada in the late 19th century and starring Sam Worthington as a murderous outlaw cursed by a terrible prophecy. The film will be released simultaneously in theaters and On Demand later this year.

Other acquisitions include Capone (Tom Hardy), Shadow in the Cloud (Chloë Grace Moretz and Nick Robinson), SAS: Red Notice (Sam Heughan and Ruby Rose), and American Traitor: The True Story of Axis Sally (Al Pacino and Meadow Williams).

Less than a year after the launch of Redbox Entertainment, the company in September 2020 announced a partnership with “John Wick” producer Basil Iwanyk to establish Asbury Park Pictures, an independent film production house charged with producing original movies. The movies will have budgets from $10 million to $12 million each and be shot primarily in Eastern Europe, South East Asia and Canada.

Smith says the whole process began as an attempt to capitalize on the vast amounts of data the company collects. “We have all this data about what our customers love — what genres, what actors — and we thought there was an opportunity for us to help program our own services,” Smith says. “So we picked up movies like Running with the Devil with Nicolas Cage and Laurence Fishburne, and The Fanatic with John Travolta, and those were our first entries.

“Then, about a year later, we partnered with Basil Iwanyk of Thunder Road Films to create a brand-new label, Asbury Park Pictures, and the goal there is to take something very similar to the Blumhouse brand but do it for action movies — because we know our customers love action movies. Our first movie, Black Site, was shot in Australia in February and is currently in post-production. It’s something we should deliver by the end of the year.”

Between Redbox Entertainment and Asbury Park Pictures, Smith says, he’s shooting for 36 movies a year, rolled out at the rate of three per month. Redbox typically acquires all United States or North American distribution rights, Smith says, which is why acquired movies are not limited to the company’s own platforms and services. Over the past two years, Smith says, Redbox Entertainment films have streamed on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, and some have been available for sale on DVD and Blu-ray Disc at Walmart.

“One of the disconnects that has happened with content releases is that if you sell your movie to a streaming service, then your distribution really is limited to that streaming service,” Smith says. “It may be big, but it is still limited. So what we want to do is make sure that this incredible content, this incredible art, is seen by as many people as possible, so we are releasing movies broadly across every digital transactional platform, then through our own kiosks and Redbox On Demand, and then we’re selling off the Pay 1 window to everyone you’d expect in the space. We’ve sold movies to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Showtime, Starz.”

He says Redbox follows a “very traditional” release strategy. “The films are first released on a number of screens, at movie theaters, as well as digital transactional,” typically at a premium rental price, he says. “Then it’s going to go into your typical home entertainment window, which will be Redbox, which will be sellthrough,” he says. “And then it will go to a pay-TV provider, typically a streamer, for some period, anywhere between 18 months and 36 months,” usually 90 days after its debut. On the physical side, Smith says, “We’ve created Redbox Entertainment as our label and we’ve partnered with various folks to release movies. One of our really great partners, particularly over the past year, has been Vertical Entertainment. With Vertical we’ve done Capone, Shadow in the Cloud, SAS: Red Notice, and we’re releasing them broadly. For instance Shadow in the Cloud, which we picked up at the Toronto Film Festival, has done tremendously well on sellthrough. We’ve really been pleasantly surprised at how well it’s done. In fact, we’ve seen really great sales at Walmart and it’s going to continue to be sold at Walmart because we’re seeing strong volume on it.”

Smith says Redbox released Shadow in the Cloud on Jan. 1 of this year “at a time when there was a lack of content” at a $20 PVOD price.

“As you can imagine, there was some demand from our consumer base, but that’s not as big a value,” he says. “But it did incredibly well on both Amazon and iTunes, in terms of that $20 rental price. And we’re happy to make sure that we’re able to create the maximum value per title, and then in May it started streaming on Hulu.”

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Redbox’s biggest business is still its legacy business, a fleet of more than 40,000 kiosks where consumers can rent new movies and buy used ones on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. With the popularity of physical media on the downswing, Redbox’s kiosk revenue has been declining each year. It’s also gotten little respect in the mainstream press, and been subjected to repeated knocks by analysts.

But Smith says the business, while declining, is far from dead. “It’s a huge asset for us,” he says. “It is part of our legacy business, but it continues to serve a very important consumer base. Not everyone is going to stream, not everyone can stream. … They may not have the necessary broadband where they live in the country to use these services. So I think there’s an opportunity in terms of these great movies that are being made to make sure that America, all of America, can see them. And we see ourselves as the distribution platform to be able to provide that.

“Will the physical rental business decline over time as it has in sellthrough? Absolutely. But we also see a strong resurgence of titles — as movie theaters start to reopen we’ll have more and more titles throughout the year, so by Q4 we should be almost back to the normal number of titles, and then we expect the normal release slate in 2022. So we do see a huge resurgence in the physical kiosk business. It’s still a great way for a lot of consumers to be able to see movies the studios are distributing.”

Smith maintains there has always been a certain “disconnect” between studio executives, analysts and other entertainment industry thought leaders, who are typically clustered around the coasts, and middle America.

“We found this years ago when we were public,” he says. “There is a general misconception about how we may view content, ourselves, and what someone else might do. There are 40 million active consumers who shop at Redbox kiosks, so clearly someone is doing this — even though you might not be doing it yourself.”

To drive more traffic to Redbox kiosks, Smith says, the company in July is launching an annual subscription service in several test markets.

Consumers can sign up for either of two “loyalty subscriptions” at $9.99 or $19.99 a year. “We’re calling it Redbox Plus — and I promise we decided to do this well before everyone began adding ‘Plus’ to their name,” Smith says with a laugh. “For a one-time annual fee, you get certain benefits, all year round — things like one free movie rental a month, typically of a film that’s been out at least 30 days, and extra time to return movies. One of the pain points of Redbox is that if you return a movie after the 9 p.m. cutoff, even if it’s 9:05, you get charged for an extra night, and this plan provides an extension. It’s a great value, and it’s geared toward customers who we can help drive to come to our kiosks at least once a month.”

Smith notes that the fleet of Redbox kiosks have other uses, other value, beyond renting movies.

“These 40,000 kiosks not only serve our customers with the latest new releases, but they also serve as a billboard for all of our businesses, whether it be Free Live TV or other services we have down the road,” Smith says. “It’s an incredible asset to have all of these retail marketing placements.”
Through its kiosks, Smith says, Redbox has also partnered with subscription streaming services on a number of cross-promotions that capitalize on the company’s loyalty program.

“Think about the ability for us to drive subscriptions, or drive retention and reduce churn, for SVOD players by offering them access to our consumers,” he says. “We did a very successful promotion last year with Showtime in which we drove subscriptions for them by bundling nights at the kiosk with a Showtime trial, so you could see new movies through us and then you had access to all this great Showtime content as part of your subscription.”

Ideal SVOD partners, Smith says, aren’t the leaders like Netflix or Disney+ but, rather, “tier-one providers who might not have the same reach and could use our help in reaching our customer base.”

“One of the exciting things we built last year, but haven’t yet deployed, is the ability for us to offer subscriptions through our kiosks,” he says. “So now all of a sudden you have this new distribution channel through 40,000 kiosks. As someone is checking out and renting the latest new release at the kiosk, they can add a free trial subscription to a streaming service. Since they are transacting with their credit card, we can take the payment right there — and we’re able to start that customer off with a subscription.”
Further value from the kiosks will come later this year, with the installation of video screens atop 4,000 of the company’s 40,000 kiosks that are located inside stores rather than on the outside. ”Two-thirds of the screen time will be for advertising the business or mobile app — new content in kiosks, trailers of new releases, and so on — while the remaining third will consist of CPG ads for other merchandise in the store,” Smith says. “This gives us the opportunity to reach our customers in yet another way.”

Redbox’s legacy kiosks have also allowed the company to launch an ancillary service business, Smith says. “We have about 1,100 employees who live and work around the country who service Redbox kiosks, but they also serve the kiosks of other companies — and that’s becoming a real business, and a growing business for us,” Smith says. Clients include Amazon, with its nationwide network of lockers, and ecoATM, a former sister company of Redbox where consumers can get cash for their old cell phones.

“Any time there’s a technical issue or problem, either mechanical or break-fix, it’s my team that goes in there to make sure it’s running well,” Smith says. “It’s a pretty small segment of our overall business today, but it is something that is going to continue to grow. What I love about it is that we have this work force, and we are able to leverage it, as it is best in class. That’s how we were able to take on the Amazon locker business last June — because we could do it better and cheaper than others.”

These days, Smith is spending most of his time preparing for Redbox to go public through its merger with Seaport Global Acquisition Corp., a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company (Nasdaq: SGAM). The transaction will result in Redbox becoming a publicly traded company with an enterprise value of $693 million. Upon closing — the target date is sometime in the third quarter of this year — Redbox’s common stock is expected to trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol RDBX. Apollo Global Management, Redbox’s current owner, will retain its 59% equity stake. The process is expected to bring in $209 million in cash, with half the proceeds used to pay down debt and the balance to invest.

Apollo is actively involved in the process, Smith says. “One of the things that’s really important to note is that everyone is rolling their equity,” he says. “So, management, Apollo, any other current holders, we’re all rolling our equity into the new company. If you think about where we’re going, there is really an opportunity for fast, explosive digital growth. The places that we’re playing in — if you look at the growth in subscription on-demand and ad-supported VOD, these markets are exploding. We put out numbers in our investor deck, and if we can get to less than 1% of market share, we hit our numbers. So it’s this fast, explosive growing space. Apollo are value investors, and this is growth capital — hence, the opportunity to partner with Seaport. So for us, it was really a matter of finding the right partner — which we did, and we’re really pleased with Seaport — which will provide growth capital to really reach that next phase of growth.

“There’s four areas we’re going to invest in: obtaining more licensed AVOD content, building out that channels platform, increasing our marketing spend, and lastly, continue to grow the Redbox Entertainment acquisition and distribution business.”

He pauses, then says, “I think it’s really important to note that when we’re done with building this SVOD channels platform, we’re going to be able to offer consumers more choice between physical and digital than any competitor. And what we realized last year, as there was a lack of content for most of the year, was this multi-product offering, being able to offer different ways to satisfy the consumption needs of consumers, was this incredibly valuable tool. Those customers are worth five times the value of someone who just transacts at kiosks, so what we want to do is continue to lean into that and grow it.”

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Hollywood Sees Redbox as Valued Partner

As Redbox undergoes a digital transformation, its relationship with Hollywood also has evolved into a mutually beneficial partnership — a far cry from the company’s early days, when studios slammed Redbox kiosks for allegedly cannibalizing the sellthrough market and refused to sell the company their DVDs, resulting in a flurry of lawsuits.

Today, Redbox is seen as a significant player in the physical media arena and a growing force in digital movie rentals and sales.

Eddie Cunningham, president of Studio Distribution Services (SDS), the joint venture between Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures to distribute physical media in North America, says Redbox “continues to be a strong and trusted partner and an integral part of the home entertainment business, highly invested in their advancement across both physical and digital. In the physical category, through their kiosks, they have remained steadfast in their commitment to keeping consumers engaged and transacting via innovative marketing and breakthrough collaborations.”

“Redbox is synonymous with movies and a first-stop choice for millions of U.S. consumers as a trusted source of what’s new and what’s trending,” says Mike Takac, EVP and general sales manager for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “Redbox’s loyal customer base has adopted hybrid consumption across disc rentals, digital transactional and streaming, and they’re meeting customer’s needs for where and how they watch content.”

Jed Grossman, EVP and GM of sales and distribution for home entertainment at Lionsgate, agrees. “Redbox continues to be an important partner and a major player in the home entertainment space at a time when demand for content is greater than ever across a wide array of theatrical, packaged and streaming options,” he says.

“Redbox continues to be a vital player in the home entertainment ecosystem,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution for North America Television & Home Entertainment at Sony Pictures Entertainment. “They have a strong, loyal and engaged customer base at their kiosks as well as increasingly through their digital platform.”

Michael Bonner, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, agrees. “Redbox continues to be an important and valued partner with a loyal and engaged customer base,” he says. “Their commitment and focus on the consumer, along with their marketing approach, has enabled them to maintain a robust physical business while expanding into the digital space, where they have seen strong growth and adoption from their customers.”

Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment, echoes the other executives’ words. “Redbox has long been a vital component of the home entertainment industry and continues to evolve to meet the changing needs of today’s consumer,” he says. “With their keen promotional prowess, they have been able to tap into their enormous database of consumers to continue to serve them with physical product or with their fast-growing digital businesses.”

Parrot Analytics: Netflix Share of Streaming Business Sinks to Record Lows

As Netflix prepares to announce its latest earnings, Parrot Analytics data released early on July 20 suggests the streaming giant’s share of digital original audience demand during the second quarter of this year sunk to record lows, dropping to 48.3% globally and just 46% in the United States.

This is the first quarter Parrot has ever measured in which Netflix’s digital original demand share slipped below 50% globally, the research company reported. The 48.3% share is down from 50.1% in Q1 2021, and down from 54.9% Q2 2020.

Meanwhile, Disney+ grew its share from 6.0% to 7.3% globally on the back of its original Marvel content.

Netflix’s 46% U.S. share is also a record low for a quarter, representing a 2.1% drop from Q1 2021 and a 5.3% drop from Q2 2020.

Disney+ grew its audience share from 7.0% to 8.1% in the U.S. thanks to the success of Marvel hits “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Loki.”

“These latest numbers follow a steady trend of shrinking dominance for Netflix in the industry, that was spurred on by the launches of Disney+ and Apple TV+ in November 2019,” Parrot stated. “These platforms, along with HBO Max, Paramount+ and more, continue to establish themselves with consumers and grow their subscriptions numbers by releasing highly in-demand original content. Netflix has struggled to push out breakthrough original content in the last few quarters — with the exception of season three of ‘Cobra Kai’ — and likely won’t have another massive original hit until Q4 with season two of ‘The Witcher.'”

The Parrot report concludes, “Netflix is still the global leader in the streaming space, but its lack of new hit original programming and the increased competition from other streamers is going to ultimately have a negative impact on subscriber growth and retention.”

Looking Back: 2011, Slow Recovery From the Recession

Ten years ago, home entertainment executives were more upbeat than they had been in years. The business posted its first positive quarter since the start of the 2008 global economic meltdown. With a 20% year-over-year sales gain, Blu-ray Disc was rejuvenating the physical disc business, while 3D Blu-ray was the talk of CES. And studio marketers were enthralled with the prospect of digital distribution, with a consortium of studios and other companies launching UltraViolet, a cloud-based “digital locker” that lets consumers stream and download purchased content to multiple platforms and devices. David Bishop, at the time president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, called UltraViolet “a major game changer.” The nascent streaming business, meanwhile, stumbled when Starz Entertainment ended content license renegotiations with Netflix, which meant the service would soon lose access to Disney and Sony Pictures movies.

Streaming Series ‘The Crown,’ ‘The Mandalorian’ Top Emmy Awards Nominations

Streaming series dominated nominations for the 73rd Emmy Awards, with “The Crown” (Netflix) and “The Mandalorian” (Disney+) leading the pack, with 24 program nominations each, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced July 13.

Awards were announced during a live virtual ceremony hosted by father-daughter duo Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”) from Los Angeles and Jasmine Cephas Jones (“Blindspotting”) from New York, joined by Television Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma.

Other leading series nominees include Disney+ limited series “WandaVision,” with 23 noms; Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Saturday Night Live,” each with 21; Apple TV+ comedy “Ted Lasso,” with 20;  HBO/HBO Max’s “Lovecraft Country” and Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” each with 18; and HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” with 16. Less than two weeks earlier, HBO announced it would not renew “Lovecraft Country” for a second season.

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HBO/HBO Max garnered the most nominations, with 130. Netflix had the second-most nominations (129), with Disney+ at No. 3, with 71, and NBC in fourth place, with 46.

“Television has provided a lifeline for so many around the globe this year, delivering a constant source of entertainment, information and inspiration during some of our most difficult days,” Scherma said. “We are thrilled to honor the diversity of storytelling in television today by recognizing talented artists, programs, producers, directors and craftspeople throughout our industry and celebrating their commitment to this extraordinary medium.”

“Bridgerton,” “Lovecraft Country” and “The Boys” are new to the Outstanding Drama Series category, joining returning nominees “Pose,” “The Crown,” “The Mandalorian,” “This Is Us” and previous category winner “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Seventy-five percent of this year’s nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series are new to the category, including “Cobra Kai,” “Emily in Paris,” “Hacks,” “Pen15,” “Ted Lasso” and “The Flight Attendant.” Returning favorites include “Black-ish” and “The Kominsky Method.”

In total, there were 44 first-time performer nominations across the lead, supporting, guest and short form categories this season.

Jonathan Majors, Josh O’Connor and Regé-Jean Page received their first-ever Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, joining previous Emmy winners in this category Sterling K. Brown, Billy Porter and Matthew Rhys. Emma Corrin, Jurnee Smollett and Mj Rodriguez received their first nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, while previous Emmy winner Uzo Aduba was nominated for the first time in this category. They were joined by returning nominee Olivia Colman and previous Emmy winner in this category Elisabeth Moss.

Kaley Cuoco received her first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, while previous Emmy winner Jean Smart and previous Emmy nominee Aidy Bryant were nominated for the first time in this category. They joined previous Emmy nominee Tracee Ellis Ross and Emmy winner Allison Janney. Jason Sudeikis received his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, while previous Emmy winner Kenan Thompson was nominated for the first time in this category. They joined six-time nominee in the category Anthony Anderson, along with previous Emmy winners Michael Douglas and William H. Macy.

Individuals with multiple nominations this year included David Attenborough, Sterling K. Brown, Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, Steven Canals, Dave Chapelle, Michaela Coel, Jon Favreau, Derek Hough, Brendan Hunt, Maya Rudolph, Jean Smart, Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson.

The complete list of Emmy nominations, as compiled by the independent accounting firm of Ernst & Young LLP, and other Academy news is available at Emmys.com.

The 73rd Emmy Awards will be hosted by Cedric the Entertainer. The Emmys will be broadcast on Sept. 19, 8-11 p.m. live ET and 5-8 p.m., live PT, on the CBS Television Network and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. The 2021 Creative Arts Awards will be broadcast on Sept. 18  at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FXX.

Family Video Winds Down With eBay Auction of Discs, Memorabilia

Family Video’s end is fast approaching.

The last national video rental chain, which in January announced it is closing down, is now liquidating an assortment of posters, memorabilia and other items on eBay.

The auction was supposed to end June 29, but 201 items remain up for bid or for sale on eBay as of July 2, including Family Video-logo director’s chairs (“Buy It Now” price $229.94, with a 15% quantity discount), a Family Video employee vest ($34.95), an autographed Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters & Marvels DVD (starting bid 99 cents, “Buy It Now” price $249.99), and dozens of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.

“Yes, it’s really us,” the chain says on its eBay “shop” page. “We are the former #1 movie rental retail chain in the United States. Sadly we closed our stores in January 2021, but we still offer movies, video games and more online.”

Family Video opened its first store  — Video Movie Club — in Springfield, Ohio, in 1978. The privately-owned company ultimately grew to 800 stores, but in January announced it would begin liquidation of its remaining 250 stores, citing the pandemic as the reason.

“While we have faced digital competition from Netflix and others for years, nothing has been as devastating to our business as COVID-19,” Keith Hoogland, CEO of Highland Ventures, the Glenview, Ill.-based company that owns Family Video, said in a media statement. “We are very thankful to have been able to provide entertainment for many family movie nights.”

The chain posted a letter from Hoogland on its website shortly before noon PT on Jan. 6, stating that the impact of COVID-19 combined with the lack of fresh theatrical product “pushed us to the end of an era.”

In November 2020, the chain mounted a brief  promotional campaign called #SaveTheVideoStore to drum up consumer support. The campaign was supported by studios and Hollywood talent such as Clerks director Kevin Smith.

Other items available on eBay include Family Video T-shirts ($17.95), “Hunger Games” necklaces ($1.99 or $4.99), and a September 2020 issue of the Family Video “new release” in-store magazine (99 cents).

Arrow SVOD Platform Sets July 2021 Slate

Arrow Video has announced the July 2021 lineup for its subscription-based Arrow platform, featuring a selection that highlights genre classics with a “cinematic road trip across the country,” according to a press release.

The Arrow SVOD service is available in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom on Roku devices, Apple TV and iOS devices, Android TV and mobile devices, Amazon Fire TV devices, and on Web browsers at www.arrow-player.com.

The July lineup leads with a selection of films highlighting genre classics from revolutionary American filmmakers, including George Romero, Lucky McKee, William Grefe, Jill Gevargizian, Bill Rebane, Chelsea Stardust, and Patrick Picard.

Films include:

July 1: The Woman, The Driller Killer, Deadly Manor, Dark August, The Crazies, Season of the Witch, Heavy Trip (U.S./Canada/UK), Slumber Party Massacre II (U.S./Canada), American: The Bill Hicks Story (U.S./UK), Ice Cream Man (U.S./Canada/UK), God Told Me To (U.S./Canada), Manhattan Baby (U.S./Canada), Maniac (U.S./Canada), and Vigilante (U.S./Canada).

July 2: The first episode from “Hammer House of Horror,” Witching Time.

July 9: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Slayer, The Mutilator, Scared Stiff, The Annihilators, She-Devils On Wheels, Shock Waves (U.S./Canada) and an installment of “Hammer House of Horror,” The Thirteenth Reunion (U.S.).

July 10: Holiday Fear, Mother Fucker (U.S./Canada/UK), and two shorts from Nicholas Payne Santos (Uncle Peckerhead).

July 12: Companeros (U.S./Canada), Massacre Time (U.S./Canada/UK), And God Said to Cain (U.S./Canada/UK), Bandidos (U.S./Canada/UK), and My Name is Pecos (U.S./Canada/UK).

July 16: The Stylist, A Ghost Waits, Lake Michigan Monster, The Chill Factor, Deadbeat at Dawn, Trapped Alive, The Prowler (U.S./Canada), and Hammer House of Horror: Rude Awakening (U.S.).

July 19: Irezumi and Giants and Toys (both U.S./Canada/UK).

July 23: The Bloodhound, Switchblade Sisters, The Prey, The Hills Have Eyes, The El Duce Tapes, The Witch Came From the Sea, Growing Pains (U.S.), The Prowler (U.S./Canada) and a short film Satanic Panic ‘87 from director Bryan M. Ferguson.

July 30: Hammer House of Horror: The House That Bled Death (U.S.).

Q&A With Galen Smith: The Story Behind Redbox Going Public the SPAC Route

Redbox in May announced its intent to go public through the formation of a “special purpose acquisition company,” a relatively new phenomenon that allows a private company to go public without going through the traditional initial public offering approach. The transaction will result in Redbox becoming a publicly traded company with an enterprise value of $693 million. Upon closing, Redbox’s common stock is expected to trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol RDBX.

Media Play News reached out to Redbox CEO Galen Smith for a Q&A, part of an ongoing series of conversations with home industry leaders past, present — and future.

MPN: First of all, Galen, why go public in the first place? Redbox has been owned by Apollo Global Management for five years — why leave now? 

Smith: We’re at an important inflection point in our digital transformation — over the past several years, Redbox has transformed from a single-product physical offering into a multi-window, multi-product experience for entertainment lovers, combining physical and digital channels to provide customers more choice. Redbox has always aimed to serve the value-conscious customer well and by raising additional capital through this transaction, we’ll be even better positioned to do that by enhancing our offerings and customer experience. We plan to invest in additional ad-supported content, deploy an SVOD and premium channels platform, and expand original movies through Redbox Entertainment titles.

Apollo has been a great partner and this transaction doesn’t change that — along with other current equity holders, they are rolling 100% of their interests into the new company, so we’ll continue to have their support. With the shift to digital intensifying, we see exciting opportunities ahead for Redbox and believe the best way to accelerate the growth of our digital business is to attract additional investors. We’re pleased we found a great partner in Seaport Global Acquisition Corp (NASDAQ: SGAM), who shares our confidence in the path forward and wants to make that a reality.

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MPN: Why are you going the SPAC rather than IPO route? Is it because Wall Street is all about growth, and investors might not see the opportunity in Redbox that you do? What are the advantages? 

Smith: We chose to go the route of merging with a SPAC as we thought it was a more efficient way to raise capital and become a public company. Redbox is one of the most recognized entertainment brands in the U.S., and we view this transaction, which will help us accelerate growth, as a natural next step in our evolution.

We’re eager to expand our investment in Redbox Entertainment to acquire and distribute original films, and this transaction will help us do that. We’ve already released 16 original movies and plan to expand that to 36 titles annually in theaters and widely on demand including through Redbox. We also expect significant growth in our digital business as we invest the capital we raise in licensed content, marketing and product expansion and offerings.

MPN: As a public company, won’t user data be made public every 90 days? What does this mean for Redbox? 

Smith: As a public company, we will report on our business performance every quarter as we did when we were previously part of Outerwall. We look forward to demonstrating our progress in executing our digital transformation.

MPN: As a standalone company, will you have more flexibility than you did under Apollo?

Smith: Apollo has been a great partner, and in this next chapter as a public company, we intend to accelerate and build on the transformational work we began as a private company. As part of Apollo, we launched and grew TVOD and AVOD platforms through significant investments in technology. Additionally, we launched an upgraded mobile app and website, and introduced our new loyalty program, Redbox Perks, which now has 39 million members. We also launched Redbox Entertainment to produce, acquire and distribute original content for our customers.

MPN: Will there be more synergies as a public company? 

Smith: One of the most exciting parts of becoming a public company is gaining access to new capital and resources, which will provide additional flexibility to make strategic acquisitions that could further accelerate our opportunities to serve customers and our transformation.

MPN: Redbox remains the cheapest way to rent a new-release movie. How do you go about relaying that message to consumers fixated on streaming?

Smith: Our vision is to provide quality home entertainment to everyone, and to make it ridiculously cheap and easy for consumers to get the entertainment they want most. While we’ve seen and led a lot of changes in the entertainment landscape over the past two decades as the industry has evolved, our commitment to three core tenets — value, convenience, and simplicity — have remained constant at every step. These tenets will continue to guide us as we expand into digital, and we’re fortunate to have a loyal customer base that trusts Redbox to provide a differentiated, affordable entertainment experience.

Importantly, Redbox is an “and” business — our customers are renting DVDs and streaming movies digitally. As we’ve bolstered our On Demand platform we’ve seen sustained interest from customers who continue to rent DVDs at our kiosks, which provide the best value for new-release movies. And, we’re proud that our expansion into digital has allowed us to better serve customers through more choice.

The Home Team Scores

The year 2020 will go down in the history books as the year of COVID-19, a once-in-a-century pandemic that shut down the nation – the world – until scientists could figure out exactly what the hell was going on.

It was also the year when all entertainment became home entertainment. With theaters dark, studios pivoted to premium video-on-demand (PVOD) – which in reality is nothing more than a higher-priced home window – to give consumers an alternative venue to watch their first-run movies.

It’s still too soon to talk definitively about lasting changes brought on by the pandemic. But there are certainly some good, solid, educated guesses that can be made.

First and foremost, the hallowed three-month theatrical window is gone. Out the door. Kaput. It’s been outdated for years; even the biggest theatrical blockbusters typically run out of steam after three or four weeks on the big screen, and there’s no reason in the world other windows have been kept shut for such a long period of time.

As a result, PVOD is not going to go away with the virus. When movie theaters fully reopen, which hopefully won’t be too much longer, they’re still going to be sharing the wealth with other platforms with such familiar acronyms as PVOD, PEST (I never did like that one!), and, of course, SVOD. We must remember that in the wake of the World Health Organization’s March 2020 declaration of a global pandemic, all movies did not go the PVOD route. Several big films were sold to Netflix, beginning with Paramount’s romantic comedy The Lovebirds, the first theatrically canceled film to go straight to a third-party streaming service. And then later in the year came the stunning, and disruptive, announcement by WarnerMedia that its entire 2021 theatrical slate would be released simultaneously to its upstart streaming service, HBO Max, which clearly needed (and still needs) a boost.

Regardless, the common denominator for all these acronyms is home viewing. And that means home entertainment – which Media Play News had a big role in redefining several years back as any filmed content available for on-demand viewing by the consumer,  regardless of whether it was bought or rented on disc or digital or streamed over the Internet – will remain the dominant way people will consume entertainment even when the pandemic is just a distant memory.

As our third annual marketing issue shows,  studios during the pandemic year of 2020 epitomized the expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” With theaters out of the picture (literally as well as figuratively), marketing shifted toward home audiences and, invariably, campaigns were either started or completely run by home entertainment marketers.

They were no longer playing second fiddle to their theatrical counterparts; they took the lead and saved what could have been a catastrophic year by eventizing PVOD releases and aggressively mining their catalogs for anniversary and other promotional opportunities.

At several studios, home entertainment marketing teams have been merged with their theatrical and, in some cases, television counterparts to create hybrid marketing organizations geared to the new reality of multi-window, multi-platform releases.

But let’s never forget who got the proverbial ball rolling. When Hollywood was down, it was the home team that stepped up to the plate.

Power Marketing 2021: It’s All About the Home

It was the year when almost all entertainment was home entertainment.

In the pandemic year of 2020, the shuttering of movie theaters led studios to quickly pivot to digital premieres, and the premium video-on-demand (PVOD) model they had long wished for became a reality simply because there was no other way.

With nearly every new movie an immediate home release, studio home entertainment, theatrical and, in some cases, television marketing teams intermingled and merged. The lines evaporated; in some cases, home entertainment marketing teams ran the show, while in others, they laid the groundwork to give their theatrical or television brethren time to adjust to the new reality.

In Media Play News’ third annual Power Marketing special report, we are once again profiling the campaigns behind some of the year’s top-selling home releases — and the marketing executives and teams that made them happen.

The Power Campaigns

New Releases

■ Trolls World Tour
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
In a year marked by seismic shifts across the entertainment landscape, Universal Pictures at the onset of the global pandemic was the first to take the plunge into PVOD with the DreamWorks Animation sequel Trolls World Tour.

As soon as movie theaters around the world shut down in the middle of March 2020 in the wake of the World Health Organization declaring a global coronavirus pandemic, studios postponed the release dates of their tentpoles — often, as it turned out, multiple times.

Universal Pictures, however, pressed ahead with the originally scheduled opening of Trolls World Tour — and in the process pioneered a new, premium rental distribution window to ensure consumers had continued access to its newest releases. Trolls World Tour was released directly to home audiences on April 10, 2020, at $19.99 for a 48-hour rental window. It proved a truly transformative moment in film distribution. Trolls went on to earn the distinction of being the biggest digital release of all time, generating more than $100 million in PVOD revenue.

Later, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s global marketing team faced the new challenge of differentiating the traditional home entertainment window from PVOD. Marketers seamlessly shifted gears to design a standout campaign that incentivized the value of ownership and delivered on the promise of a unique, traditional home entertainment offering.

In support of this strategy, UPHE released two versions of the film, a “Dance Party Edition” along with the original film, as well as an all-new, original short featuring one of the film’s most popular characters, Tiny Diamond. To further heighten urgency, UPHE created highly collectible retailer-exclusive offerings that were made available at Walmart, Target and Best Buy.

On the publicity front, UPHE hosted a virtual global press junket with the film’s cast; secured national PR partnerships with NBC’s “Today” and “The Kelly Clarkson Show”; and teamed with music label RCA Records to unveil a newly created “Just Sing” animated music video.

Driving further excitement for the release, the team worked with TikTok influencers to create special digital content tied to the film’s hit song “Just Sing” and seized on high-profile digital opportunities within the app tied to Father’s Day.

The campaign was also supported by expansive national promotional partnerships with Popeyes and PUR Cosmetics, among others, in addition to a four-week-long, exclusive in-game Trolls World Tour promotion with the mobile game DreamWorks Trolls Pop.

Finally, the campaign was complemented by huge media support across network, cable and digital outlets — including an eye-catching, custom Facebook Augmented Reality activation in the home entertainment window that exclusively showcased six of the film’s leading characters.

Accordingly, the film continued to resonate with home audiences long after its PVOD run. Trolls World Tour topped the digital, DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales and rental charts, and at the end of the year was hailed as the most-watched movie of 2020 by both FandangoNow and Vudu, two of the leading digital retailers.

The Craft: Legacy
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
With the global pandemic’s impact on theaters and a compromised theatrical release calendar, Sony Pictures had to assess the best way to reach audiences for Blumhouse’s The Craft: Legacy, the sequel to the beloved 1996 cult classic The Craft. The studio found Halloween would be the perfect time to summon a theatrical experience directly to the homes of new and old fans.

This was the first time Sony Pictures brought a theatrical-sized campaign to a direct-to-consumer release in a combined effort to open the movie “in homes.” The young cast was perfectly suited to draw in millennial and Gen Z audiences via social media. The social media team leaned heavily into engaging content on key platforms to reach younger females. Tactics included conversational and supernatural GIFs, AR effects for Instagram and Facebook, and custom content highlighting everything needed to cast a spell for the perfect movie night at home.

A key platform for this audience is TikTok, where Sony Pictures used a unique approach activating 12 influencers across three categories: beauty/makeup, WitchTok (which historically sees a huge boost leading up to Halloween), and mainstream influencers. All categories aligned with themes in the movie. The WitchTok influencers “called the corners” by creating Wiccan spells and highlighted magic to engage their audiences, while the beauty influencers re-created makeup and costume looks based on each character’s signature element (Earth, Wind, Fire and Water). The mainstream influencers leveraged a TikTok trend (freezing time) that also perfectly fit with the movie.

To blow the release out into a communal party event, cast and filmmakers participated in a live Twitter watch party hosted by Entertainment Weekly.

During the event, hosts shared DIY-inspired crafts and recipes in addition to polls and quizzes. Thousands joined the coven on Twitter to be a part of this unified experience.

There were 3,335 posts using the hashtag #TheCraftWatchParty, which trended on the platform and hit No. 2 on the Los Angeles trending chart. Fans were most excited to hear the cast describe their favorite scenes and utilize GIFs from the official Giphy page to react throughout the watch party. The movie’s GIF views increased by more than 1 million during this time, and the 3,000 Twitter posts and additional social support drove an estimated reach of 29.5 million.

The media team conjured up massive awareness by taking a data-driven approach that identified and ultimately converted key audiences. Tactics included leveraging first-party data, contextual targeting and affinity targeting. To spike urgency among young females, Sony Pictures marketers activated a 24-hour roadblock on TikTok and further broadened out by blanketing networks such as MTV, Freeform, The CW, AMC, Syfy and Adult Swim.

The promotions team cast its spell by partnering with audience-aligned brands. Black Moon cosmetics released a limited-edition lipstick kit, Cirque Colors debuted a four-piece nail polish set, and Hot Topic added print-on-demand T-shirts to a previous collection of merchandise from the original film.

All of these unique ingredients brought the witches brew together and resulted in a magical and immersive movie-watching experience.

■ Love and Monsters
Paramount Home Entertainment
Because of theater closures during the pandemic, Paramount Home Entertainment was tasked with launching the studio’s first PVOD release: the feature film Love and Monsters, a monster adventure film starring Dylan O’Brien and Jessica Henwick.

The marketing teams developed a creative and broad-reaching campaign from the ground up to maximize awareness and excitement, which resulted in the film debuting at No. 1 and becoming one of the most successful PVOD releases of the year.

The multi-faceted campaign cleverly played into themes from the post-apocalyptic film that resonated with viewers stuck at home, while offering escapism and a fun-filled ride. The creative team crafted an initial trailer using celebrated British rock band The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” to set the tone, followed by a teaser just prior to release.

Additional creative assets with unique character art were deployed across digital storefronts, emphasizing the “Home Premiere” of the film to eventize the release. Teams also worked closely with retail partners to coordinate premium merchandising, significant co-op media campaigns, and social media support.

Advertising included robust television and targeted digital buys reaching consumers through creative and compelling spots. The campaign was also supported through comprehensive publicity, including a virtual panel at New York Comic Con, and broadcast, print and online interviews with key cast members. Exclusive clips were strategically rolled out across high-profile and targeted sites, and reviews were secured in major outlets, ultimately resulting in the title being Certified Fresh with a 92% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.

These efforts were augmented by unique digital partnerships and influencer outreach to target the Gen Z audience along with niche demos, including fashion followers (three film costumes were given away), foodies (a film-inspired Thanksgiving menu generated more than 1 million impressions), and dog lovers (the film’s canine star inspired passionate fan engagement).
Ultimately, Love and Monsters was a hit with the target demographics, generating audience and critical acclaim, sales that exceeded expectations, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.

■ Scoob!
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Scoob! was released May 15, 2020, on PVOD and premium digital sellthrough as an alternative to a traditional theatrical release during the pandemic​, making the highly anticipated family animated film available for both ownership and rental in the home in lieu of a theatrical launch.

As the film had been scheduled for a traditional theatrical release, the home entertainment marketing team worked closely with its theatrical marketing colleagues to create awareness for the home availability of the film. Internal support for the film across WarnerMedia included media placements across TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, TNT, TruTV, Boomerang, Bleacher Report, Xandr and DirecTV/AT&T U-Verse​.

​Digital marketing activations included a TikTok global challenge (#SCOOBDance), which garnered more than 6.2 billion views; a Roblox “Adopt Me” Scoob! Takeover — a multi-pronged influencer campaign including families, dog lovers and nostalgia fans; and downloadable family watch activities.

The publicity focused on generating awareness for the film and its at-home availability. Initiatives included a virtual press day with talent; talk show appearances including “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Good Morning America” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”; and a Scoob! Movie Night “premiere” with a “red carpet” livestream on YouTube and Twitter followed by a watch-along Twitter event​.

Brand partnerships included Blue Buffalo, BarkBox, Chuck E. Cheese, Carl’s Jr. and Best Friends Animal Society. Scoob! turned out to be Warner’s second-biggest digital release of the year.

■ The Secret: Dare to Dream
Lionsgate
Based on the best-selling book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret: Dare to Dream stars Katie Holmes as a widowed mother of three who meets a handyman (Josh Lucas) who inspires her with the power of positive thinking.

The feel-good nature of the film couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Secret: Dare to Dream had been slated for theatrical release on more than 1,000 screens on April 17, 2020. But as preparations were being made, the pandemic struck, shutting down movie theaters and triggering a mass pivot in Hollywood to PVOD.

Lionsgate marketers shifted gears and settled on a PVOD release July 31 as a 48-hour rental at $19.99. Other platforms fell into place: a digital sellthrough release would follow on Sept. 15, followed by Blu-ray combo pack (with DVD and digital copy), standalone DVD and VOD availability Sept. 22.

The marketing campaign was developed just as the world as we knew it completely changed. From the first marketing meeting with author Byrne, who was also a producer on the film, Lionsgate marketers embraced the “positive thinking” message in both the film and the book, and “Believe Again” became the theme of the marketing campaign.

A high-impact, compact campaign was drawn up, focusing on premium placement with on-platform media support. This was complemented by star-driven publicity, including the studio’s first virtual junket, and a robust social media campaign. This led to premium merchandising placement across all of Lionsgate’s digital and MVPD platform partners generally reserved for wide theatrical films with significant box
office earnings.

The film performed exceptionally well in its initial PVOD window, scoring the No. 1 spot on the FandangoNow digital rental chart. “Thanks to its good-natured charm, the chemistry of the cast and its focus on the power of positive thinking, The Secret: Dare to Dream has risen to the top of the charts on FandangoNow,” Fandango managing editor Erik Davis said at the time. “It’s the right time for this kind of release, offering the kind of uplift and inspiration that families are looking to experience at home during challenging times.”

■ Soul
Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution
Nearly three months after its Christmas Day release on Disney+, the Soul in-home marketing team set their sights on a promotional campaign that reached families with kids ages 12 and younger, Pixar enthusiasts, African-Americans, and film collectors, with campaign activations incorporating several multicultural efforts.

Marketing strategies included expanding the story and leaning into key moments that resonated with audiences, highlighting the diversity and authentic portrayal of the characters and New York City, and differentiating the in-home window with collectibility messaging. As a result, the title raked in digital and Blu-ray Disc/DVD sales nearly 20% above its initial goal.

A key strategy to the campaign’s success was leveraging the film’s music to connect with all audiences. For families and fans at home, the team produced a Soul-themed virtual jazz concert that debuted on YouTube, featuring performances from the most renowned HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) bands in the nation. Hosted by Jon Batiste, Soul’s jazz composer and arranger, the concert included exclusive performances by Florida A&M University’s The Marching 100, Jackson State University’s The Sonic Boom of the South, and Southern University’s The Human Jukebox.

After only a few days, the virtual jazz concert had generated nearly 1 million views on YouTube, with additional exposure on Disney social channels, and in publicity coverage. Fan response to the virtual jazz concert was overwhelmingly positive on social media, applauding its authenticity and focus on the talented HBCU students.

Using family and lifestyle influencers also resulted in better-than-expected social impressions, video views and engagements with consumers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Total publicity consumer impressions exceeded 16.5 million, and media strategically boosted the virtual jazz concert on social platforms, extending the reach across multicultural audiences and families.

Digital in-home marketing also featured Soul’s real-life artists performing alongside animated characters and shareable “words of wisdom” content to engage audiences. In addition, Disney marketers collaborated with EatOkra and Wahl Clippers to spotlight black-owned restaurants and barbershops nationwide, encouraging fans to support them as part of a Soul dinner and family movie night social media activation and sweepstakes.

The media team showcased Soul’s video creative and rich media across key broadcast, digital and connected-TV media channels, capturing fans and new audiences with highly targeted placements.

In-home marketing also timed media and social exposure leading up to the Oscars. Media and social activations surrounding the Academy Awards helped eventize and celebrate Soul’s two Oscar wins, including Best Animated Feature Film, by encouraging consumers to “catch up” through placements and consumer messaging.

Home Entertainment Original

■ Mortal Kombat
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
To promote the release of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge, an all-new feature-length original film inspired by the worldwide hit video game, the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment marketing team developed a comprehensive campaign to drive awareness of the film and engage core fans of the video game as well as action and animation film fans. Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge was one of WBHE’s highest-performing original titles of 2020.

Partnering with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment enabled the home entertainment team to market directly to video game fans through “Mortal Kombat” channels, including in-game messaging, social media posts, CRM blasts, and prime placement on the MK website. The film was included in various WBIE activations leading up to the game maker’s Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath expansion pack release. Additionally, this partnership provided the ability to tap into audiences such as Xbox and PlayStation Mortal Kombat game purchasers in order to develop a robust and very targeted media campaign.

A variety of content was used to support dynamic social media and retail programs. All content and assets developed remained authentic to the game IP material.

In addition, two trailers were created for the release.

A Green Band Trailer, used to officially announce the digital and disc release, was launched online exclusively with IGN, and then was released wide 48 hours later on the WBHE YouTube page.

Ed Boon, co-creator of the video game, was on hand to launch the Red Band Trailer at Final Kombat eSports Finale in Chicago. Boon also participated in a cast and filmmaker panel, which was initially going to be held at WonderCon but with a quick pivot was switched to a virtual panel when WonderCon was canceled due to the pandemic. Also featuring Joel McHale, the pre-recorded virtual panel was available to stream through the Mortal Kombat game YouTube, Twitter and Facebook channels. A viewing party, led by voice actor Patrick Seitz, was held ahead of the virtual panel. Fans were encouraged to buy the digital version of the film and to watch along with Seitz and the rest of the Mortal Kombat community while sharing their thoughts on Twitter.

Catalog

■ Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
During a year without many new theatrical releases, library features and television shows were a welcome and comfortable escape from reality. What was old was new again, and one of the most successful catalog releases of 2020 was the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection Vol. 1 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Featuring fully restored and immaculate presentations of six iconic classics from the studio’s library —Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove, Gandhi, A League of Their Own and Jerry Maguire — this carefully curated premium set was seemingly designed for stay-at-home entertainment binging.

From the vast expanse of World War I-era Arabia to the baseball fields of the Midwest to a sports agent’s reawakened soul and beyond, these films served as a buffet of cinematic comfort food, all presented within collectible packaging and contextualized with nearly two days’ worth of special features.

The preparation and marketing for this set began nearly a year before it was released with an online fan poll of 4K UHD consumers about what classic library films they wanted to see on the format in the future. It was promoted across social media, in fan forums and via email. With more than 30,000 responses, the poll was an enormous success in both guiding the title strategy for the set (as well as for other 4K UHD releases) and creating a new database of passionate 4K consumers.

A press announcement revealed the set and celebrated the arrival of these classics in 4K. An impactful trailer illustrated how these movies have burrowed into our shared pop culture experiences. Finally, at the time of release, the team engaged home entertainment influencers for unboxings and promotions of the set to further fuel online fan discussion and demand.
Demonstrating the continued power of physical media, the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection was well-received by fans and critics alike, and its limited-edition status meant it didn’t rest on virtual store shelves for long.
To accompany the set’s success with consumers, Media Play News and its panel of judges and voting fans bestowed the set with both Title of the Year and Best Packaging awards as part of the Home Entertainment Media Play Awards. With these honors, the story of this collection comes to a close … but given this set’s “Volume 1” designation, one can only imagine what a possible “Volume 2” could bring.

■ Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
Paramount Home Entertainment
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Godfather Part III, Paramount Home Entertainment worked closely with director-screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola on a full restoration, as well as a brand-new edit, of the third and final film in the “Godfather” trilogy. Branded as Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, the new release achieved Coppola and screenwriter Puzo’s original vision for the finale.

The campaign put Coppola’s desire to revisit the film front and center and maximized his support to create a new video introduction that was used in the product offering, as well as in advertising spots to reset the interpretation and positively position the film as the definitive finale rather than a sequel. The title received a day-and-date global roll-out, along with limited theatrical exhibition in territories around the world.

Retail marketing secured “new release”-level support across digital platforms that included hero storefront positions, email blasts and partner social media efforts. Placement was also secured with major physical retailers, allowing for displays of the new film, along with existing “Godfather” products.

The publicity team secured interviews with Coppola and stars Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, Talia Shire and Joe Mantegna with top-tier domestic and international outlets. The team generated more than 750 placements in leading outlets including Vanity Fair, The New York Times, USA Today, People, Forbes, “Today,” CNN, “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” TV Azteca (Mexico), El País (Spain), la Repubblica (Italy), Welt Am Sonntag (Germany), Network 10 (Australia), Movie Walker (Japan), and many more.

Focused advertising was placed across broadcast, print, online and outdoor to reach target consumers and promote both the theatrical run and the Blu-ray Disc and digital debut. Digital marketing augmented the campaign through trailer and featurette debuts, as well as custom clips, animated key art, and GIFs that were judiciously released across social channels to create buzz and excitement.

The campaign was a tremendous success, effectively driving consumer perception of the new version and generating massive awareness for the release. The increased fan interest will serve as a precursor to a larger initiative slated for 2022 when the first “Godfather” film celebrates its 50th anniversary.

The Power Teams

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Hilary Hoffman, EVP, Global Marketing, oversees strategic marketing for Universal and its distributed lines worldwide across feature film new-release, library and TV properties. Her responsibilities encompass defining go-to-market strategies and devising the overall approach for consumer engagement, including developing and leveraging new platforms and technologies as well as direct-to-consumer initiatives, to drive profitable growth. She is responsible for creative, digital content, retail marketing, media, digital marketing, publicity and consumer insights. Hoffman and her team focus on the complete digital and packaged-goods product lifecycles.

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

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

Jeff Ackermann, SVP, Global Brand Marketing, spearheads global strategic marketing, product development and management of new-release live-action titles from Universal Pictures and the studio’s extensive television and catalog library.

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.

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.

Stephanie Lutjens, VP, Global Brand Marketing, leads global strategic marketing, product development and management of Universal’s new-release family fare, including titles from Illumination and DreamWorks Animation, as well as from Focus Features films and content from its distribution partner eOne, in addition to managing worldwide home entertainment promotions.

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

Nadia Haney, VP, Emerging Partnerships & Formats, is responsible for Universal’s entrée and advancement of new formats and of alternative distribution partner management and marketing. Additionally, she serves as a primary liaison for cross-industry growth initiatives.

Ted Chi, VP, Digital Marketing Strategy, is responsible for establishing and leading the strategy and execution of marketing for UPHE’s digital distribution business.

Paramount Home Entertainment

Michele Bell, EVP, Worldwide Creative Services, oversees all of the division’s product packaging and digital design, in-store and online creative assets, and print, broadcast and online advertising. Bell is recognized for navigating the ever-changing home entertainment landscape with creative solutions that reach a wide range of consumers across traditional retailers and emerging digital platforms. Under her direction, the home entertainment creative team pivoted rapidly to develop assets, trailers and tailored advertising to launch Paramount’s first PVOD releases in 2020 with tremendous success. Her focus is on developing compelling, persuasive and disruptive creative assets that demand attention and drive consumer sales. Bell has more than 20 years of home entertainment marketing experience and previously served as VP of creative services for Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Alanna Powers, SVP, Brand Marketing, spearheads the division’s global marketing strategies, product development, and management of all feature-length new releases, library titles and acquisitions.

Scott Klein, SVP, Brand Marketing, oversees worldwide release strategies, marketing, and management of all ViacomCBS on-air and library television products.

Melinda Froelich, SVP, International Marketing, leads the international marketing teams in developing strategic plans for all products and customers by territory.

Hilarie Hildebrandt, SVP, Digital Sales, Global Accounts and Customer Marketing, oversees the strategic vision and execution of consumer-focused marketing programs with all global digital accounts.

Leda Chang, VP, Digital Marketing, drives global interactive strategies and initiatives across the entire portfolio of new releases and library promotions.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The collective theatrical and home marketing teams behind The Craft: Legacy were led by Danielle Misher and Lexine Wong.
The marketing team that worked on the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection consisted of Lexine Wong, Jennifer Anderson, Jeremy Glassman, Jessica Lefebvre, Kerry Kendall, Christine Galloway, Jon Stone and Derek Mihalik.

Lionsgate

Lionsgate home entertainment marketing executives who worked on The Secret: Dare to Dream campaign include Amelia Rogers, Tom Gundred, Erin Carter, Kathy Arendain, Aaron Gershman, Shannon Parker, Tiffany Olivares and Hallie Prince.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, Film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, 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 1984, Scoob! and Mortal Kombat. 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. 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.

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.

Mary Ellen Thomas, SVP, Originals, Animation & Family Marketing, oversees product development and marketing for animated and live-action originals, episodic animation, Turner, and portfolio brands (Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, Viz Media and WWE).

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.

From the Outside

Gigi Wang

Gigi Wang is CEO of Invoke, a Boston-based marketing research company that uses proprietary software to facilitate virtual focus groups for studios and streamers, providing data and feedback in real time. Media Play News asked her for her perspective on the Big Pivot of 2020, from theatrical to PVOD.

MPN: As a third-party services provider, what are your thoughts on what happened in 2020, when all entertainment suddenly became home entertainment?
Wang: Over the past several years, we have seen a dramatic change in how audiences consume entertainment content thanks greatly to the explosive growth of streaming services. The pandemic has accelerated the phenomenon. Theaters had to close, so studios had to either come up with alternative release strategies or hold releases for at least a year or two. Everyone was home and consuming more content when/where/how they wanted. And parents were willing to spend on entertainment to keep kids occupied.

In response to the subsequent increase in consumer demand at home and the pandemic-forced closure of theaters nationwide, select studios took the opportunity to gauge consumer response when they released first-run movies direct to PVOD.

MPN: What role does Invoke play in this? Invoke captures potential viewers in their own homes, a natural setting for the new wave of entertainment that is premiering in the home. Does that work to your advantage? How so, and why?
Wang: It absolutely works to our advantage. Today, with digital releases as the new norm, studios need to test content with viewers in situ, viewing the movie at home on a digital device and not a theater screen. Just as technology enabled the pivot to digital premieres, technology also enables virtual screening research. Invoke has always been at the forefront of cutting-edge consumer research innovations, perfectly aligned with entertainment’s shift to streaming. We were the first to bring virtual, live consumer groups to the market a decade ago, and our approach is uniquely suited for testing with a streaming audience. We stream episodes and movies and measure consumer reaction while they watch with a digital dial. We then take the audience through a detailed discussion with many probing, open-ended questions. Our proprietary method brings scale (a nationwide audience of hundreds of respondents in a single 60- to 90-minute session), speed (AI algorithms enhance the natural language processing so that hundreds of open-end responses are analyzed, interpreted, and sentiment is grouped and ranked in our dashboard in real time as they are received), and selectivity (we can recruit any audience profile studios need across a variety of consumer segments). Producers and studio executives are viewing how consumers respond to each minute of footage — and learning why they like or don’t like something) in a virtual back room and can make key editorial decisions at the end of the hour.

MPN: Has business picked up since the pandemic?
Wang: Yes. We’ve doubled the number of client companies we serve in the past year and, happily, our client base continues to expand. The largest streaming companies are testing with us, as are several of the major studios, along with gaming and social media companies. Even during the pandemic, when production was shut down, studios were partnering with us to do a wide range of pre-production testing and development exploration, e.g. movie to series, series to movie, film adaptations of books, planning for sequels, art concepts for animated content, and more.

MPN: What about the future — will we revert back to the old theatrical-first model or are home premieres here to stay?
Wang: I think digital premieres are here to stay. The genie’s out of the bottle. Of course we’ll still have theatrical releases for tentpoles; humans are social and some fans will still crave shared viewing experiences. But technology has always moved the value needle. Think of how smartphones have changed the value of watches. Timekeeping is now just a feature on our phones. The next generation of movie watching will incorporate even more tech, perhaps AR and VR.

Amazon Said to Be in Talks to Buy MGM

On the heels of AT&T’s stunning announcement that it is unloading WarnerMedia comes word that Amazon may be looking to buy the MGM movie studio.

The Information on May 17 reported that Amazon is in talks to acquire the celebrated studio, citing “a person familiar with the situation.”

Such a deal, the Information noted, would be the e-commerce giant’s “biggest move yet to expand in entertainment.”

MGM owns a huge film library and several top movie franchises, including “James Bond” and “Rocky.” MGM holdings also include the Epic cable channel and a production studio behind such TV shows as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Fargo,” “Shark Tank” and “Survivor.”

Amazon, meanwhile, has been a perpetual also-ran in the original content game to Netflix and even Disney+, while no one really knows for sure how many people tune in to the Amazon Prime Video streaming service because the subscription price also includes free shipping for online purchases.

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Amazon won’t comment on the Information report, but in December 2020 it was widely reported that MGM was exploring a sale. The Wall Street Journal, first with the story, reported that “people familiar with the matter” said MGM is betting that its rich film and TV library would be attractive to companies looking for growth in streaming.

MGM has engaged investment banks Morgan Stanley and LionTree LLC and begun a formal sale process, the people said, according to the Wall Street Journal report. The company has a market value of around $5.5 billion.

Shortly after the Information report, Variety reported that Amazon “is weeks into negotiations on a deal to acquire MGM for about $9 billion,” citing “industry sources.”