LAES/OTT_X Pool Party

Teaming the eighth annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit (LAES) with  OTT_X, a new conference focused on the over-the-top market, was a winning formula for the Entertainment Merchants Association. Upwards of 400 people packed the Universal Hilton July 16 for the two events – a bigger crowd than organizers had expected.  A day of standing-room-only panels and workshops ended with a networking pool party; the conferences continue July 17.

Home Entertainment Industry Golf Tournament a Big Win

More than 100 people participated in the Los Angeles Media and Entertainment Golf Tournament July 15 at the Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, Calif., honoring a “foursome” of industry legends and raising nearly $80,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  Warren Lieberfarb, David Bishop, Steve Nickerson and Mike Fidler were honored for their contributions to DVD, which triggered the start of home entertainment’s digital revolution. The event was organized by Mark Horak, a former executive with Warner Bros. Entertainment Group and Redbox, and is a precursor to the Los Angeles Entertainment Summit, which starts July 16.

Lieberfarb is the former president of Warner Home Video who has been widely hailed as the “father” of DVD.  Bishop is the former president of both MGM Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; he was a leader in driving catalog DVD sales, one of of the format’s big growth engines. Nickerson is the former Toshiba executive who pushed DVD from the consumer electronics hardware side; he was later hired by Lieberfarb at Warner. And Fidler is the former Sony Electronics executive who drove DVD’s marketing; he is currently president of the UHD Alliance.

All four played key roles in the launch of DVD, which shifted home entertainment from a rental to a purchase model and introduced digital into what had been an analog business. DVD subsequently gave way to Blu-ray Disc, which opened the door to digital movie sales and rentals through the inclusion of a digital copy with each purchased disc. DVD generated  millions of dollars of revenue to studios, becoming an important factor in greenlighting films.

Honoring DVD Pioneers

Four industry veterans crucial to the launch of DVD were joined at an informal dinner July 11 as a precursor to the Los Angeles Media and Entertainment Golf Tournament on July 15, where they will be officially honored for their contributions to DVD, which triggered the start of home entertainment’s digital revolution. Warren Lieberfarb, David Bishop, Steve Nickerson and Mike Fidler dined alongside various other past and present executives, including Ryan Pirozzi of Amazon, Eddie Cunningham of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Amy Jo Smith of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, and 20th Century Fox innovators Mike Dunn and Danny Kaye, both of whom left the studio earlier this year when Disney’s takeover was complete. The golf tournament is being held at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, with all proceeds benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Don’t Dis the Disc

The little boy’s eyes lit up. No more than 5, he was the son of a woman who keeps house for a neighbor. She speaks only Spanish; the little fellow is bilingual. He had brought with him three Blu-ray Discs – Bumblebee, How to Train Your Dragon, and the second LEGO Movie – he planned on watching while his mother was working.

I ran back to my house, grabbed a handful of recent movies and presented them to him. He eagerly grabbed the loot and said, “Thank you, thank you,” as my neighbor told me he had purchased the three other discs and given them to the little boy as a present, as well. The family doesn’t have a car, and their shopping is limited to the Mexican grocery store nearby, with an occasional bus ride to Walmart for clothes and other necessities.

“If I was one of your studio friends,” my neighbor said, “I’d get them to put their DVDs and Blu-rays into every little Latino grocery store they can find. So many people do their weekly grocery shops there – and I’m not talking about Spanish-language movies, although I think those would do well too. I’m talking the big hits, the superhero films, the stuff the kids like to watch.”

He makes an interesting point. In the years just before and after the 1997 launch of DVD, independent video stores were summarily dismissed by Hollywood as more trouble than they’re worth. In the final days of the VHS rental business, it was all about getting as many copies of the hits into stores as was possible, through copy-depth incentives, revenue-sharing and other strategies.

And when DVD came around, the studios gladly handed the business over to the mass merchants and big box stores.

Listening to my neighbor, I wonder if it isn’t time to once again go small? I know everyone’s focused on the digital business right now, strategizing how digital movie sales and rentals – known by that catchy industry term “transactional video-on-demand,” or the roll-off-your-tongue acronym “TVOD”-can compete in market increasingly dominated by subscription streaming.

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But let’s not dismiss the disc. Our industry has a habit of burying a product before its time (remember VHS?) and, in the process, leaving lots of money on the proverbial table. There’s still a huge market for Blu-ray Disc and even DVD, and the emergence of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc has generated a whole new fan base of enthusiasts who realize the optimum way to view content is still on a physical disc.

The big box stores have taken note and spruced up their disc sections over the last year or two – particularly Best Buy, which moved discs from the back of the store to a prominent position near the front. Target has end caps with new movies in the main aisle, and at the Walmart near my house clerks are having a hard time keeping new movies in stock.

Studios should take a long, hard look at expanding distribution channels – grocery stores that serve particular ethnic communities, book stores in college towns, sporting goods stores, music stores, you name it.

At this year’s San Diego County Fair, which just ended its month-long run on July 4, one of the busiest booths in the merchant hall was “Must Have Movies,” devoted exclusively to catalog product and dressed up with posters for movies such as The Goonies, Young Frankenstein, Weird Science and The Karate Kid. Apparently the owners travel the fair circuit and, from the looks of things, have built themselves a nice little business.

Yes, home entertainment is evolving. Yes, streaming is the future. And, yes, selling and renting movies electronically, over the Internet, is so much easier than moving physical product because there’s no inventory, no shipping, no returns.

The only problem is, so many customers still want discs.

‘Black Mirror’ Tops Parrot Analytics Digital Originals Chart

“Black Mirror,” the Netflix anthology series that some critics have likened to a modern-day “Twilight Zone,” shot up to No. 1 from No. 4 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart the week ended June 15.

The series, which often revolves around the unanticipated consequences of new technologies, generated more than 66.4 million average daily Demand Expressions during the week, Parrot says, a nearly 60% spike from the prior week.

The gain came after the June 5 debut of Season 5.

“Black Mirror” ended a three-week run at No. 1 for “Stranger Things,” which slipped to No. 2 with 62.9 million average daily Demand Expressions, a nearly 12% increase from the prior week. The series will likely reclaim the top spot in the coming weeks, as Season 3 is set to debut on July 4.

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Demand Expressions is a proprietary Parrot Analytics metric that draws from a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

A “digital original” is a multi-episode series in which the most recent season was first made available on a streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.

“Black Mirror,” which premiered in December 2011, and ran for two seasons, on British television, was acquired by Netflix in September 2015. Two six-episode seasons debuted in October 2016 and December 2017, respectively. A standalone interactive film, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, was released last December.

Demand for third-ranked “When They See Us,” the controversial miniseries about the Central Park Five that was created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, remained relatively flat, with 51.4 million average daily Demand Expressions compared to 52.5 million the prior week.

The four-episode drama series is based on the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five juveniles – four black and one Latino – were sent to prison for allegedly raping a white woman jogger. They were exonerated after the real rapist confessed, but by then had already served their time.

“Lucifer,” based on a character from the DC Comics comic-book series “The Sandman,” slipped to No. 4 from No. 3 the prior week, with a 10% drop in demand.

Rounding out the top five on the digital originals chart was Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the same ranking as in the previous week.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

The Top Retailers in Home Entertainment 2019: The Golden 12

Welcome to Media Play News’ second-annual look at the top home entertainment retailers. As we noted last year, technology and innovation have completely revolutionized home entertainment retailing in the more than 40-year history of this industry.

For the first 20 years, home entertainment retailing consisted first of a network of independent mom-and-pop videocassette rental shops, and then a handful of powerful national video rental chains such as Blockbuster Entertainment and Hollywood Entertainment.

The 1997 launch of DVD moved home entertainment retailing into the hands of the big mass merchants such as Walmart, which at one point controlled 40% of disc sales, as well as consumer electronics chains such as Best Buy.

But for the past 10 years, just as home entertainment viewing options have proliferated, the distribution pipeline has split into all sorts of different directions, with the only common ground being that filmed content, either digitally or physically, is being delivered to consumers on an on-demand basis.

Accordingly, studios that used to generate the bulk of their revenue through physical product sales to traditional retailers now have several other ways to generate money from their content. With transactional video-on-demand (TVOD), particularly digital sales, on an upswing, digital-only retailers such as Microsoft Movies & TV and Google Play Movies & TV have become an increasingly important component of the home entertainment food chain.

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Similarly, the rise of subscription streaming, led by Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, has led to a whole other source of studio revenue. Since streamers also distribute content — or, rather, access to content — to consumers, they, too, can be considered “retailers.” That’s in accordance to the Merriam-Webster definition of retail, which is “the sale of commodities or goods in small quantities to ultimate consumers.”

In short, retailers today are any enterprise that connects consumer eyeballs to filmed content produced by the studios and independent content suppliers.

“Clearly, technology is increasingly enabling consumers to view content in a rapidly increasing number of ways,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “It is our job, as distributors, to ensure that we are not only servicing these new retail opportunities but are helping them grow, while continuing to support the more-traditional retail formats that still appeal to large swathes of the population.”

“The definition of ‘retailer’ may have evolved, but as content providers our mission remains the same — to deliver great entertainment to consumers in all the ways they choose to enjoy it,” adds Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment. “While that has certainly become more complex, the good news is that we work with an extraordinary group of retailers whose expertise ensures we can reach every consumer segment. Whether buying or renting, on digital or physical, consumers have more choice and flexibility than ever before.”

Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), says he’s always maintained that home entertainment is about convenience and value. “The digital retail experience, in itself, offers the consumer the convenience of aggregation across studios, just as it does in physical stores,” he says. “And each retailer creates its own unique value proposition for the consumer. What impresses me most is how the home entertainment retail sector uses its deep understanding of its consumers to continuously recalibrate the convenience and value equation to respond to the ever-evolving delivery mechanisms and changing consumer desires.”

The 2019 edition of Media Play News’ “Top Home Entertainment Retailers: The Golden 12” — selected by Media Play News researchers based on consumer spending estimates — remains largely unchanged from last year. The exception is the addition of Microsoft Movies & TV, which according to several key studio executives is now bigger than Best Buy, Target and Dish/Sling TV.

Web Exclusive: Bubbling Under – Eight Other Key Retailers

Dish/Sling TV drops to the “bubbling under” list of eight other key retailers — not as mighty as the Golden 12, but still important. On the bubbling under list, troubled Trans World Entertainment has been replaced with Meijer Inc., a supercenter chain throughout the Midwest, which was founded in 1934 as a supermarket chain and is credited with pioneering the modern supercenter concept in 1962. Insiders say the chain last year outperformed the category by 10 points and even grew the catalog business.

And growing the business — parts of the business, such as catalog, as well as the overall business — is really what it’s all about, for content providers as well as their retail partners.
“In our business of delivering premium content to global audiences, our relationship with our retailers is the key to our success, and as our business continues to evolve, so does the retailer’s,” says Mike Takac, EVP and general sales manager for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “Whereas endcap or corrugate placement are critical for our physical product, now carousel placement or targeted CRM efforts with our digital clients’ platforms are equally important. Additionally, we are continually challenging them to keep pace with our ever-changing high-definition digital product offerings, and they are proving to be up to the challenge.”

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The Top 12 Home Entertainment Retailers

Amazon

As the largest Internet retailer in the world, Amazon has its hands in everything entertainment. It is one of the leading sellers of home entertainment product, physical as well as digital.

Amazon offers a huge selection of new Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, with new titles available every Tuesday, the traditional “street date” for packaged media. The company recently sweetened the free shipping deal to next-day delivery instead of two-day.

Amazon also offers transactional (both purchase and rental) and subscription streaming through Amazon Prime Video, continuing to forge partnerships with cablers such as Cox, which added the service to Contour, and Comcast, which added it to the X1 platform. Amazon Prime also has been a supporting retailer of the digital library service Movies Anywhere since its 2017 launch. Keeping an eye on the hot ad-supported streaming trend, Amazon launched an AVOD service through its subsidiary IMDb.com in January. Meanwhile, Amazon Channels aggregates numerous other streaming services from top content suppliers.

Amazon Prime Video has been one of the biggest competitors to Netflix in streaming, coming in No. 2 in estimated domestic subscribers, according to Parks Associates estimates last fall.

U.S. subscribers have surpassed 100 million, according to Amazon, with eMarketer recently estimating 26 million of those used the video service (and not just free shipping) in 2018. The firm also found Hulu had taken over the No. 2 spot in domestic streaming from Amazon, but only by a slim margin of less than 1 million subscribers. Whether No. 2 or No. 3, Amazon continues to be a prime player in originals, including recent films such as Beautiful Boy and series such as “Jack Ryan” starring John Krasinski, “Homecoming” starring Julia Roberts, and “The Romanoffs” from the producer of “Mad Men.” Amazon Studios’ Cold War was recognized for three Academy Award nominations this year, including Best Foreign-Language Film. Amazon content also picked up 10 Golden Globe Award nominations and two wins in 2019: Rachel Brosnahan for Best Actress in a Television Series — Comedy or Musical for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Ben Whishaw for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television for A Very English Scandal. Next up is a “Lord of the Rings” original series.

On the packaged-media side, Amazon led with deals. During its Prime Day promotion in July, these included hundreds of $14.99 4K UHD Blu-ray movies, as well as discounted boxed sets, such as The Godfather three-movie collection ($10.20), Game of Thrones: Seasons 1-7 ($74.99) and the Harry Potter Complete 8-Film Collection 4K UHD ($79.98).

Apple TV (formerly Apple iTunes)

Less than three months after the June 2006 launch of Blu-ray Disc, Apple’s then 3-year-old iTunes Store birthed the digital movie sales business. More than a decade later, the service has a lot more competition — including a split focus with Apple’s impending Apple TV+ subscription streaming service scheduled to launch this fall. In an elaborate event featuring such stars and filmmakers as Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, Apple announced Apple TV+ would feature original content, as well as access to 100,000 iTunes titles and third-party online TV channels and SVOD services.

In June, during its annual developers conference, Apple announced it is retiring the iTunes brand and is replacing it with separate macOS apps: Podcasts, TV, and Music. Apple TV will be the new home of filmed content. The new service is expected to maintain its strong footprint in electronic sellthrough and transactional rentals despite the expanding digital marketplace. Apple TV is the new home to a still-growing library of what now numbers about 112,000 movies and 300,000 TV shows for sale or rent. A “Family Sharing” feature lets up to six people in a family share each other’s iTunes purchases. Apple also has supported the digital library service Movies Anywhere since its launch in fall 2017.

Apple markets aggressively around theatrical releases. For instance, for the release of Captain Marvel, the iTunes store discounted numerous Marvel movies, dropping the purchase price to $14.99 for such recent hits as Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man.

Apple’s movie service has also made inroads in the consumer electronics space. On the eve of the January CES in Las Vegas, Samsung Electronics announced Apple movies and TV shows availability and Apple AirPlay 2 support on 2019 Samsung Smart TV models.

AT&T

The entertainment division of giant telecom AT&T Inc. includes TV streaming service DirecTV Now, in addition to pay-TV units DirecTV, AT&T U-verse and broadband. Both DirecTV and U-verse offer digital sales of movies to subscribers.

DirecTV Now ranks No. 10 in number of domestic OTT subscriptions, according to Parks Associates and eMarketer. The service reported 1.5 million subs at the end of March. AT&T in April raised DirecTV Now’s monthly price from $39.99 to $49.99 and suffered sub losses. DirecTV Now offers linear channels from major media companies such as A&E, AMC, CBS, Discovery, Disney, Fox, MLB, NBCUniversal, Turner, Univision and Viacom. The service also allows users to add on Cinemax, HBO, Showtime and Starz for an extra charge, giving them access to HBO Go, Showtime on Demand and Starz on Demand, respectively. Epix in May announced it would join the DirecTV and DirecTV Now team.

Meanwhile, AT&T has completed its acquisition of Time Warner (now called WarnerMedia), which includes Warner Bros., and is preparing for a fourth-quarter soft-launch of a branded subscription streaming video service. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in May said the company will look to partner with — rather than antagonize — third-party pay-TV operators with the new service, which he said would be centered on HBO and be included with a pay-TV subscription. Still, a report from The Informant in May quoted anonymous sources saying key shows would hit the new streaming service before cable. “The streaming service is going to be king,” one of the sources told The Informant.

Best Buy

Best Buy, which has more than 1,200 stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico, has been a key player in packaged-media sales since the launch of DVD in 1997 triggered a shift in consumer habits from rental to purchase.

The nation’s largest consumer electronics retail chain reported a 12.7% drop in domestic same-store entertainment sales to $424 million for the quarter ended May 4; sales dropped 14% internationally. The business unit includes DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies, video game hardware and software, books, and computer software. Still, the news came on the heels of a better fourth quarter for the chain’s entertainment unit. Best Buy in February reported a 2.7% increase in domestic fourth-quarter (ended Feb. 2) entertainment comparable store sales. The entertainment segment generated 10% ($1.34 billion) of Best Buy’s $13.4 billion in domestic revenue for the quarter.

Internationally, same-store entertainment sales dropped 2.5%, representing 9% ($117 million) of international revenue.

Indeed, the fourth quarter holiday season is a key disc promotional period for the chain, in which consumer enthusiasts can pick up discounted titles on DVD, Blu-ray and even new format 4K UHD (sometimes at around $10) as well as consumer electronics. Last year, the chain mounted a “20 Days of Doorbusters” fourth-quarter promotion, offering text alerts to customers about big deals. Throughout the year, the chain offers special treatment to various home entertainment discs, most notably Steelbook editions of key titles. Best Buy this month is taking Steelbook preorders for Fox’s Alita: Battle Angel (due July 23), Paramount’s Pet Sematary remake (due July 9) and Disney’s Cinderella (due June 25) and live-action Aladdin, which doesn’t yet even have a home entertainment release date.

Comcast

Comcast Corp., the country’s largest cable TV company, also is a key player in digital movie sales, with its Xfinity Digital Store. Way back in 2013, Comcast was the first pay-TV operator to sell subscribers digital movies with the launch of its Xfinity X1 platform, and in December 2018 it became the first pay-TV service to join digital movie collection locker Movies Anywhere. Access to the Xfinity Digital Store is promoted through Comcast’s cloud-based X1 set-top. In December 2016, Comcast inked pacts with Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures to include bonus material and related movie extras on digital releases.

Comcast has been a little slower than others, notably Disney, WarnerMedia and Apple, to embrace the over-the-top market, with executives maintaining its legacy cable pay-TV service and Xfinity X1 set-top box offer superior content and access options. But in March Comcast Cable joined the OTT video ecosystem with the launch of Xfinity Flex — a $5 monthly service offering Xfinity broadband-only subscribers direct access (for a separate fee) to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Now, in addition to ad-supported content, and digital movies for sale and rent.

Xfinity Flex comes with more than 10,000 free online movies and TV shows — including live streaming TV — from ESPN3, Xumo, Pluto, Tubi TV, Cheddar, YouTube and more. In January, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced it would launch a free streaming service for its pay-TV subs in 2020 offering current and prior seasons of NBC Universal programming, some original content and a “light” advertising load.

Meanwhile, in other OTT news, Comcast Dec. 5 announced the launch of Amazon Prime Video on its broadband-based Xfinity X1 platform, joining Netflix and YouTube as major third-party over-the-top video services afforded direct access to Comcast subscribers.

Google Play Movies & TV

Dedicated to the transactional VOD space, Google Play Movies & TV is a digital retailer that sells and rents movies, TV shows and other filmed content. It is part of Google Play, which launched in March 2012, bringing together the Android Market, Google Music and Google eBookstore under one brand. Other services operating under the Google Play banner are Google Play Books, Google Play Console, Google Play Games and Google Play Music.

Like the other Google Play services, Google Play Movies & TV uses the power of the cloud to manage digital entertainment — so customers can access their movies and TV shows on their phones, and have them available instantly on their computers, tablets or connected TVs. It has also been a participating retailer in the digital library service Movie Anywhere since its inception in 2017.

On the promotional front, the service has offered 99-cent movie and TV show rentals around holidays such as Thanksgiving and to power users of its site. In advance of the 91st Academy Awards, Google Play offered deals on past Oscar-winning movies as well as the latest Oscar-nominated films. Google Play also featured apps and games inspired by the Best Picture nominees.

Its 4K upgrade feature particularly pleased movie enthusiasts. Last October the service announced in a blog posting that when 4K titles are available, Google Play will automatically upgrade customers’ past movie purchases “so you can stream in 4K, even if you originally bought the movie in SD or HD.” The blog added, “It’s all on us, just open the Play Movies & TV app and we’ll let you know which titles have been upgraded.” Google Play also announced a price drop for 4K movies, with prices as low as $14.99 to own (and $4.99 to rent).

In addition to 4K Sony Bravia TVs, the app is available on most 4K Samsung Smart TVs. In addition, the Google Play app for Samsung, LG and Vizio TVs has been updated.

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Hulu

Hulu is one of the big three streaming giants, vying with Amazon Prime behind Netflix. The biggest news for Hulu in the past year is its acquisition by previous co-owner the Walt Disney Co. Once jointly owned by Comcast Corp., Fox, WarnerMedia and Disney, Hulu saw its number of owners shrink to one, as Disney acquired 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and the other owners relinquished their stakes. Disney reportedly plans to use Hulu as an outlet for more mature content that doesn’t fit into its planned Disney+ SVOD service launching at $6.99 a month in November.

Hulu offers three streaming subscription plans: one with limited commercials for $5.99 a month, a commercial-free plan for $11.99, and the limited commercials service plus Hulu Live TV for $44.99 a month. The Live TV platform, which launched in May 2017, offers access to more than 60 channels, including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and local affiliates; Cartoon Network/Adult Swim; CNN; ESPN; FX; and USA Network.

Hulu has a big library of films, although its strength lies in TV series. Hulu offers next-day streaming of network TV shows and a growing slate of original series, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Act,” “Catch-22,” “All That We Destroy” and “Ramy.” Hulu also has expanded its Marvel partnership with two new live-action series, “Ghost Rider” and “Helstrom,” slated to debut on Hulu in 2020, joining Marvel’s “Runaways” and an animated slate. Not coincidentally, Netflix is ending its Marvel shows as Disney expands into streaming via Hulu and Disney+.

Hulu on May 1 said it has 28 million subscribers, including 26.8 million paid and 1.3 million promotional accounts.

Microsoft Movies & TV

Microsoft Movies & TV is one of the top players in the digital transactional rental and purchase market, offering hit movies and TV shows. Consumers with a Microsoft account can rent or buy content from the Microsoft Store on Xbox, Windows and Microsoft.com and it will appear in the Movies & TV app on Microsoft devices.

In August, Microsoft Movies & TV became the sixth digital retailer to join the digital rights locker service Movies Anywhere, allowing film fans to sync their Microsoft account to Movies Anywhere and centralize their digital movies purchased from Microsoft alongside those purchased from other connected retailers. Microsoft joined Apple iTunes, Walmart’s Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and FandangoNow in supporting the service.

Movies on Microsoft Movies & TV are offered in 4K UHD with HDR or 1080p HD across a wide variety of genres. Titles can also include bonus content such as director’s commentaries, deleted scenes, and interviews with the cast and crew.

TV shows, some offered the day after they air on broadcast networks, can be purchased by episode or via a season pass to save up to 30% per episode with the latest episodes automatically delivered to the consumer’s library.

Netflix

Netflix has graduated from founding king of subscription streaming to a disrupter of the entire studio system — and now the studios and others with deep pockets are coming for it. Disney with its impending SVOD service Disney+ and consolidation of Hulu ownership; WarnerMedia with its own impending SVOD service; and Apple with its Apple TV+ streaming service are among the entities lining up to join Amazon Prime in challenging the Netflix kingdom starting this fall. Netflix executives in April said they were “excited to compete.”

As of now, Netflix ranks No. 1 in domestic subscribers, according to both Parks Associates and eMarketer estimates. Netflix ended the first quarter of 2019 with a total of 148.86 million paid subs: 60.2 million domestic and 88.6 million international. And that’s as the service raised prices domestically. Back in January, the company upped its monthly basic $7.99 single-viewer, non-HD plan to $8.99; the standard $10.99, two HD streams plan rose to $12.99; and the premium $13.99, four-stream HD plan was increased to $15.99. Meanwhile, Netflix’s legacy by-mail disc rental service continued to generate significant operating income, contributing $46.7 million in operating income on revenue of $80.6 million in the quarter ended March 31. The service ended the period with more than 2.5 million disc subs.

Netflix also rattled the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors, which in April announced it would continue to welcome movie nominations from streaming services, such as Netflix, despite protests from luminaries including Steven Spielberg, who argued for more stringent requirements for any film considered for an Oscar. At the 2019 Oscars, Netflix racked up three awards (though not yet a Best Picture) for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.

On the originals front, Netflix made good on its promise to continue to spend billions. The service made deals with the production companies of Regina King, Dark Horse Entertainment, and Michelle and Barack Obama, among others, and planned series with the likes of Mike Myers and the director of the popular “High School Musical” franchise. Meanwhile, Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, was streamed by more than 80 million households worldwide (26 million domestically) in its first four weeks, Netflix announced in January — a rare peek into actual viewership of Netflix.

Redbox

With more than 5 billion rentals to date, Seattle-based Redbox is the leading rental chain in the United States. The company offers DVD, Blu-ray Discs and video game rentals from $1.75 a night through more than 41,500 self-service entertainment kiosks stationed outside Walmarts, supermarkets and drug stores.

On the digital side, Redbox On Demand offers movies and TV shows via electronic sellthrough and streaming rentals, without a subscription. Launched just a year and half ago, the service was established as a complement to the disc-rental kiosks to service transactional customers who don’t want to travel to a kiosk. Nearly 60% of Redbox On Demand consumers are people who have either stopped renting discs at Redbox kiosks or never patronized Redbox before, Redbox CEO Galen Smith says. And the new arm of the company is expanding aggressively. Redbox apps are featured on all Vizio SmartCast TVs and on TVs made by Samsung and LG. The service has grown its library since launch to include more than 12,000 titles.

Redbox has also stepped up its marketing. In one continuing campaign launched in August 2018, the company is extolling the virtues of watching movies together (an activity facilitated by Redbox). Called “Back to the Movies” and informed by research that found 61% of Americans miss days when movie nights were a planned activity with family and friends, the campaign is aimed at combating digital isolation and creating meaningful consumer dialogue around the power of movie nights in bringing people together. It has been promoted through video spots on social media, among other efforts. Next up, engaging studio partners in the cause and a wider media campaign.

Also, in a major strategic expansion this year, Redbox in April announced its first exclusive, Bob Saget’s film Benjamin. The dark comedy bowed exclusively on Blu-ray Disc and DVD at Redbox kiosks nationwide April 23. On the same day, the film was available for a la carte streaming or digital purchase on Redbox On Demand. The film was the first “Redbox Original” released on Redbox On Demand.

Target

Target Corp. is one of the largest discount retailers in the United States, with more than 1,800 stores. Like Walmart, Target has long been a big seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, and in the early days of DVD drove mass adoption of discs by using them as a loss leader to drive traffic into stores.

Target is also known as a strong merchandiser of discs, routinely placing them on endcaps by the cash registers. This past January, Target wheeled out a display of titles from the previous year with the banner “Rewind: Best of 2018.” Titles such as Crazy Rich Asians, Smallfoot and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again were offered on DVD and Blu-ray Disc for up to 40% off.

In a shot across the bow at online behemoth Amazon, Target during the holiday season announced it would offer free two-day shipping on hundreds of thousands of items with no minimum purchase and no membership requirement beginning Nov. 1. Free two-day shipping had previously only been available to customers who spent $35 or used the chain’s proprietary Red Card.

Walmart/Vudu

Walmart Inc. is still the big brick-and-mortar goliath in packaged-media sales, with more than 5,000 outlets in the United States and more than 6,000 international stores. The footprint devoted to product has been reduced a bit over the years, but the company remains one of the top retailers of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, as well as video games.

Among other promotions, the chain continues to offer exclusives such as an April $22.96 DVD collection of three movies teaming Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly — Holmes & Watson, Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; or a Lego mini-figure packaged with the May release of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. In another recent exclusive, Walmart May 21 began offering Universal’s faith-based Run the Race, a family drama executive produced by athlete Tim Tebow and his brother Robby Tebow, on Blu-ray and DVD a month before its availability on disc at other retailers nationwide June 18. Boosting its entertainment departments, Walmart last October also started the rollout of collectibles sections selling movie, TV show and pop culture-themed merchandise.

On the digital-delivery side, the chain owns Vudu, a transactional digital movie platform that celebrated its 10th anniversary two years ago, but Walmart reportedly toyed in the past year with starting a branded over-the-top streaming service and then scuttled those plans. Still, the chain has just hired Suresh Kumar to a “new elevated” chief technology officer and chief development officer role, with experience at Google, IBM, Microsoft and Walmart nemesis Amazon, who reports directly to president and CEO Doug McMillon. Reports also say the chain is looking into original productions for streaming. Meanwhile, Vudu, which is a founding digital retailer in the digital locker service Movies Anywhere, continues to be Walmart’s digital standard-bearer. In addition to movies to buy or rent, Vudu also offers ad-supported free streaming of a selection of titles, and pundits have speculated that business is set to expand.

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Ava DuVernay’s ‘When They See Us’ Soars Up Digital Originals Chart

“When They See Us,” the controversial miniseries about the Central Park Five that was created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix, shot up to No. 2 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart the week ended June 8.

The four-episode drama series is based on the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, in which five juveniles – four black and one Latino – were sent to prison for allegedly raping a white woman jogger. They were exonerated after the real rapist confessed, but by then had already served their time.

In the week since the program’s May 31 debut, the number of average daily Demand Expressions soared 170% to 52.5 million, sending the series to No. 2 from No. 13 on the digital originals chart – right behind “Stranger Things,” which remains at No. 1 for the third consecutive week.

Demand Expressions is a proprietary Parrot Analytics metric that draws from a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

A “digital original” is a multi-episode series in which the most recent season was first made available on a streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.

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“When They See Us” has generated a flood of media coverage in recent weeks. Most recently, prosecutor Linda Fairstein, who as head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s sex-crimes unit played a key role in prosecuting the five young men, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece blasted the series as a “fabrication” and maintained that the suspects’ exoneration doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty of other crimes they were convicted of at the time.

The five were part of a group of about 30 teenagers in Central Park on the evening of April 19, 1989, when several people in the park were robbed and assaulted.

Demand for “Stranger Things” was relatively unchanged from the prior week. “Lucifer,” based on a character from the DC Comics comic-book series “The Sandman,” slipped to No. 3 despite a 4% uptick in demand – likely triggered by word that Netflix has renewed the show for a fifth and final season.

A 68% surge in average daily Demand Expressions sent “Black Mirror” back up to No. 4 from No. 8 the prior week. The British sci-fi anthology series from Charlie Brooker returned to Netflix for a fifth season on June 5.

Rounding out the top five on the weekly digital originals chart was Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” up from No. 6 the prior week with a 39% spike in demand. The dystopian drama’s third season also premiered on June 5.

Two other series made it into the top 10 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals chart with significant increases in demand.

Debuting at No. 6 was Amazon Prime Video’s “Good Omens,” a six-part miniseries starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant as angels seeking to prevent the apocalypse. All six episodes of the series were released on May 31, leading to a 93% gain in average daily Demand Expressions.

Returning to the top 10, at No. 10, was “Swamp Thing,” with a 116% spike in demand. The live-action DC Universe series premiered May 31 and was canceled a week later, with word that there would be no second season.

“Swamp Thing” was the third show to launch on DC Universe after “Titans” and “Doom Patrol” both enjoyed successful launches.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

 

Family Video Clearing Out Used DVDs, Blu-ray Discs

Family Video, the sole remaining national chain of video stores, is blowing out previously viewed DVDs and Blu-ray Discs for as little as $1.98.

“With our used DVD and Blu-ray clearance sale, you can grow your movie collection without breaking the bank,” the company says.

The sale, which runs through June 13, features 31 Blu-ray Discs at $3.98 and $4.98. Titles include The Equalizer 2, The Meg, Skyscraper, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and A Quiet Place.

Also on sale are 46 different DVD titles, ranging in price from $1.98 (Vengeance: A Love Story; Killing Gunther; Hands of Stone) to $3.98 (The Happytime Murders; First Man; Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch).

For orders totaling $25 or more, the company is offering free shipping.

Universal Puts Bonus Content Menus Front and Center on New Blu-ray Disc, DVD Releases

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment aims to drum up consumer awareness of Blu-ray Disc and DVD bonus content, which the studio believes is a key selling point for its physical product.

Beginning with the urban horror film Us, which arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on June 18, the studio is introducing a new “bonus features” menu that is prominently displayed on the opening screen, instead of being buried behind layers of disc menu options.

The new menu also features compelling visual clips, rather than mere lines of text, that can be accessed with a single click of the remote.

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To further drive consumer awareness of a disc’s bonus content, supplemental features will begin playing automatically after film’s credits.

Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, told Media Play News that the studio is playing up bonus content because a new Attitude & Usage study indicates that bonus content continues to be an important selling point for home entertainment enthusiasts, especially among the premium formats.

Heavy buyers are influenced the most, with 34% saying they check for bonus content before they buy a disc. The percentage is even higher (52%) among 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray buyers.

“Our consumers have clearly indicated that bonus content is a vital part of the physical disc offering,” Hoffman said. “By continuing to evolve our products and create a greater, more enhanced viewing experience, we reinforce for them the value in ownership and keep them connected and engaged to our products and the category.”

In addition, Hoffman said, bonus features are often the deciding factor in whether a consumer buys instead of streams. Forty percent of buyers choose to purchase rather than stream because they want the bonus content.

“Only through change and innovation can we hope to keep pace with our consumers’ ever-evolving habits and preferences,” Hoffman said. “We are optimistic that Universal’s latest design enhancements will serve to further buoy consumer engagement in our products. Our hope is to see the entire industry move in this direction.”

At least one other studio also is looking at ways to increase the visibility of bonus content. “Paramount is always looking at improving the experience consumers get when they purchase our movies on Blu-ray or digitally,” said Vincent Marcais, EVP of marketing for Paramount Home Entertainment.  “We are evaluating the bonus menu options while continuing to focus on 1) providing even better ‘extras’ such as alternate endings and deleted scenes on the upcoming  Pet Semetary and 2) presenting our extras on digital platforms so our customers can have even more incentive to purchase.”

Video Game Show E3 Opens June 11 With New AR Experience

E3 2019, the biggest annual video game trade show, opens June 11 for a three-day run at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

New this year is “The Unreal Garden @ E3,” an evolved version of the San Francisco-based augmented reality experience with new scenes and content.

E3 delivers new immersive experiences to E3 attendees each year. “The Unreal Garden @ E3,” a pop-up, blends the use of art, entertainment, augmented reality, projections, soundscapes, and technology.

“E3 provides unparalleled interactive experiences to our attendees,” said Dan Hewitt, VP of communications for the Entertainment Software Association, the U.S. video game trade association that owns and manages E3. “The Unreal Garden @ E3 provides a world-class opportunity for E3 attendees to explore the intersection of technology and human experience.”

Produced by Onedome and built on the Enklu platform, The Unreal Garden launched in San Francisco in October 2018, and is the first large-scale multiplayer AR experience using multiple technologies to deliver a fully immersive, interactive social experience with collaboration and connection at the core. Both Onedome and Enklu’s vision is to use interactive technologies to bring people together to inspire collaboration, connection, community, and empower the creative within.

Last year’s E3 attracted more than 69,200 visitors and featured more than 200 exhibitors, including 85 companies that were exhibiting at the event for the first time, showing 3,250 products.