The uncertainty over the COVID-19 surge triggered by the emergence of the Omicron variant has made any and all predictions for the coming year suspect. Life could go back to normal fairly quickly or we will continue to battle surges and adjust our lives accordingly. Most observers don’t see us going back to the draconian shutdowns and lockdowns of the early days of the virus, but studio executives and exhibitors are understandably nervous about the current and any future surges since theatrical attendance could suffer — which ultimately affects everyone down the food chain.
The home entertainment business weathered the initial COVID crisis quite well, with streaming growing stronger and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) winning a premium first-run window. That said, there are several “givens” as 2022 gets underway.
Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and the other high-profile streamers will continue to battle for dominance, with Netflix doing everything in its power to reduce churn and not lose market share. The second tier of SVOD players, including Paramount+ and Peacock, will make as much noise as possible to win a seat at the table — as evidenced by Peacock’s recent announcement that it will be streaming the winter Olympics in their entirety.
On the transactional side, a lot depends on the fate of movie theaters as this pandemic lumbers on. The early pandemic led to an overall shortening of windows and new-release strategies that ultimately benefited both home entertainment divisions and digital retailers such as Vudu by Fandango, Redbox On Demand, Microsoft and Google Play.
But while TVOD, and physical media, benefit from shorter windows, it is also impacted by studios accelerating, or re-ordering, SVOD windows. A film available as part of an all-you-can-watch subscription streaming service simply isn’t going to sell or rent nearly as well as it would if there was no “free” competition. And that plays into the bigger picture that the more consumers tune in to SVOD services, the less likely they are to purchase or rent something a la carte.
Jim Wuthrich, president of content distribution for WarnerMedia, says he’s “optimistic that we’ll continue to adapt to the changing nature of COVID and learn to live with it.”
“Although there are many challenges, we’ve learned how to be productive with a distributed workforce, productions are largely back and there’s more consumer choice than ever before — both in amount of content and ways to view,” he says. “It’s a great time to be a fan of linear storytelling. We will continue to improve and expand HBO Max to more markets, while providing a la carte options for fans and collectors. SVOD services will continue to dominate viewing time, with transactional supporting a vital role in discovery, sampling and fandom. Physical media (4K/Blu-ray/DVD) continues to be a meaningful market, with approximately $2 billion in U.S. consumer sales, and largely immune to evolving distribution patterns.”
On the WarnerMedia side, Wuthrich says, “We have a great movie slate, with four DC films coming to theaters and another installment of ‘Fantastic Beasts.’ We also have a number of series releasing, including the new ‘House of the Dragon,’ a ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel. History has shown these franchises to be powerhouses in driving catalog sales so we are looking forward to a great year.”
“Similarly to 2021, we expect a very healthy home entertainment market in 2022, with strong consumer engagement across multiple business models,” says Michael Bonner, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “Release patterns will likely continue to fluctuate and vary across studios on a title-by-title basis.
“With the theatrical marketplace continuing to strengthen, the growth of PVOD and the expansion of various SVOD services, the distribution landscape is stronger than ever. As we look ahead, studios have more options and outlets to create value and reach consumers which strengthens our ability to continue investing in great content.”
Bonner maintains that Universal, with its slate of anticipated new releases including Jurassic World: Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Downton Abbey: A New Era, “is perfectly positioned to draw audiences back into theaters and fuel further transactional growth across the varying windows and platforms.”
Paramount Home Entertainment president Bob Buchi says that “as the global hub for transactional home entertainment across ViacomCBS, our division is exceedingly fortunate and singularly focused on delivering an extraordinary 2022 line-up of the company’s theatrical and television content, as well as third-party acquisitions through our extensive partnerships.”
“Our theatrical slate includes new entries in wildly popular franchises, including ‘Scream,’ ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and ‘Jackass,’ which are not only highly anticipated, but also provide excellent opportunities to stoke fan interest in the earlier films and television shows available through home entertainment,” he says.
On the catalog front, Buchi adds, the division’s most ambitious initiatives are the year-long 50th anniversary salute to The Godfather, “for which we anticipate massive consumer excitement for the film’s return to theaters, new 4K home entertainment releases, and licensed merchandise,” and the first-time-on-4K director’s edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, “with fantastic new VFX, which will be released first on Paramount+ and then on home entertainment platforms.”
Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment for Fandango, which oversees the Vudu digital retailer, also has high hopes for the new year.
“We expect the TVOD sector to deliver even more value to consumers, as fans sort through a fragmented streaming world, looking for a one-stop-shop entertainment service for movies and TV,” he says. “Because subscription services, by their nature, cater to specific audiences and content offerings, we continue to see consumers utilizing the flexibility, depth and breadth of Vudu’s new release and catalog offering of over 200,000 titles to complement their monthly entertainment needs.”
Douglas says Vudu “is working hard to expand our catalog every day. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity, as we continue to secure new and previously unavailable titles. There’s a variety of titles where digital rights were originally unsecured, but with the demand increasing, there’s more pressure than ever to make these films available for fans to stream at home. We pride ourselves on providing the best quality of experience and we are always working to create a bigger, better home entertainment experience for our customers. We want to be that place where fans can find every beloved movie and show they desire.”
At the top of Vudu’s agenda for the coming year, Douglas says, are plans “to innovate new services for our customers and add new platforms and devices to meet the fan demand in an ever-changing marketplace. We also plan to offer deeper integration with our sister sites, Rotten Tomatoes, for entertainment discovery, recommendation and curated content, and Fandango for crossover promotional opportunities to help enhance the theatrical experience. With our entertainment lifecycle marketing strategy, we look forward to helping new and returning partners more effectively and efficiently reach high-value entertainment audiences at scale.”
The big challenge for home entertainment executives in the coming year is to apply lessons they learned during the pandemic and react quickly to market conditions.
Paramount’s Bob Buchi says that “with two years of experimentation and the expedited evolution of our business, we know we need to remain agile in our windowing and co-promotional strategies as we continue to support the return to theaters and the rapid growth of our streaming service, Paramount+.”
Adam Frank, SVP of global digital sales and distribution at Lionsgate, says what happens at the box office will trickle down into all aspects of home entertainment.
“Our expectation, given the quality and quantity of the theatrical release slate, is that box office sees significant increase and momentum in 2022 vs. 2021,” Frank said. “The old adage of content is king still rings true, and with more product in the marketplace, consumers will ultimately have more choices and more opportunities in the home entertainment space.”
Jed Grossman, EVP and GM of worldwide sales and distribution at Lionsgate, adds, “We expect all business segments — transactional digital, packaged media, SVOD and AVOD/FAST — to grow year-over-year driven by five key factors:
A more robust theatrical release schedule, inclusive of major tentpoles and franchises like ‘Jurassic World,’ ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Black Panther’ that were delayed during the pandemic. Lionsgate has a strong slate that includes Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, starring Nicolas Cage; Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret; and White Bird, among others;
A more viable theatrical marketplace, with theater-going comfort increasing as vaccine/booster shot rates increase and tentpoles drive attendance;
The continued unprecedented demand for new release and library product from SVOD and AVOD/FAST platforms. Lionsgate has achieved record library revenue over the past year;
The ability to capitalize on home entertainment consumer behavior, consumer content thirst and technology enhancements — across all offer types — as accelerated by the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 and early 2021; and
Continued collaboration with our theatrical exhibition partners to release films with dynamic windows to meet demand across all platforms.”
For independent film distributors, don’t expect much variance in 2022 from established policies of continuing to take aim at the collector and niche markets, particularly on the physical media side.
“For disc sales, MVD and our label partners are focusing on collectible content in deluxe packaging,” says Ed Seaman, COO of MVD Entertainment Group. “We anticipate a similar trajectory for disc sales, which have steadily grown over the last several years. The pandemic certainly gave them a boost, but the resilience and resurgence of disc sales may have more to do with the frustrating customer experience our industry has created in the OTT space. Finding what you want is now very challenging. How many streaming services do you need to subscribe to only to not find the film you want to watch, when you want to watch it? You can more easily find what you want transactionally, but it is still a search. Why not just pay a bit more and own the deluxe-edition disc?”
On the digital front, Seaman says “AVOD/FAST will continue to grow dramatically as consumers clearly embrace and enjoy that model. TVOD is tricky; considering Amazon’s tight curation of non-fiction, we expect some other platforms to step up and become more dominant in that space. There is a real opportunity for platforms focusing on non-fiction to deliver to fans what they want when they want it.”
At MVD, Seaman notes, “we’ve just added Zach Fischel to our leadership team; Zach is a veteran in the entertainment industry and is leading our label management team and marketing department. We’ve additionally moved longtime MVD staffer Chris Callahan to lead our digital sales and operations team. Chris has been with MVD since 1999 and has served in sales management, label management and international licensing. Both of these leaders are committed to improving their areas of responsibility; they have great ideas particularly in digital marketing, an area of overlapped responsibility. We are really excited about 2022!”
So is Mark Fisher, president and CEO of OTT.X, a streaming industry trade group.
“2022 will be a year that portends the future of our industries — a future that, enabled by OTT distribution, is more egalitarian, more global and more diverse,” Fisher says. “While Hollywood continues to make great movies and TV shows, smaller distributors and independent producers from all over the world are making a lot of great content, too — enabling the consumer to be less reliant and dependent on content from the big studios and on domestic-produced content. And, while the big ‘Pluses’ and ‘Maxes’ continue to grow, consumers are finding plenty of additional content on indie and niche channels, both FAST and on demand.”
With the focus on the growth of SVOD and AVOD streaming services during the pandemic, transactional VOD has been somewhat overlooked, said Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at Fandango.
“All the press is about SVOD and AVOD services, ad-supported or subscription, but transactional sort of quietly had a moment in 2020,” he said during a virtual panel for the American Film Market.
Premium VOD has certainly been a focus of services such as FandangoNow and sister TVOD outlet Vudu (both are owned by Fandango) as theaters have closed and new releases have rushed to digital, but catalog has been rising to the occasion as well.
“Our No. 1 library title today is Friday the 13th, because it’s Friday the 13th,” Douglas noted. “Sometimes the audiences find their own catalog.”
Still, the Fandango team has been making an effort to bring catalog to the fore.
“We’ve had to work harder at curation of catalog because there’s fewer new releases that are those tentpoles that we can sort of talk about and then sort of drive the traffic to other content or discovery of other content,” he said. “We just launched this summer a new, what we call ‘staff pick,’ but it’s actually a joint creation between the Fandango team and the Rotten Tomatoes team where we’ve come up with themes and genres where we’ve been able to sort of bring different portions of the 150,000-title library up to the surface in different ways and fresh and interesting ways. … Right now, we have one that’s spy thrillers, and that’s probably because, as I think about it, there wasn’t a Bond movie to watch, and there’s probably an opportunity to catch up on those and certainly it had interesting and unfortunate timing having to do with [the death of James Bond star] Sean Connery.”
One big advantage of TVOD services is that titles aren’t subject to a licensing window, like they are on SVOD and AVOD services.
“It’s the best Blockbuster story in the world because it has very deep content, from all eras, all genres,” he said. “I said a couple weeks ago in an article that it’s the canon of modern filmmaking essentially.”
Consumers also have the choice to rent or buy a title on TVOD services.
“FandangoNow and Vudu actually complement each other,” Douglas said. “Fandango is stronger in VOD, in rental, so that’s your Blockbuster activity, you’re renting a movie for 48 hours. Vudu has actually fostered more of a collector.”
Douglas admitted that he thought electronic sellthrough, which has an early window before disc, had seemed to foster “unintentional ownership” in the digital realm, as consumers bought titles merely because that was the only way to watch them.
“I think Vudu has proven me wrong on that,” he said. “Really there is a genuine collector. We’re seeing consumers that have amassed huge libraries, and it’s obvious that these are not things that were just in that two-week window. These are deep catalog. This is someone that’s collected every version of ‘Lord of the Rings,’ extended version, regular version, and they’re proud to have that in their library. It’s like the old ‘Cribs’ MTV Show where people always showed off their DVD collection … and I think now people are proud to show off their digital collection.”
Still, Douglas noted that theatrical exhibition is an essential part of the business.
“Our relationship with the exhibitors is very important to us, so we want people back in theaters as soon as safely possible, when each individual is comfortable with that,” he said.
Free, ad-supported television dominated the discussion during the OTT.X summit’s opening-day keynote panel.
Known by the acronym FAST, the market certainly is in growth mode. Media heavyweights ViacomCBS and Comcast Corp. have acquired Pluto TV and Xumo, respectively, while Comcast’s much-ballyhooed Peacock streaming service also will have a free, ad-supported component.
And as Media Play News reported earlier this week, new data from eMarketer suggests AVOD revenue will grow more than 25% this year compared with 2019.
The AVOD market — spearheaded by The Roku Channel, Disney-owned Hulu, Peacock, Redbox TV, Amazon’s IMDb TV, Pluto TV and Fox Corp.’s Tubi — saw ad revenue skyrocket 31% to $849 million in the most-recent quarter, according to MoffettNathanson Research.
“It’s something I’m really excited about — this is the thing that’s really hot,” moderator David Bloom, a tech journalist and consultant, said during the panel on Sept. 1. (The OTT.X summit continues through Sept. 3; click here to register.)
Anthony Layser, VP of content partnerships at Xumo, agreed.
“Things have changed so quickly over the last couple of years,” he said. “I joined Xumo in 2017 and I think at first there were some things that felt a little bit like a gimmick — you’re starting to string together types of content into a linear experience.
“And then I really got a sense, after a few months in, that what’s old is new again. People don’t necessarily want to spend all night searching through box art; they may be interested in a very specific series they are comfortable with — maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s lifestyle.”
The FAST market, he said, “is always changing and it’s exciting to come to work every day and look at data and say, ‘Wow, look at how this piece of content we licensed years ago is taking off.’”
Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Networks, said his company over the past 18 months has sought to build “a nice portfolio of premium FAST and AVOD services to complement our four niche subscription services we still operate.”
“We got out of the real heavy, direct-to-consumer side,” he said, “and now focus on what I call the classic model of third-party distribution. You get a lot of bang for your buck — you don’t have to spend a lot of money on marketing, and you can focus all your energy on content spend and everyone else handles all the rest. So it’s a good model. Where we really thought the growth for us was going to come was in the ad-supported space.”
Advertising spending, he said, is “completely disconnected from the consumption right now. If you look at the data coming out of Samsung, where 55% of all consumption on smart TVs is not with traditional environments — the trend is not going to reverse; it’s not going to suddenly swing back the other way, especially given that 265 million sets are sold annually that have linear and VOD baked in, not to mention hundreds of thousands of apps.”
With FAST, Opeka said, “consumers love the choice, they love getting tons of entertainment for free that they don’t have to pay for. A couple of years ago, Pluto really educated all of us. … People mistake linear being dead for pre-programmed, tuned-in being dead. But I think there’s a very different piece here. Leanback is not dead. There’s a real specific use case for a big chunk of the week where you don’t have a lot of time and don’t want to spend 30 minutes digging through thousands of titles or hoping the algorithm finds you. You just want something on while you’re having leftovers. What we’re really talking about is hand-curated, passive, feed-my-eyes, against active, algorithm-driven recommendations. There’s a place in the world for both.”
Tedd Cittadine, VP of content distribution at Roku, said, “There’s no secret we’re really excited and optimistic about the AVOD business in general. We started just over three years ago with the Roku Channel, and the reason we launched it is because our consumers were disproportionately searching for free content. We knew there was pent-up demand for it. And we’ve seen significant growth — it’s been growing faster than the platform as a whole.”
He noted that the “AVOD landscape has changed significantly” over the past few years. “It’s gone from many startup independents to Roku, CBS, Fox, Amazon, YouTube, Comcast”
He noted that as the business becomes increasingly competitive, there are “three key things that drive success.” One is access to a “huge audience.” “It’s incredibly expensive to acquire consumers,” he said. “If you don’t have that huge installed base you can market to and deliver your content to, it can be very challenging to build that audience.” Second is having a “one-to-one, proprietary relationship with data for consumers, and having access to that data to make your advertising more effective.” And the third, he said, is having a “large and successful, well-funded direct ad sales organization to take advantage of monetization opportunities.”
Also speaking on the panel was Andrea Clarke-Hall, VP of business development at Tubi, acquired by Fox in April. “If you take COVID and add an acquisition, it makes for interesting times,” she said. “But it has been awesome. It’s still very early days, but it seems to be a really great partnership. Fox has given Tubi tremendous autonomy, and I think what we’ve seen is continued announcements every week about leveraging Fox ownership to bring better and better content to Tubi.”
Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment for Fandango, gave a nod to the transactional side of the business, noting that stay-at-home orders, and the movie theater shutdown, during the coronavirus pandemic has given the business a boost.
“You feel like the last few months have brought transactional back,” he said. “People have discovered there’s new content, movies you might not have ever seen — like The Tax Collector, which has been No. 1 on our service for the last couple of weeks.”
After more than three decades as one of the home entertainment industry’s key trade associations, the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) is broadening its focus and rebranding to become the OTT.X (the Over The Top Exchange).
According to CEO and president Mark Fisher, the new name reflects the organization’s aim to more broadly support the business of bringing entertainment to the consumer through all OTT means – including transactional video-on-demand (TVOD); subscription VOD, or streaming; and ad-supported streaming (AVOD).
Maintaining that the organization will support digital retailers, channels, networks, platforms, and MVPDs, Fisher said the vision of OTT.X is “a vibrant ecosystem of companies continually advancing the consumer experience and business of delivering audio-visual entertainment through OTT technologies,” while its updated mission is “to connect and nurture the OTT ecosystem enabling innovation, collaboration, and competition.”
He said the association will continue to focus on the business aspects of the industry, by facilitating business exchange and community, sharing industry insights and research, organizing and managing industry interest groups such as digital supply chain and retailing best practices, and managing a leadership development foundation.
The group was founded in 1984 as the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA), representing the proliferating independent video rental stores that had birthed the home entertainment industry several years earlier.
As the business shifted to regional and then national chains like Blockbuster Video, Movie Gallery and Hollywood Entertainment, the VSDA intensified its lobbying and supply chain efforts and tweaked its annual summer convention, generally held in Las Vegas, to focus more on meetings and less on elaborate booths and exhibits on the show floor.
With the arrival of DVD and the shift in the market away from rental and toward sellthrough, the VSDA scaled down its show even more and in 2006 merged with the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) to become the EMA.
The last big summer trade show was held in Las Vegas in 2007; the association subsequently focused on smaller conferences and seminars and from 2012 until last year presented the annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit for key retailers and content suppliers.
The association’s new direction — and name — are the result of its successful OTT_X Market and Conference last July and its OTT_X @ Pipeline in September, Fisher said.
“After more than three decades, we continue to reinvent the definition of the industry that we serve as well as our model to serve and support it,” Fisher said. “I’m proud that our team — our board and staff, working together — drafted this transformational plan, positioning OTT.X to grow in both the size of its membership and the quantity and quality of its programs and services.”
“There are so many new and emerging channels and networks looking to collaborate with their peers in building a more effective ecosystem,” said Cameron Douglas, OTT.X chair and head of home entertainment at FandangoNow, one of the industry’s leading digital retailers. “I look forward to working more broadly with digital retailers, MVPDs, digital channels and networks, distribution platforms, consumer electronics manufacturers, and all the companies creating and distributing content to these channels, as well as technology-enabling services supporting our businesses.”
Earlier in the year, Fisher told Media Play News that the association in 2020 will “formally, fully embrace the broad spectrum of OTT delivery, including SVOD and AVOD, while continuing to support TVOD. We plan to contribute significantly to supporting the ecosystem surrounding OTT including platforms, channels, content providers and service providers by expanding many of our already successful programs as well as launching new ones.
“This includes connecting companies for efficient business negotiations in events like our popular OTT.X business exchange, gathering and sharing valuable business insights and industry research in our conference sessions and facilitating the development, evangelization and education of industry best practices such as the digital supply chain work we’ve been doing over the last decade.”
Coming off a year of momentous change, home entertainment executives expect more turbulence to hit their business in 2020.
Streaming has clearly become the dominant force, with two more high-profile subscription streaming services scheduled to launch in 2020. Comcast/NBC Universal in April will bow Peacock, with more than 15,000 hours of content and a free, ad-supported service as well. A month later, WarnerMedia will debut HBO Max, with a large library of titles from across the media titan’s family — including a curated list of classic movies.
And then there’s Quibi, a mobile-centric, short-form video platform launching in April, the brainchild of ex-Disney and DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg.
But home entertainment executives, whose proverbial bread-and-butter has always been the transactional model — in which consumers pay a set fee to either buy or rent a movie, TV series or other filmed content, either digitally or on disc — insist there’s enough of an audience for both aspects of the home entertainment (or at-home, or direct-to-consumer) business.
“With an abundance of exceptional content combined with a plethora of platforms, we can expect a ‘roaring’ start to the ’20s as consumers are met with a mass of entertainment options,” says Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment. “It is now the challenge of the industry to focus on marketing and distribution to hone the messaging and delivery to meet the varied needs of consumers across linear, on-demand, subscription and transactional.
“While SVOD has captured the attention of consumers and created an ‘always on’ expectation, the transactional business continues to offer very unique and important consumer propositions: the first post-theatrical home viewing opportunity, the greatest breadth of selection, the highest quality viewing options, and custom bonus content to extend the entertainment experience. The data continues to show that SVOD and transactional can co-exist and thrive. More than half of viewers are involved in both activities, and despite the availability of catalog titles on SVOD platforms, we at Paramount saw record sales numbers for our catalog in 2019.”
Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is similarly optimistic. “As the business evolves consumers are becoming increasingly aware and comfortable with the ways that various distribution models fit together,” he says. “While SVOD delivers great value for many use occasions and types of content, the benefits of transactional models — recency, collectability and image quality — also continue to be prominent, especially in regard to new release theatrical content, and premier catalog titles.”
“Obviously we have been paying very close attention to growth and adoption of streaming services, and we are constantly evaluating their impact on our physical and digital business,” adds Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment & Games. “With Warner Media’s HBO Max coming in 2020 the industry will continue to grow. And as the business grows, so does access to an ever-increasing new consumer base who are familiarizing themselves with digital transactions and streaming, so it opens doors for us to bring in new audiences for our products and content.”
Ron Schwartz, president of worldwide home entertainment for Lionsgate, says “the transactional home entertainment space remains a very dynamic and robust business for our many types of content.” He touts the success on both digital and physical platforms of John Wick: Chapter 3 and Angel Has Fallen, calling those two films “great examples of the type of content that home entertainment consumers want to own. Overall, multiple steaming platforms and transactional, physical and digital will all continue to coexist as the marketplace continues to evolve.”
Digital retailers agree. “In 2020, we think transactional and subscription will both continue to grow because they complement one another,” says Cameron Douglas, head of FandangoNow. “Nowadays, digital entertainment is a mainstream business. Every TV is connected and OTT services have become the norm for audiences looking for content at home. The growth bodes well for the future of our industry.”
Even at Disney, where much of the focus is on the much-hyped Disney+ service, there’s room for transactional, according to David Kite, SVP of marketing for Disney Media Distribution.
“With this year’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, we remain committed to both digital and physical ownership,” Kite says. “We successfully integrated the Fox team into the expansive Disney home entertainment organization and have implemented a unified strategy that includes a more synergistic approach across key lines of business. We’re looking forward to another exciting year across both physical and digital platforms with a wide-range slate of home entertainment releases.”
In the first quarter of 2020, Kite says, “We will be releasing two very promising titles — the critically acclaimed awards contenders Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari. We’re also excited about the rollouts of Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, Disney-Pixar’s Onward and the live-action Mulan as our customers continue to build their libraries.”
While disc sales will likely continue to decline in 2020, no one’s giving up on DVD, Blu-ray Disc or, in particular, 4K Ultra HD.
“The 4K UHD physical market will continue to experience growth throughout 2020,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “We are encouraged by industry forecasts, which anticipate the sales of that format in North America alone will deliver 25% of Blu-ray Disc dollars in 2020.”
“We will continue to release the majority of our new release titles in the highest possible definition and also mine our vast catalog library for worthy and deserving films to be remastered, as we did this year with The Wizard of Oz,” adds Wuthrich. “The desire for classic titles in the ultimate high-definition format is definitely a factor in the continued momentum of 4K UHD.”
Spivak agrees. “As consumer viewing habits evolve, the disc remains a prominent part of the home entertainment market, particularly given the steady growth for 4K Ultra HD,” he says. “With households nationwide regularly upgrading their TVs to 4K UHD there’s every indication that 4K UHD will evolve beyond a niche audience of format enthusiasts. We will continue to put out most of our new releases and select catalog in UHD, while working with retailers to expand placement and experimenting with features that make the product most attractive to consumers.”
Disney’s Kite is similarly optimistic for the disc business. “Physical ownership remains a robust line of business for us, especially among the collectible consumer,” he says. “There continues to be a healthy appetite for the physical format, particularly with premium, and we already have substantial plans in place for 2020.”
Universal’s Cunningham stresses the importance of retail partnerships in maximizing the transactional model’s potential.
“Given that physical and digital transactional consumption rates are remaining steady year over year and that disc purchases are making up more than half of that consumption, there’s no question that movie buyers continue to be vitally important to retail,” he says. “At no other time in our industry has it been more critical to ensure that we work together to retain the loyalty of movie consumers, creating urgency for our products and delivering the utmost value, quality, accessibility and convenience possible.
“It is important for us to continue supporting our retail partners with creative thought leadership and close collaboration to ensure that we collectively continue to capture shopper attention and deliver key, compelling reasons to transact.”
Sony Pictures’ Spivak agrees. “More than ever we must embrace the fact that our retail partnerships are multi-faceted and cross distribution models — from transactional to SVOD and AVOD,” he says. “Ultimately, our mutual objective is maximizing the consumer value proposition and providing the best potential viewer experience.”
The phrase “transformational change” has been used so much it’s become a cliché — and yet there really is no better way to describe what happened in not just home entertainment, but also the entertainment industry overall, in 2019.
The completion in March of the Walt Disney Co.’s purchase of 20th Century Fox saw the number of major studios drop to five from six. Some of the home entertainment sector’s most familiar faces were suddenly gone, including Mike Dunn, the longtime leader of Fox’s home entertainment unit, and Danny Kaye, the visionary behind Fox Innovation Labs. Later, in the summer, Janice Marinelli, Disney’s home entertainment chief, also exited in a surprise move, given that she had opened an office on the Fox studio lot and was reportedly screening staffers.
In November, two new streaming giants emerged to take on longtime leader Netflix, Apple TV+ and, most significantly, Disney+.
Meanwhile, a new flavor of streaming gathered momentum: free to consumers, paid for by advertisers. Among the heavyweights jumping into what’s known as “AVOD” are ViacomCBS, with its Pluto TV acquisition, and Comcast Corp., which in December was reported to be in advanced talks to acquire Xumo TV, which boasts more than 140 digital channels of programming across 12 genres, including sports, news, kids and family entertainment.
The overall impact of all these developments on home entertainment: It got smaller — and bigger.
Smaller, because the traditional transactional business model that has defined home entertainment since its birth more than 40 years ago has increasingly come under fire, with subscription streaming, in particular, gobbling up more and more consumer attention — and dollars — that previously would have gone toward buying or renting movies, either on disc or through digital retailers.
But also bigger, because streaming, in its various incarnations, is now widely accepted as being part of home entertainment — which is now broadly defined as people watching what they want, on demand. There’s even a new name for all of this — direct-to-consumer — which was first adopted by Disney and is now used interchangeably with “home entertainment.”
Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment, says 2019 “was the year of transition.”
“From media mergers and changing consumer viewing habits to the explosion of streaming services, the landscape has shifted dramatically,” he says.
The Nov. 1 launch of Apple TV+ marked the tech giant’s entry into the content business, with nine original series. One of them, “The Morning Show,” picked up several Golden Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a first for a new streaming service.
Less than two weeks later, Disney launched its much-ballyhooed Disney+, with a full menu of in-demand movies and series — including the “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian.” Disney said more than 10 million people signed up for the service in the first 24 hours. By the end of November, the service had 24 million subscribers, according to estimates from Wall Street firm Cowen & Co. (Netflix as of October had more than 60 million domestic subs.)
“It’s an exciting time and we believe we have a unique and significant role to play,” Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing for Disney+, told Media Play News on the eve of the service’s launch. “Disney+ will compete based on the unparalleled strength of our brands, the quality of our intellectual property, and expertise in high-quality video streaming.”
And yet industry insiders insist that despite streaming’s growth, there’s room for transactional — largely because new theatrical films, particularly the blockbusters, aren’t available on SVOD services. This distinction has prompted FandangoNow, one of the big digital retailers, to boldly proclaim on its home page, “New releases not on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu subscriptions.”
“Because we’re the first point of entry for fans to see movies in theaters, and first at home, we’ve seen a significant growth among consumers who are excited to own movies as soon as they’re available digitally,” says Cameron Douglas, head of FandangoNow. “Fans looking for high-quality content right out of theaters, including 4K HDR movies, don’t have to wait until they arrive later on subscription services, and innovative deals like rental binge bundles and the availability on new platforms keep them coming back to transactional digital services like our own.”
“New movie releases continue to be sought out by consumers during the first window in the home amidst the frenzied buzz around new streaming services,” adds Michael Bonner, EVP of digital distribution for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “While there’s no denying the landscape is becoming more competitive, this business has successfully co-existed with abundant availability of non-transactional content for a long time and we expect it to continue to do so.”
“There is space — and demand — for both transactional content as well as streaming — just as there is consumer interest in both digital and physical,” says Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of trade association DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.
Beyond new releases, streamers have a limited selection of older films and TV shows, particularly with their increased focus on original content.
“For many consumers, their streaming options are good enough,” says Mark Fisher, president and CEO of home entertainment trade association the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). “But just like the days when the first video rental stores opened and made it easy for the consumer to watch anything they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch it, online VOD retailers offer that same opportunity to the consumer. I know that every time I see a montage of old movie clips, I’m driven to watch titles that aren’t new releases — and these are titles not readily (or easily) found on the streaming services.”
Sales of digital movies, in particular, were a bright spot, with consumer spending up nearly 7% in the first nine months of 2019, according to trade association DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.
“We’ve continued to see growth in EST (electronic sellthrough) — both in our new releases and in our catalog,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution, for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “Certainly the enhanced consumer experience enabled by Movies Anywhere is part of that, as is increasing consumer connectivity in their homes. EST continues to gain prominence in our marketing planning, release data scheduling, and retailer partnerships.”
Ron Schwartz, president of Lionsgate Home Entertainment, says Lionsgate EST revenue grew 30% this year, “four to five times faster than the overall industry. With increased collaboration between studios and retailers, and more offerings such as dynamic bundling, customers are starting to build their lockers up to 10-plus titles. Recent data shows that once a customer gets to between 10 and 12 titles in their locker, their EST purchasing behavior doubles.”
In addition to selling movies, digital retailers also offer them for a la carte streaming, the digital equivalent of a physical movie rental. Redbox remains the only retailer to offer both digital and physical rentals, the former through an e-commerce site and the latter, through a network of more than 40,000 kiosks situated outside (or inside) large retailers like Walmart, convenience and drug stores, and other retailers.
“Redbox owns the transactional space with more transactions across physical and digital formats — for rental and purchase — than any other transactional provider,” says Redbox CEO Galen Smith.
In 2019, he said, Redbox expanded its offering of 4K Ultra HD discs into new markets, and stepped up promotions as well, with its Back to the Movies campaign and a joint Dinner & A Movie offering with meal delivery service DoorDash.
In addition, Redbox Entertainment, a new content acquisition and production division, has further transformed Redbox into a multi-channel content provider and programmer. Launched in October, the new division is headed by Marc Danon, who spent eights at Lionsgate, most recently as SVP of acquisitions and business development.
Disc sales in 2019 continued to decline in the low double digits, with DEG reporting that in the first nine months of the year, combined 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc, and DVD revenues were down 18.5% to an estimated $2.3 billion — exactly half what they amounted to five years ago, in 2014.
But studios continued to support the disc. And while a trend among smaller titles is to release them only on DVD and digital, bypassing Blu-ray Disc, major new releases are still getting significant marketing campaigns behind them, particularly for the 4K Ultra HD editions. The UHD disc also made headlines last August when the UHD Alliance, along with leaders in consumer electronics, the Hollywood studios and members of the filmmaking community, announced collaboration on a new viewing mode for watching movies called “Filmmaker Mode,” designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended. Filmmaker Mode, bowing next year, will allow viewers to enjoy a more cinematic experience on their UHD TVs when watching movies by disabling all post-processing (e.g. motion smoothing, etc.) so the movie or television show is displayed as it was intended by the filmmaker, preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates.
“For the time being, 4K UHD is still the gold standard for at-home content,” says Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment & Games. “With hardware costs dropping and television functionality such as Filmmaker Mode being made available next year, there is still a great value proposition in owning content in 4K UHD, both physically and digitally, as is still represents the best home-viewing experience.”
“As evidenced by the exceptional growth of 4K UHD to date, it is clear that there is a sizable appetite for premium high-definition products, and that format plays a meaningful role in boosting retail traffic,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Retail partnerships are key, Cunningham adds. “Given that physical and digital transactional consumption rates are remaining steady year over year and that disc purchases are making up more than half of that consumption, there’s no question that movie buyers continue to be vitally important to retail,” he says. “At no other time in our industry has it been more critical to ensure that we work together to retain the loyalty of movie consumers, creating urgency for our products and delivering the utmost value, quality, accessibility and convenience possible.”
Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment, Fandango, has been re-elected chairman of the home entertainment trade group the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). Douglas will be serving his second term as chairman.
Joining Douglas as officers are vice chair Suyin Lim, senior director, content acquisitions and partnerships, PlayStation Video; secretary Pedro Guiterrez Jr., director, digital stores movies and TV business and category management, Microsoft Corp.; and treasurer Michele Edelman, head of growth, Premiere Digital Services.
Bill Kotzman, Google/YouTube’s partner product manager, TV and Film; Erick Opeka, president, Cinedigm Digital Networks; and Jason Peterson, CEO of GoDigital Medial Group, will also serve on the association’s executive committee as at-large members.
Amazon returns to the EMA’s board, now represented by senior product manager Jude Fitzmorris.
Other returning board members are Amit Balan, head of marketing at Vudu, and Marty Graham, SVP at ComScore.
Three members newly appointed board members are Opeka, Edelman and Elissa Brown, VP of finance and operations at Movies Anywhere.
“The companies on EMA’s board of director reflect the variety of delivery mechanisms and business models in our vibrant industry,” said Mark Fisher, EMA president and CEO. “Each director brings an important perspective, and their wealth of experience will benefit the membership as EMA continues to be the forum for the home entertainment industry.”
The EMA is a not-for-profit international trade association. Members include digital retailers, MVPDs, AVOD and SVOD networks and channels, platforms, companies creating and/or distributing content for these channels of distribution, and companies providing services or technology for the use of others in this community. EMA was established in April 2006 through the merger of the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA).
Paramount Home Entertainment on Aug. 25 hosted a Rocketman-themed night at Dodger Stadium to commemorate Elton John’s historic concert there in 1975 — and to promote the film’s Aug. 27 release on Blu-ray disc and DVD. Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s long-time lyricist, and Jamie Bell, who portrays Taupin the film, were there to celebrate. Rocketman has been available for digital purchase since Aug. 6. The film grossed nearly $100 million at the domestic box office, making it the second successful rock ‘n’ roll movie (after Bohemian Rhapsody) over the past nine months to appear in theaters and then become available for home viewing.
Media Play News honored four digital retailers with the publication’s second annual Fast Forward Awards for driving the home entertainment industry forward. This year’s awards included a luncheon and ceremony, held April 4 at the Universal Hilton in Universal City, Calif., and hosted by the Entertainment Merchants Association. Awards went to Cameron Douglas of FandangoNow, Jonathan Zepp of Google Play Movies & TV, and Galen Smith of Redbox, and the team at Apple iTunes. EMA used the event to launch its EMA Leadership Development Foundation, aimed at supporting professional training and development within the home entertainment industry, and particularly within the EMA membership.
Digital retailers are revving up their promotional engines and helping studios chase down the Holy Grail: transactional sales and rentals of movies over the Internet. These four Fast Forward honorees are the leaders of the pack.
The rise of subscription streaming has revolutionized home entertainment consumption — and music, as well.
We still pick and choose what we want to watch (or hear), along with when, where and how. But instead of paying for a specific movie, TV show or song, we pay one price for a month’s worth of access to whatever happens to be
The problem with Netflix and other streamers is that while the buffet of entertainment choices appears endless, the really good dishes are conspicuously absent. Big theatrical movies, in particular, don’t show up on subscription streaming services for years, if ever. And the continued appeal of big-screen blockbusters among home viewers is what’s keeping the traditional “transactional” model alive.
As disc sales continue to decline, digital movie sales and “rentals” (a la carte streaming) are on an upswing, thanks in large part to aggressive and innovative digital retailers.
Four standouts are being honored in the second-annual Media Play Fast Forward Awards, which recognize people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.
This year’s honorees are Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at FandangoNow; Google Play’s Jonathan Zepp, head of media and entertainment; Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox; and the team at Apple iTunes (the company asked that no individual be singled out).
FandangoNow has been revving up its promotional muscle and is aggressively tying in digital purchases and rentals with its movie-ticket-selling sister company Fandango.
Google Play Movies & TV is on a big 4K push, automatically upgrading customers’ past movie purchases to the new format so they can stream them in 4K, even if the movies were originally purchased in standard- or high-definition.
Redbox has nearly doubled the selection of films and TV shows available on its year-old digital movie store, Redbox On Demand, and last December announced a new deal in which its app is featured on all Vizio SmartCast TVs — in addition to TVs from Samsung and LG.
And Apple’s iTunes service began the year with a game-changing deal with No. 1 TV manufacturer Samsung. New Samsung SmartCast TVs will allow consumers to access their iTunes movie and TV show libraries through a new app. They’ll also be able to buy new movies or TV shows directly through the app.
As an added benefit to consumers, Google Play Movies & TV, iTunes and FandangoNow have also joined Movies Anywhere, the cloud-based movie locker service that allows consumers to access their digital libraries.
The Media Play Fast Forward awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.
The first Media Play Fast Forward honorees, recognized last year, were Movies Anywhere and Fox Innovation Labs.
FandangoNow is a transactional VOD service owned by Fandango, the nation’s leading movie consumer destination, which also owns Rotten Tomatoes and MovieClips, the top multi-channel network for trailers and movie-related content. FandangoNow serves millions of visitors a month, with more than 80,000 new-release and catalog movies, next-day TV shows, and a growing library of 4K titles available to watch on more than 200 million connected, over-the-top and mobile devices.
The business is split fairly evenly between electronic purchases and rentals, says VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas, and the service’s heavy push into 4K has resulted in 20% of transactions coming from the ultra HD format when available.
FandangoNow — which prior to its January 2016 acquisition by Fandango was known as M-GO, a joint venture launched three years earlier by DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor — doesn’t rely on algorithms. Instead, its entertainment options are hand-picked by in-house film experts, celebrity guest curators and further spiced up by Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer scores and editors’ picks.
The service also boldly plays up the fact that it offers high-demand content not available on Netflix and the other streaming services.
“We’re proud of our differentiated offerings that you can’t find on iTunes or Amazon,” Douglas says. “For instance, each month we highlight a selection of ‘Fresh Picks,’ critically-acclaimed titles that you’ll want to see but aren’t available on Netflix or other streaming subscription services. Each title is rated fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and is only $2.49 to rent. We also innovated a first-of-its-kind rental initiative called ‘Binge Bundles,’ offering multiple titles from fan-favorite franchises and themed collections, bundled together to rent and binge for one low price.”
What might be FandangoNow’s trump card is its ability to tie in digital movie sales and rentals with movie ticket sales. Most recently, FandangoNow offered a free DreamWorks Animation movie to fans who purchased Fandango VIP tickets to early access screenings of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Another recent promotion offered a free movie ticket for every $20 spent on FandangoNow. “We are a full-service destination for film fans,” Douglas says.
Douglas had been SVP of content at M-GO prior to FandangoNow’s 2016 launch. Before that he held senior positions at top entertainment media companies including DreamWorks, Paramount, Fox and Disney. He began his career in 1986 as manager of affiliate marketing and programming at Showtime Networks, and later held operations, product and merchandising posts at Musicland and Disney Stores. Douglas began his involvement with home entertainment in 1993 when he joined Buena Vista Home Video, at the time Disney’s home video distribution arm, as senior sales analyst and, later, assistant marketing manager. Today Douglas also serves as the chair of the home entertainment industry group, the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA).
Google Play Movies & TV
Google Play Movies & TV is an online video store 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. Google Play gives customers one place to find, enjoy and share their favorite apps, games, movies, TV shows, music, books and more, on the Web for any device.
Google Play Movies & TV, like the other Google Play services, 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.
Google Movies & TV has been particularly aggressive on the promotional front, offering 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 last month, 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.
The biggest buzz at Google Play, at least among movie enthusiasts, is its 4K upgrade feature. The digital retailer last October announced in a blog posting that when 4K titles are available, the service will automatically upgrade customers’ past movie purchases “so you can stream in 4K, even if you originally bought the movie in SD or HD. 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, Google announced “you can now watch in 4K using the Play Movies & TV app on most 4K Samsung Smart TVs, and we’re working on adding support for LG as well.” In addition, the Google Play app for Samsung, LG and Vizio TVs was updated.
Jonathan Zepp leads Media & Entertainment for Android & Google Play. He describes himself as “an entertainment content enthusiast fortunate to find my way to Google at a time when the company was broadly considering how to think about entertainment content.”
Zepp is charged with looking after partnerships and business strategy for entertainment, sports and news video content. He and his team also drive business and content operations for Google Pay Movies & TV. He previously led content partnerships for YouTube in the Americas. Prior to joining Google Play in June 2011, Zepp held key digital entertainment leadership roles at Sony Network Entertainment, Paramount Pictures and Napster. A graduate of the Boston University School of Law, he began his career as a corporate and intellectual property lawyer.
Redbox On Demand
If you only think of Redbox for its fleet of more than 41,500 bright-red DVD and Blu-ray Disc rental kiosks, stationed outside Walmarts, supermarkets and drugstores, you’re only getting half the picture.
Redbox also operates a digital movie store, Redbox On Demand, that since its launch in December 2017 has “surpassed major milestones to become a real player in the competitive digital home entertainment space,” says Redbox CEO Galen Smith.
Redbox On Demand was established as a complement to the disc-rental kiosks for which the Redbox brand was known. “Our customers come to us for that transactional experience — it’s Friday night, and they want to watch a specific movie,” Smith told Media Play News in January 2018. “We try to satisfy them with our kiosk network, but there are occasions where you might not want to go out and rent a movie from a kiosk. So rather than lose that transactional occasion, we’re giving them the chance to get it online.”
Consumers are seizing that opportunity, Smith says. Nearly 60% of Redbox On Demand consumers are people who have either stopped renting discs at Redbox kiosks or never patronized Redbox before, Smith says.
“We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of customers, including bringing back folks we haven’t seen in a while,” he says. The On Demand service has even surpassed expectations in its ability to bring customers back to the box.
Last December, Redbox On Demand celebrated its one-year anniversary with a most welcome development: Redbox apps are now featured on all Vizio SmartCast TVs. Without apps, it’s hard for digital retailers to sell or rent movies over the Internet. Redbox apps are also available on TVs made by Samsung and LG, and the addition of Vizio — also a top 10 brand — is significant, says Chris Yates, general manager of Redbox On Demand.
Redbox continues to aggressively seek out partnerships with consumer electronics companies to install Redbox On Demand apps on new TVs and devices.
The company also continues to expand its library of content “to include more titles we know our customers want to watch,” Smith says. “Since launch, we’ve added about 5,000 titles, and now have more than 12,000 curated titles in our library. We are focused on providing consumers the content they want most.
“As the industry continues to evolve, consumers are inundated with more entertainment choices, but Redbox and our Redbox On Demand operate in a unique position offering choice across a wide variety of formats and price points. We’re pleased with the momentum we’re seeing with Redbox On Demand — particularly in bringing people back into the Redbox ecosystem.”
Smith was named CEO of Redbox in 2016 and is the architect behind many of the company’s major achievements, including Redbox On Demand and removing delays in studio windows at the kiosk. A former Morgan Stanley investment banker with an MBA from the University of Chicago, Smith, 42, joined the finance team at Redbox in May 2009 as director of corporate finance. Coinstar, the operator of a network of coin-cashing machines, had just acquired the other half of Redbox from the McDonald’s Corp. Within two years, Smith had become SVP of finance for Redbox. “I loved being in the business,” he told Media Play News. “I started negotiating studio contracts and building relationships across the ecosystem.”
Smith was the CFO of Outerwall (Coinstar’s new moniker) when the company was sold to private equity investor Apollo Global Management in September 2016, and Smith was named CEO of Redbox.
“With this offering, we are giving consumers more choices than ever before,” Smith says of Redbox On Demand. “We are bringing them back into the Redbox ecosystem and reminding them of the great value we offer at the box at $1.75 a night.”
Less than three months after the June 2006 launch of Blu-ray Disc as the next-generation physical media product, Apple’s then 3-year-old iTunes Store birthed the digital movie sales business.
“Today, we are making more than 75 films available online, and we will be adding more every month,” the late Apple founder Steve Jobs told reporters at a September 2006 press event. The first batch of films were from Disney, Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax, “including Pirates of the Caribbean and Cars,” he said.
Two years later, in his Macworld 2008 keynote, Jobs announced iTunes would begin “renting” movies over the Internet, as well.
Since then, the iTunes Store has continued to be among the most aggressive digital retailers, with a growing library of what now numbers about 112,000 movies and 300,000 TV shows for sale or rent, playable across a broad swath of Apple devices. A “Family Sharing” feature lets up to six people in a family share each other’s iTunes purchases.
Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple’s share for selling and renting movies, TV shows and other video content had dropped to between 20% and 35% — down from over 50% as recently as 2012. Despite the percentage drop, Apple told the Journal that its movie rentals and purchases had risen over the previous year and had reached their highest level in more than a decade.
Apple keeps a sharp eye on what’s going on in theaters. For the release earlier this month 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.
On the eve of the January CES in Las Vegas, Samsung Electronics announced it will offer iTunes movies and TV shows, and provide Apple AirPlay 2 support, on 2019 Samsung Smart TV models beginning this spring. In what is believed to be an industry first, a new iTunes Movies and TV Shows app will debut only on Samsung Smart TVs in more than 100 countries. AirPlay 2 support will be available on Samsung Smart TVs in 190 countries worldwide.
Speaking at the Samsung “First Look CES” preview event at the Aria Resort & Casino, Andrew Sivori, a VP of TV product marketing at Samsung Electronics America, told members of the press, “For the first time, users in more than 100 countries will be able to access the iTunes Movies and TV Shows app. … Users will be able to access their iTunes Movies and TV Shows purchases as well as buy or watch something new from the iTunes store.”
Q&A: 10 Questions
We sat down with three of our Fast Forward-winning retailers — in a virtual way, of course — for a discussion of key points affecting the digital movie sales-and-rental trade. (Jonathan Zepp was traveling; his quotes are from an earlier interview with Thomas K. Arnold in Variety.)
How do we get across to consumers the value proposition of buying or “renting” a digital movie when they are used to an all-you-can watch “buffet” from Netflix and the other streaming services for a little more than $10 a month?
Cameron Douglas, FandangoNow: “Premium content for purchase has always coexisted with subscription services. When I worked at the studios, we always knew our titles would hit the pay window on HBO or elsewhere at some point, but we still had reliably significant volume for the physical DVDs and Blu-ray Discs for a long retail lifecycle. As subscription offerings continue to grow, so too does consumer comfort and familiarity with streaming. You soon discover that the breadth of content out there requires the frequent tap of a ‘Buy’ or ‘Rent’ button, even if you already have access to one or more subscription services, because those subscription services often don’t have the movie you want.”
Galen Smith, Redbox: “Redbox — at the box and On Demand — offers new-release movies that subscription services won’t have for months, years or ever. ‘Back to the Movies’ is a Redbox initiative that was soft launched in August 2018. It speaks to and reminds people what movie watching used to be, the nostalgia it creates for so many people, and why we need to get it back. Entertainment consumption has become a solo event of endless scrolling, binging for hours, or sitting in a room with everyone on their own devices. But being together is missing. So with our Back to the Movies initiative, we are encouraging consumers to take a step back. Watching a movie used to bring people together, and we need to make an effort to do it again. And just because you have an all-you-can-eat solution, some of the best content is not available in subscription. Redbox provides the best content at the best value.”
Jonathan Zepp, Google Play Movies & TV: “The subscription streaming model offers a compelling value proposition for many users, but a lot of great content is not available in that model. That is especially true for users who value earlier access to the most popular new-release movies. I’d love to see the industry articulate the value proposition of the transactional model relative to subscription and ad-supported options, especially around content availability. We are thinking a lot about how to make this awareness more intuitive within our ecosystem.”
What makes your digital service unique?
Douglas: “Fandango is the only company out there in our space solely dedicated to the full entertainment lifecycle, from pre-release awareness and trailer buzz through Fandango MovieClips to the first reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, advance tickets on Fandango to home entertainment on FandangoNow. One might guess that’s just an internal operational benefit, but it’s actually a boon for consumers too. For example, this year we were able to be a big part of the awards season conversation, across Fandango, FandangoNow, and of course Rotten Tomatoes as well. Fans flocked to our network looking to catch up with the year’s best movies, knowing that Fandango could give them access to all the awards contenders in one place, whether the films were only playing on the big screen or already available at home.”
Smith: “Three things. First, choice. Redbox is dedicated to making Movie Nights memorable and meaningful events that can be enjoyed across a wide variety of formats and price points. DVD rentals start at $1.75 a night, Blu-ray Disc rentals start at $2 a night and 4K UHD rentals in select markets for $2.50 a night. Via Redbox On Demand, Video On Demand rentals start at $3.99 a night for new releases. Consumers can also purchase previously rented movies and games at the box or through On Demand via electronic sellthrough.
“Second, value. Enhancing our value at the box, our loyalty program ‘Redbox Perks’ rewards customers with points for free rentals when they rent or purchase movies at the box or On Demand. The program now has more than 32 million members, with more than 3 million new customers joining in 2018 alone.
“And, third, marketing. Recent promotions, such as ‘Stream On Demand, Get a Free Physical Rental’ have proven to drive both On Demand and physical rentals from new and lapsed customers. Redbox Perks includes three tiers (Star, Superstar, Legend) to recognize our most valuable customers with special benefits; and badging that gives them fun challenges to earn serious bragging rights. Related to our Back to the Movies initiative, a new ‘Family Fun’ badge is earned when Perks members watch three movies that bring the family together for Movie Night. Also, our incredibly popular ‘Spin’ series offers gamified promotions like Summer Spin and Winter Spin that give customers the ability to win instant prizes and be entered for larger prizes (entertainment packages and fun trips).”
Zepp: “Since our launch we have worked to constantly iterate and improve the experience for consumers. This includes establishing a global footprint. We are … available in more markets than any other transactional service in the world right now.”
What key moves/strategies have helped grow the transactional business at large and at your service in particular in the past year?
Douglas: “We were early adopters of 4K back in 2014, and it was a good bet for us to be first-to-market in 4K in those early days. That part of our business has grown over the years to become a truly significant part of FandangoNow in the past year. 4K has become one of the main ways that mainstream consumers make the transition from physical to digital. Last year, we also began a concerted effort to converge the FandangoNow experience across all of our apps, whether you are using Web, mobile, one of our connected TV apps, or of course our native experience on Roku. I’d say right now, our 10-foot experience on connected TV’s is the best in the market.”
Smith: “We’ve built out a talented and dedicated team to support the Redbox On Demand business across product management, technology, content acquisition, merchandising and marketing. Further, our service offers access to consumers that no other digital retailer can provide, which makes us an incredibly valuable partner. We are expanding the category, and for that I am excited about the year ahead.”
Has the studio strategy of giving digital movies a two- or three-week window over the DVD and Blu-ray Disc release proved effective? What else would you like to see the studios do?
Smith: “Each of the studios would need to opine on its effectiveness across the broader base. For our segment of the market, many of our consumers simply cannot or are not willing to pay $15 to $20 for a movie. It’s one reason our rental business is much larger than our electronic sellthrough business. There is a marketing benefit in letting our consumers know a movie is on its way to the kiosk and VOD.”
What have been your key marketing/promotional efforts in the past year?
Smith: “Redbox recently relaunched the brand, including digital and TV spots as well as sponsorships, such as the Redbox Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Our Perks loyalty program has become a major marketing engine for Redbox with new badging opportunities that range from seasonal and title-specific marketing to promotional support. We’re proud of our Back to the Movies initiative that has launched across Redbox social media channels and through media partnerships with Attn: and Scary Mommy (media companies leveraging social media).”
Netflix has made content recommendations a hallmark of its service. Can that technology be applied to the digital retail market?
Douglas: “Recommendations are already part of what we do at FandangoNow, and it continues to get better and better. In the case of Fandango, it comes down to personalization more than discrete recommendations — this is a big focus for us.”
Smith: “Definitely. Personalizing an experience for a consumer is important. Even though we try to curate content for consumers, we want to make sure that the most relevant content is recommended to improve their experience. To accomplish this, we have a new recommendation engine rolling out to all of our platforms that leverages our history of rental occasions over the past 16 years to suggest the content the consumer may want to watch most.
“To augment this, we have invested heavily in our Marketing Analytics team to help refine the algorithms that drive our recommendations. In 2018 we developed an enhanced customer segmentation and targeted marketing programs aligned with these segments. These campaigns are designed to drive repeat visits for new customers, increase frequency for engaged customers, and grow retention among our long-tenured customers. We continue to build additional machine-learning models (artificial intelligence) to optimize our promotions and deliver personalized recommendations to our customers across our storefronts. In the process, we are driving incremental trips and making the customer experience better by surfacing the most relevant titles to our customers in our outbound marketing and on our storefronts.”
Uniform pricing remains a mandate among digital platforms — unlike among packaged-media retail. Will there ever be loss-leader pricing on new-release digital titles?
Smith: “Redbox is in a unique position to drive value through our Perks loyalty program that earns physical rentals for On Demand and box transactions. We also work closely with studios to offer and promote promotional temporary price reductions on specific titles.”
A hallmark of packaged media has been special features and bonus material. Why aren’t those features included and/or marketed for digital?
Douglas: “They are included to some extent, and most of the digital retailers, including FandangoNow, have tried and tested various ways of surfacing this content. It certainly was a great way to entice consumers to buy in the physical era, whether or not the content was ever watched by most buyers. I think the bar is higher for digital and as an industry we need to make this marketing tactic even more relevant in the digital era.”
Smith: “That’s a great question. We love having the special features on our physical discs but would also love to have them on digital purchases as well.”
The Sky Store in the U.K. includes a DVD with any digital movie purchase. Any plans to replicate that strategy in the United States?
Smith: “We don’t have that strategy specifically, but if you think about our loyalty program, we are trying to encourage consumption on both digital and physical by awarding points for digital transactions that can be used on physical product. We think we can uniquely bring the two worlds together.”
Netflix is partnering with telecoms and pay-TV operators to offer discounted and/or free service in exchange for access to new subscribers.
Would digital retail consider partnering with SVOD to sell the latter’s original content in addition to including free Netflix access with each digital transaction?
Douglas: “Everything is on the table, as long as it supports our core Fandango consumer brand promise, which is to provide premium content, whenever and wherever fans want to see it, whether it’s the theater or at home. We’re seeing new models — and more acronyms! — every day, and I’m so grateful to be a part of such an exciting era of growth and innovation at Fandango.”
Smith: “Unlikely. It makes sense for someone selling bandwidth and data to partner with Netflix so that their consumers use more bandwidth (Comcast, T-Mobile). For Netflix originals (or Hulu or Amazon, for that matter) we would happily offer their content to our consumers at the kiosk or on VOD as available. In fact, we offer a number of their originals today. It is great for us as it offers consumers the opportunity to try an original at a great value, and if they like it, we can be a great acquisition channel for the respective SVOD service. Not every consumer will want to commit to a monthly fee, let alone multiple services, so we think we can stand in the gap and offer content on a transactional VOD and physical basis to help extend reach.”