Restocking the Shelves, Part Three: Seeing Through Windows

One positive trend that has emerged during the pandemic, home entertainment studio executives say, is that consumers seem to be gaining a better understanding of the difference between transactional and subscription streaming and are realizing that not everything they might want to see is available on Netflix or the other big SVOD services.

“Because consumers are spending so much watching digital video at home, they are acutely aware of which titles are available on the various platforms,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution.

Hilary Hoffman

“It has become clear that consumers sheltering at home not only have become increasingly engaged in our catalog offerings to keep entertained, but also have progressively grown to become more savvy in navigating the spectrum of formats,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As such, we have continued to invest and reward consumers to stay engaged in the category and have been working in lockstep with our digital and physical retail partners to ensure that we remain hyper-focused on delivering the broadest access and best possible in-home experience.”

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“Consumers have become much more receptive to different price points,” adds Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong. “They realize not everything’s on Netflix, and it’s worth it to them to pay a transactional amount for something they really want to watch. They really have embraced all the ways to consume digital video.”

That includes the physical disc. “We are encouraged by the resilience,” Spivak says. “When you think of the structural impediments, stores being closed, online ordering taking longer to fulfill — consumers who love the physical disc are persevering and that business is holding up quite well.”

Studios were fortunate that two of the biggest retail sellers of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, Walmart and Target, were able to remain open throughout the pandemic because they also sell groceries and thus were deemed “essential” businesses. Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment, says studio marketers have already met with Walmart to discuss fourth-quarter plans, with a focus on catalog.

“We went through a whole planning session with the Walmart team,” Powers says.

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

But the biggest lift to DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales, studio marketers say, comes from e-commerce sellers such as Amazon.

“We’ve seen quite a boom in e-commerce,” Powers says. “Initially we were unsure about the supply chain and how retail would react, but we kept all our new-to-Blu-ray titles on the calendar and saw a very positive response so we’ve continued to fill the slate with additional titles.”

Indeed, in addition to monthly waves of “Paramount Presents” releases, Paramount recently has come out with a 25th anniversary edition of the Alicia Silverstone comedy Clueless and 40th anniversary editions of horror classic Friday the 13th and John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. Clueless and Friday the 13th also are available in limited edition steelbooks.

“We’re really leaning more into the collector’s market,” Powers says. “That’s where e-commerce really shines.”

Jeff Brown

It’s not just movies, either. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment enjoyed a banner spring with TV product, says Jeff Brown, EVP and GM, Television. “The second quarter was a panacea for transactional television content, physical as well as digital,” Brown says. “Our business grew over 40%, year on year. And if you exclude ‘Game of Thrones,’ which had an extraordinary performance last year with the final season broadcast and transactional release, our business nearly doubled. This really shows peoples’ appetite for television content, and while obviously stay-at-home behavior contributed to this, there were several other opportunities we were able to capitalize on.”

One was the fact that Warner now distributes TV content from HBO and Turner digitally as well as physically.

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

Another is a strong slate of product, released just in time for viewers to enjoy while encouraged by state and local governments to stay in their homes. “Our top drivers included ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ as well as the animated original movie titles Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which was probably our best-performing DC animated movie since Batman: The Killing Joke and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge,” Brown says.

The third factor behind Warner’s strong TV quarter is a series of “Entertaining the World” promotions, Brown says, with a menu of promotional actions for digital retailers such as Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and FandangoNow.

“We promoted shows such as ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire,’ and Hanna-Barbera and DC animated classics,” Brown says. “We were able to look at the total Warner-HBO-Turner TV and animation library and come up with compelling retail programs, and we coordinated this on a semi-monthly ‘wave’ basis to provide an abundance of promoted content to retailers in a timely manner.”

Editor’s Note: This is part three in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’

Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

When Paramount Home Entertainment on March 9 announced the launch of its “Paramount Presents” line to showcase films from the studio’s extensive library, marketing chief Vincent Marcais had no idea how prophetic the move would prove to be.

Just two days later, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared a global COVID-19 pandemic, and over the ensuing days governments the world over issued stay-at-home mandates and ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Vincent Marcais

Movie theaters were among the businesses that suddenly went dark, which meant box office revenues quickly dropped to near zero. On top of that, productions were halted, which meant that not only were there no new movies in theaters, there were no more new movies, period, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Home entertainment, thanks to 90-day windows, got a three-month reprieve — as well as an extra crop of high-profile films released digitally to home audiences, at a premium price, due to the closure of theaters. But by mid-June, studio home entertainment divisions were running out of fresh new theatrical product, which had been their lifeblood since the home video business began more than 40 years ago.

So how are the home entertainment divisions of the major studios keeping the lights on?

At Paramount, says Marcais, EVP of marketing, the studio has been filling the void primarily with catalog product from its rich library of film and TV content, buoyed by the launch of the Paramount Presents line.

“The library is at the core of what we do here at Paramount,” Marcais says, noting that since the end of March weekly catalog sales have been double what they used to be.

Alanna Powers

“Catalog has always been important, but now it’s more important to us than ever,” adds Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment. “We’re very well positioned to meet demand as new releases continue to dry up.”

With no fresh new theatricals in the pipeline, she says, “we have a very robust release strategy for our library. We continue to explore things like anniversary efforts, or leaning into historical dates or holidays, and we’re also looking at 4K Ultra HD, digging in and looking at opportunities.”

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On the digital side, Paramount works in tandem with digital retailers such as FandangoNow, Apple and Vudu to create curated promotions that are marketed primarily through Instagram and other social media channels, such as a collection of family films or series of dancing and singing movies that included Grease and Dreamgirls.

On the physical media side, the emphasis is on finding classic films from the vaults that have never before been released on Blu-ray Disc, such as Roman Holiday, and on the “Paramount Presents” Line — both of which target collectors.

The “Paramount Presents” line of Blu-ray Discs kicked off with the April 21 release of Fatal Attraction; 1958’s acclaimed Elvis Presley drama King Creole; and director Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller To Catch a Thief, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. Subsequent waves have been released monthly. All films in the “Paramount Presents” line are remastered and sent to Blu-ray in collectible packaging that includes a foldout image of the original movie poster and interior artwork featuring key movie moments.

“This new label is really a labor of love,” Marcais says. “We’re like a publishing company, in that we take a very diverse group of movies from our library and we publish, or republish, them with the mindset of a really small shop where the focus is on quality.”

Like films in the vaunted Criterion Collection, Marcais says, “Paramount Presents” titles get the VIP treatment. “We go back to the filmmakers and find the best master and really work on the quality of the image,” he says. “We improve everything and then make these films available to the most important people for us — the core Blu-ray Disc fans.”

Paramount may have enjoyed the luck of the draw with the launch of its “Paramount Presents” line — as well as the already-scheduled May release of a special 35th anniversary edition of Top Gun — but other studios are reporting similar upticks in catalog sales, both on disc and digitally.

“From the outset of this unprecedented period, we’ve been seeing a broad lift across catalog,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has one of the biggest catalogs of any studio, buoyed by MGM, HBO and Turner product. EVP of sales Mike Takac says that during the first six weeks of the pandemic, when shelter-in-place orders were in place and businesses were closed, sales of theatrical catalog titles doubled.

“The COVID-19 bump was massive,” Takac says. “So now it becomes a matter of trying to predict how much of it will fall off as restrictions ease, and no one knows. But the second quarter was historic — we hadn’t seen such robust catalog sales in years.”

For Lionsgate, home entertainment’s moment in the sun is an ongoing thing. Home entertainment packaged media/digital movies at the studio represented 42.2% of the Motion Picture segment’s $1.67 billion revenue for the fiscal year ended March 31 — twice the percentage of theatrical, according to the company’s 10K fiscal filing, which was released May 27. The tally is up 14.1% from revenue of $1.46 billion in fiscal 2019.

Adam Frank

“Home entertainment has always been, and will continue to be, a huge priority for the company,” says Adam Frank, Lionsgate’s SVP of worldwide digital sales and distribution.

He says Lionsgate is in a strong competitive position because of the strength of its theatrical titles and the diversity of its slate, including a longstanding tradition of multi-platform releases. Between box office blockbusters such as the “John Wick,” “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises and original hits such as Knives Out and La La Land, he says, Lionsgate has always filled in the gaps with a diverse portfolio of movies, some of which are released simultaneously across theaters and other platforms. With movie theaters closed, he says, films such as Arkansas and Survive the Night, aimed at home audiences, are posting “amazing results — they’re really outperforming our expectations and ranking in the upper echelon of multi-platform release performance, industry-wide.”

“We were well prepared,” he adds, “and we still have a number of those films that we have not yet released.”

Lionsgate also has a vast 17,000-title film and television catalog that studio marketers routinely mine in partnership with digital retailers, Frank says.

“We have always had an unrivaled dedication to our catalog,” he says. “We are coming off a record $600 million year in library revenue for our company, and we are now seeing weekly run rates up nearly 100% in recent months compared to before shelter-at-home orders.”

Editor’s Note: This is part one in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’