Home Entertainment ‘Social Distancing’ — Boon or Double-Edged Sword?

With movie theaters shuttered and government officials calling on people not to congregate in groups larger than 10, home entertainment, including transactional VOD and packaged media, is getting a boost from consumers sequestered at home during the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Universal Pictures said it is releasing select theatrical titles concurrent with home entertainment following a weekend box office that saw its five releases generate a paltry $11.7 million in collective ticket sales.

Warner is putting Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey early into digital retail channels. It’s not a big gamble considering the movie has been out in theaters since Feb. 7.

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“Yes, they will see increased usage in home entertainment distribution,” said Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities.

While no studio is going to admit it might profit from home-confined consumers, Wall Street analysts are less concerned about optics and more motivated by trends and cost/benefit analysis, among other factors.

Pachter cautions that any uptick in transactional purchases, Redbox rentals and subscription streaming is limited in its “attractiveness” as investments. Indeed, after Universal and Warner, no other studio has announced expediting retail channels. Box office king Disney has heretofore resisted altering the theatrical window for obvious reasons.

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“There are other things going on out there that limit their attractiveness as investments,” Pachter said.

Home entertainment spending in the fourth quarter of 2019 increased 9% to $6.8 billion, from $6.3 billion spent in the final three months of 2018, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

The analyst contends any increased revenue studios make from DVD will be “far less” than the “normal” revenue they would generate from theatrical exhibition. A noted Netflix bear, Pachter says the SVOD behemoth remains an overvalued stock, “but less so now due.” He says Disney will benefit from releasing its movies on Disney+, but will still “lose mightily” on theme parks and cruise ships — both of which are shut down.

“Redbox definitely benefits, but it’s a private company,” Pachter said. The kiosk vendor and its former corporate parent, Outerwall, were acquired by a private equity group in 2016 for $1.6 billion.

Richard Greenfield, media analyst with Lightshed Partners, said the elimination of live sports on TV makes SVOD a valuable alternative.

“To the extent consumers are increasingly working from home and refraining from out-of-home activities, without sports to watch on TV, we suspect streaming services such as Netflix will see increased subscriber additions and higher utilization per account (leading to higher ARPU plans that enable more users per household and lower churn),” Greenfield wrote in a March 12 note.

Analyst Laura Martin with Needham was one of the first Wall Street pundits to predict a home entertainment gold rush as a result of the pandemic. Martin cautions that with the pandemic now centering in Europe, international  Netflix subscriber growth will stall.

“In distressed times, people will give up their Netflix subscriptions,” Martin wrote in a note.

Greenfield disagrees.

“Netflix appears incredibly well-positioned to entertain consumers as [other] entertainment options dry up, especially if more movie theaters close globally,” he wrote.

 

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