Streaming and consolidation dominated the home entertainment headlines in 2019, with the Walt Disney Co. leading the way. Netflix got some subscription streaming competition, and free streaming through advertising, or AVOD, emerged as a new star. It was also a year that saw the home entertainment industry lose a venerable studio player that had helped birth the business more than 40 years prior — 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Meanwhile, physical disc sales and rentals continued a structural decline, while electronic sellthrough, the digital sale of content, was a solid performer in the transactional business.
Here are the top 10 home entertainment stories of 2019, as chosen by Media Play News staff:
- Disney Acquires Fox: Disney closed its $71.3 billion purchase of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. The deal included myriad Fox properties, including Fox’s interest in Hulu and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, which helped birth the home video industry in 1979. The merger also saw the departure of several executives, including Mike Dunn and James Finn at Fox and Janice Marinelli, president of global content sales & distribution for Disney’s direct-to-consumer & international unit.
- Disney + Bows: Calling it the company’s most-important consumer product ever, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the launch of Disney+, a standalone SVOD service aimed at taking on segment pioneer Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The service launched Nov. 12 at $6.99 a month offering a trove of catalog movies, including its venerable animated classics and Marvel hits, and catalog TV shows, in addition to original “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian,” an instant fan hit from director Jon Favreau. Disney also unveiled the bundle offer of ESPN+, Hulu (now controlled by Disney) and Disney+ at $12.99 a month.
- AVOD in the Spotlight: Advertising-supported video-on-demand, or AVOD, emerged from the SVOD shadows, gaining traction among subscription-weary consumers looking for free content. Mega-media companies Comcast, Viacom (through the acquisition of Pluto TV) and Amazon (through IMDb) acknowledged the growing market. Reports surfaced that Comcast is eyeing acquiring AVOD player Xumo TV to go along with 2020’s Peacock streaming service debut.
- Apple TV+ Launches: Apple Nov. 1 launched a standalone branded subscription streaming service at $4.99 a month, Apple TV+, in more than 100 countries and regions through the Apple TV app. Original content included Golden Globe-nominated “The Morning Show,” “See,” “For All Mankind” and “Dickinson.”
- Electronic Sellthrough Continues to Grow: Outside of subscription streaming video, the only home entertainment category to post an increase in consumer spending during much of 2019 was electronic sellthrough, the digital purchase of movies and other content. The segment generated an estimated $1.9 billion in consumer spending through the third quarter of 2019, up 6.7% from the previous-year period, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.
- Redbox Gets Into Content, Out of Disney Movie Code Sales: Redbox launched Redbox Entertainment, a new label to acquire and produce content exclusive for Redbox’s 50 million kiosk consumers. The company tapped Broad Green Pictures and Lionsgate veteran Marc Danon to head content acquisition. The kiosk vendor also settled 2-year-old litigation with Disney, agreeing not to sell the studio’s digital movie codes.
- Filmmakers Tweak UHD: The UHD Alliance, along with leaders in consumer electronics, Hollywood studios and members of the filmmaking community, announced collaboration on a new viewing mode for watching movies and episodic TV called “Filmmaker Mode,” designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended.
- Netflix Takes a U.S. Sub Hit: Disaster struck Wall Street favorite Netflix after the streaming behemoth posted a 126,000 domestic subscriber loss in Q2 after projecting growth of 300,000 subs. It was Netflix’s first domestic sub loss since 2011 when co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings announced the short-lived separation of the company’s DVD rental business from its subscription streaming business. Regardless, stock plummet nearly 20% (or $26 billion) in value after the disappointing numbers.
- Changes Afoot at Vudu: Vudu — rumored to be up for sale by owner Walmart, which executives told The Information considers it a non-core business — quietly downsized support for its Vudu To Go/In-Home Disc to Digital app, effective Jan. 1, 2020. The digital movie transactional service will still allow users to convert DVD and Blu-ray movies for digital access by scanning UPC codes on the Vudu app via select portable devices such as a mobile phone and tablet.
- Netflix Hails Discs: Taking its eye off its dominant streaming business for a moment, Netflix acknowledged a milestone: Delivery of 5 billion discs since the launch of its legacy disc-by-mail rental service more than two decades ago. The disc rental: Paramount’s Rocketman.