Citing “an abundance of caution” due to escalating coronavirus variant infections nationwide, technology research firm GfK North America Dec. 30 announced it would forego its scheduled in-person presentation at the CES Research Summit next week (Jan. 5-8) in Las Vegas.
Instead, GfK said it would share the same tech insights on “techno mobility” via an interactive “learning session” on Jan. 27. Interested parties can sign up for the GfK virtual session at this link.
The AP reports that new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average, a surge driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The 2021 edition of WonderCon has been canceled as a result of continued concerns over large crowds as the coronavirus pandemic lingers into its second year.
The event had been slated for March 26-28 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The fan gathering is organized by the Comic-Con International group, which also presents the annual San Diego Comic-Con International, an annual mecca for studios and content creators to interact with pop-culture fans, and showcase new movies and TV shows.
In a Feb. 11 announcement, organizers wrote: “2020 was a difficult year all around. For the first time in the history of our organization, we were unable to have in-person events for WonderCon or Comic-Con. We have hoped that by now, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might have subsided enough that we could once again come together in person for a traditional WonderCon event. Sadly, as we continue to monitor the latest information from healthcare officials, we have determined the interest of public safety will prevent this spring’s WonderCon from moving forward as an in-person convention.”
Instead, for the second year the event will transform into WonderCon@Home, and will be held on Friday, March 26, and Saturday, March 27. More information is available at comic-con.org.
“The challenges of this past year and the postponement of our two largest events have left us with limited financial resources,” organizers wrote. “Therefore WonderCon@Home will be a two-day celebration instead of the usual three days as we continue to marshal our resources for Comic-Con this summer.”
While not as large as San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon Anaheim has been a popular destination from nearby Hollywood to promote the latest pop culture projects. WonderCon typically draws about 60,000 attendees, about half of its San Diego counterpart.
“Our commitment to the community of fans who enjoy WonderCon and the celebration of comics and related popular art remains an important part of who we are,” organizers wrote. “We would like to thank everyone for your continued support as we anxiously look forward to a time when we can once again meet in person to celebrate comics, popular art, and spend time with our dedicated community of fans.”
No updates were offered on the status of Comic-Con, which remains slated for July 22-25 at the San Diego Convention Center and Downtown San Diego. The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
In a sign of the pandemic times, Nielsen announced it would begin tracking theatrical movies released separately or concurrent with box office distribution.
After Universal Pictures reported generating $100 million streaming animated sequel Trolls World Tour on PVOD instead of theaters early in the pandemic, the evolution of theatrical distribution has changed significantly. Nielsen contends the entire media food chain, from studios to talent, have a need to analyze the volume and reach of their audiences by detailed household and person’s characteristics, such as age and gender, ethnicity or even territory.
Nielsen’s TVOD measurement service will help clients uncover how many people are streaming this type of valuable content in relation to other content options. Additionally, it will deliver detailed demographic and behavioral information beyond what the standard box office metrics, transactional rental or purchase information often provides, allowing for crucial audience-driven decisions in regard to licensing and promotion.
The pandemic has driven a rise in streaming consumption. In fact, streaming now accounts for nearly a quarter (23%) of total usage among OTT video capable homes, up from 21% just a year prior, and a much broader swath of consumers have enabled streaming capabilities, presenting a new opportunity to deliver this form of entertainment directly.
“As this unprecedented pandemic continues to influence consumer behavior, perhaps even through a prolonged state of recovery waves, being able to measure and help clients appropriately monetize new revenue streams has never been more crucial,” Scott Brown, GM of audience measurement for Nielsen, said in a statement.
Brown said Nielsen would monitor audience behavior following any virus recovery; how the adopted stay-at-home orders might influence habits when consumers have the ability to go back to theaters.
“[Nielsen will track] how content creators will leverage data to make the best decisions regarding distribution platforms in the future,” Brown said.
NEWS ANALYSIS — Recapping the home entertainment business in 2020 is best left to an acronym that by now has been ingrained in all of our heads: COVID-19.
One of the most dramatic consequences of the global pandemic was the closure of movie theaters and government mandates to stay at home as much as possible, two developments that benefited home entertainment.
Streaming services reported major spikes in viewership, and the home entertainment divisions of the major Hollywood studios reported significant gains in transactional revenue despite the near-total lack of fresh theatrical product. New movies debuted digitally, at premium prices. And thanks to creative marketing and a rash of high-profile anniversary and 4K Ultra HD releases, sales of catalog movies soared, both digitally and on disc.
“2020 has been a year like no other as a result of the COVID pandemic, which affected the entertainment industry in profound ways,” said Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “Anticipated changes in the home entertainment industry were accelerated this year as the pandemic spurred an increase in demand for content, placing an enhanced importance on the digital availability of our titles as we worked to satisfy consumers’ demand for at-home solutions.”
“The overriding trend we saw in 2020 was consumers’ hunger for, love of, and engagement with entertainment content,” added Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. “When new releases slowed as a result of production halts and theater closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers hardly missed a beat, they just expanded their viewing to include many catalog movies and TV shows, as well as discovering films that were independent productions or may have had limited prior release.”
Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures, agrees. “It has been an incredibly challenging year on many fronts and we are glad to have been able to provide a little relief to people by delivering entertainment into their homes through collaboration with our vendor community and in partnership with our physical and digital retailers,” he said.
A case can be made that COVID-19 didn’t really bring about monumental changes in the entertainment industry. Rather, the pandemic accelerated changes that were already in the works: specifically, declining movie theater attendance and a steady increase in streaming video subscriptions.
Two months before the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic led to the closure of movie theaters around the world, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) in January 2020 reported that the number of U.S. movie admissions in 2019 declined nearly 5% to 1.24 billion from a 2002 peak of 1.57 billion.
Studios had been pushing for shorter theatrical windows for years, maintaining that most movies had pretty much run their big-screen course after 30 days, much less the 90 days that typically elapsed between a film’s theatrical launch and its availability for home viewing. Some top studio executives were even calling for simultaneous releases, with films becoming available for home viewing — albeit at a premium price — the same day as their theatrical bow. The stumbling block: resistance from exhibitors, who balked at any attempts, or even just talk, of cutting into their exclusive window.
But when theaters went dark in mid-March, exhibitor leverage disappeared, overnight. PVOD was no longer a strategic objective, but, rather, a necessity, as studios had no other way to recoup production expenses.
Universal Pictures struck first, immediately making its entire theatrical slate available for home viewing on March 16. Three weeks later, Trolls World Tour was the first big film to premiere simultaneously on PVOD and in the handful of theaters, mostly drive-ins, that remained open, and the results were strong enough that more tentpole releases followed, including Scoob! from Warner Bros., the comedy sequel Bill & Ted: Face the Music and Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan — which debuted on Disney+ as a “Premier Access” title for an additional charge.
At first, exhibitors balked. AMC Theatres, the country’s largest chain of movie theaters, initially vowed to boycott all future Universal Pictures releases. But in a June report, Wall Street analyst Robert Fishman of MoffetNathanson wrote that while exhibitors have until now been able to stand their ground, “this time is different in that all of the major studios … are likely to be more aggressive with windowing strategies. As long as multiple studios push forward with PVOD or some other form of window changes, the balance of power in favor of studios shifts even more in their favor and reduces the leverage the exhibitors have as they would be unlikely to boycott multiple studios’ upcoming releases.”
A month later, AMC and Universal announced a landmark distribution deal for the studio’s new-release movies, beginning in November. The agreement allowed Universal to distribute titles on PVOD three weekends (as little as 17 days) after their initial bow in AMC Theatres, in return for a split. Four months later, AMC CEO Adam Aron called the arrangement a success, telling analysts on an earnings call, “On the only one of [six planned] PVOD movies that has been released as of yet, our analysis is that AMC [not only] came out ahead financially as we had modeled, but much better than some [analysts] had postulated or feared.”
In December, the “balance of power” Fishman referred to in his report shifted further with the bombshell announcement by Warner Bros. that it would simultaneously release all its movies through 2021 in theaters and on Warner’s new streaming platform, HBO Max, beginning with Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas. The 17-film 2021 slate includes the new Dune adaptation, The Matrix 4 and The Suicide Squad.
The coronavirus pandemic also accelerated the push toward streaming, although subscription video-on-demand, or SVOD, had long been on a roll, with DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group reporting annual gains in consumer spending on steaming services of 22% to 45% for the last 10 years.
Part of this was due to the launch of several new high-profile services competing with established leaders Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Two launched in November 2019, Disney+ and Apple TV+. This year saw the rollout of two more high-profile services, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock.
Fears that the proliferation of subscription streaming services would lead to cannibalization have been unfounded. Instead, with captive audiences choosing, or ordered, to stick close to home due to the raging pandemic, it’s truly been a case of the more, the merrier.
“Recent research from the NPD Group shows that the average U.S. consumer now relies on seven different streaming video services, up from five in April,” said the DEG’s Amy Jo Smith. “This is another case of the pandemic accelerating a trend that was already underway.”
Disney+ is far and away the biggest success story, with the Walt Disney Co. on its Nov. 12 fiscal call reporting that the service had reached 73.7 million global subs, well ahead of company projections. Less than a month later, on Dec. 2, Disney announced that its branded subscription service had reached 86.8 million subs. Meanwhile, Netflix was no slouch, quieting critics with outsized subscriber growth projected at 34 million additions through the end of this year and double-digit revenue gains.
In November, Hub Entertainment Research found the average person is accessing 60% more streaming video services in 2020 than they did in 2018, while 90% of households with children living at home subscribe to more than one OTT video service.
“We’ve seen the number of providers per [survey] respondent rise to an all-time high during the pandemic,” analyst Jon Giegengack said in a note at the time. “The average respondent had 4.8 services. That was going up anyway, but the pandemic turbocharged it.”
Aside from the crash of the theatrical business, the emergence of PVOD and the near-saturation of subscription streaming, 2020 will be remembered as a year when home entertainment marketers, with no fresh theatrical product, managed to survive and even thrive on their own laurels.
A month into the pandemic, in April, Warner Bros.’s Jim Wuthrich said home entertainment transactional spending shot up 38% since mid-March.
“Our digital sellthrough business as [has] been up over 100% each week since safer at home began,” he said, speaking at the virtual DEG Expo.
The trend slowed as the country began to open back up, but in August the DEG reported that consumer spending on digital entertainment purchases and VOD rentals in April, May and June shot up 54%. Even nine months into the year most studio home entertainment divisions reported year-over-year gains in revenue despite virtually no theatrical product.
“We kept our content pipeline flowing by leveraging our vast catalog and releasing many remastered 4K UHD titles, both physically and digitally, including Beetlejuice, The Goonies, Full Metal Jacket and 300,” Wuthrich said. “The ongoing demand for classic titles in 4K for at-home viewing will continue to make our catalog business a relevant and profitable area for us.”
The DEG reported that for the first nine months of 2020, electronic sellthrough spending was up 15.8% to an estimated $2.2 billion, while electronic rental was up nearly 24% to an estimated $1.8 billion. Only disc sales were down, with DEG estimating combined consumer spending on Blu-ray Discs and DVDs slipped nearly 23% in the first nine months of the year to about $1.8 billion — a not uncommon decline, given the normal transition to digital, but one that observers say might have been compounded by store closures due to regional bans on “non-essential” retail.
The DEG’s Smith notes that during the second quarter, “at the height of new stay-at-home orders across the United States, consumer spending rose 57% on electronic sellthrough. This tells us that consumers are interested in building their digital collections, and that collecting favorite films provides a great value, particularly for families. Electronic sellthrough is also a model undergoing some really interesting innovation and experimentation in terms of pricing and release windows.”
Dametra Johnson-Marletti, corporate VP of the Microsoft digital stores category, said Microsoft Movies & TV “thrives most on new blockbuster content, in the traditional post-theatrical, home entertainment window. With new production shuttered for much of the year, and top content either being released to SVOD or pushed to 2021, our TVOD service has faced some headwinds. Our team had to become very creative and scrappy as they worked with our studio partners to continue to find unique avenues for growth. We had a multi-part strategy that included shifting more focus to our catalog by bringing forward a lot of the fan favorites and classics for consumers to find more easily. We also focused on building great thematic and seasonal collections with our studio partners. Finally, we have the fortune of also managing a thriving gaming business, so the ability to build great movie/game bundles has served us well.”
Looking back, Paramount’s Bob Buchi said it’s been a year of major changes. “We successfully launched our first PVOD releases, shifted our emphasis to catalog titles, and maximized our distribution deals with companies like Saban, Miramax and Romulus, which has greatly helped us to meet consumers’ demand for new entertainment while they also discover old favorites,” he said. “And because of the year’s unique circumstances, we exceeded our revenue projections.”
The effects of the pandemic, he added, “have magnified the shifts across all industries — from telemedicine and online education to flexible work arrangements and the entertainment industry. The transition to digital ownership has been steadily growing amidst the explosion of streaming platforms, all of which has opened up new ways for consumers to enjoy content — a trend that is certain to continue.
“What we saw this year was an anomaly, but it also demonstrated our ability to pivot and continue to monetize our content through the distribution strategies and platforms that are available to us and that make the most sense. All of these options — including traditional theatrical distribution — will continue to co-exist in a post-pandemic world.”
Fiscally challenged AMC Entertainment, parent of world’s largest movie theater chain, AMC Theatres, is selling 50 million shares of Class A Common Stock to generate about $125 million in much-needed funding.
AMC said it will use the proceeds for “general corporate purchases, which include repayment, refinancing, redemption, or repurchase of outstanding debt.”
AMC shares are down 68% in 2020 after the pandemic all but shuttered the chain’s business in mid-March as the coronavirus began to spread. Earlier this month, AMC announced it had enough funds to keep the doors open through January.
Headquartered in Leawood, Kansas, AMC celebrated its 100th birthday this year. The chain is the largest operator of movie theaters in world; as of December 2020 it has a global count of 960 theaters and 10,700 screens, down from 1,004 theaters and 11,041 screens at the beginning of this year, according to its corporate website.
From July to November, one-third of consumers in Hub’s “Predicting the Pandemic” research survey had signed up for a new TV service, up six points from the summer.
The second, just-released wave of the study shows how the pandemic has accelerated the already well-established shift to online consumption of entertainment content.
During that same period, one in four canceled a TV service, up five points. All told, 40% had made at least some change to their TV subscriptions by November, nine points higher than in the summer.
The top four streaming services saw the strongest net increases among those who either added or dropped. Netflix and Disney+ were the most likely to see a net gain in November with half of those who made changes to their TV services adding Netflix and one-third adding Disney+. Meanwhile, only single-digit percentages dropped each of these services.
On the other hand, consumers were much more likely to drop a live TV service than to add one. Half of those who made TV service changes dropped a live TV streaming service (such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV or Sling TV). One-third dropped a traditional cable, satellite or telco TV subscription. Fewer than one in five added either type of service.
Use of free, ad-supported TV platforms (AVODs) continued to accelerate, including the newly launched, free version of Peacock. AVOD use continued the upward trend seen in the summer with the percent using each major service up since July (and use in July was higher than February, before the start of the crisis). Peacock, released to the general public in mid-July, has quickly become the third-most watched AVOD service, behind the Roku Channel and Tubi.
With many films skipping theatrical release due to COVID, consumer purchase of first-run movies from streaming platforms has jumped significantly. One-fourth of all TV consumers in November said they’d purchased a first-run movie from a streamer, up from fewer than one in five over the summer.
Among those who currently owned a Smart TV, 26% said they purchased their Smart TV during the pandemic — up a full 12 points from July.
“If there were any doubts that some of the changes we’re seeing in leisure habits are here to stay, those doubts were erased when Warner Bros. announced that its entire slate of 2021 films would be released on HBO Max at the same time as theaters,” said Peter Fondulas, principal at Hub and co-author of the study, in a statement. “And with providers like Comcast deciding to impose data caps across its entire footprint as of Jan. 1, it’s clear that many companies agree that streaming content is now the new normal.”
In an unprecedented move for a major tentpole title, Warner Bros.’s highly anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 will debut in theaters and on streaming service HBO Max on the very same day, Dec. 25.
After a series of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, Warner Bros. had finally set Wonder Woman 1984 for a Christmas Day theatrical release. Following tepid box office response to Warner’s Tenet over the summer, and with a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide, industry observers had been speculating whether Warner would again push back the release of the big-budget comic book blockbuster into 2021, as many other studios have done with their tentpole titles.
Instead, Warner on Nov. 18 announced that instead of moving Wonder Woman 1984 off its theatrical date, it would instead release the film on HBO Max as well.
HBO Max subscribers in the United States will be able to access the film for a month with no additional cost to the $14.99 monthly fee (HBO Max offers a seven-day free trial for new members). International markets without HBO Max access, the film will open Dec. 16.
A sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, which grossed $821.8 million worldwide, the follow-up reunites director Patty Jenkins with star Gal Gadot and moves the setting from World War I to 1980s America, where the DC Comics heroine confronts the challenges of the Cold War. The budget of the sequel is estimated at around $200 million.
There could be light at the end of the tunnel for beleaguered movie theaters following positive news regarding coronavirus vaccine trials from Pfizer and BioNTech.
Citing the “first interim efficacy analysis” on its “Phase 2/3” clinical trial, Pfizer and BioNTech found 90% effectiveness seven days after the second dose of vaccine “BNT162b2” in preventing infection in test subjects who had never tested positive for coronavirus. The companies said they plan to review the results with regulatory authorities worldwide, including the World Health Organization.
“I would say it’s a historical moment,” Kathrin Jansen, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, told the Washington Post. “Something like this has never happened before. Hearing that at the interim analysis we are over 90 percent effective — it was almost stunning to hear.”
“The results are really quite good, I mean extraordinary,” added Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who thinks a second vaccine could be produced by biotech firm Moderna, based on similar technology in use.
The news caused a spark of excitement on Wall Street, with investors rewarding movie theaters and biotech/pharmaceutical companies. Theaters, including most of Hollywood, have been operating under strict pandemic guidelines, resulting in fewer productions and pushing back major tentpole movie releases until 2021.
That, in turn, has resulted in fewer new-release home entertainment titles distributed via packaged media and digital channels.
AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest exhibitor, saw its stock skyrocket nearly 73% in early morning trading after months of shuttered screens and dwindling finances.
The No. 2 and No. 3 theatrical chains — Regal Cinemas and Cinemark — saw their parent stock increase 39% and 42%, respectively. Imax is up more than 27%; Marcus (+17%); Reading International (+13.9%); National CineMedia (+21%) and Theater Landlord EPR Properties (+27).
Meanwhile, shares of Netflix, Roku and other stay-at-home sources of entertainment fell in early trading. Netflix was down 7%, while Roku plummeted 12%. Video conferencing favorite Zoom saw share prices fall 19%, while fitness brand Peloton’s stock was down 24%.
“When we began rolling out Your Own Private Alamo in select Alamo Drafthouse locations in August, we had no idea what the response would be,” reads the Alamo website. “It was big. Really big. In just the past few weeks we’ve hosted over 700 groups of families and coworkers at just a handful of theaters. And now we’re excited to expand to even more locations and, for the first time, open up the ability to book new release titles like Christopher Nolan’s epic Tenet.”
Director Steven Soderbergh probably never envisioned how his 2011 sci-fi drama Contagion — about the global effects to trace the origins of the MEV-1 pathogen — would foreshadow real world events. The drama, which featured an international cast and myriad cameos, was the most-streamed movie in March and April, according to new data from JustWatch.
The website, which offers content recommendations in more than 45 countries, found that in 36 countries there was huge demand for the movie, with monthly searches on Google spiking upwards 16.6 million. Before the pandemic, around 130,000 people searched for the movie per month.
Outlier countries included Spain, France, the Baltic states and southeast Asian countries where movies such as Oscar winner Parasite, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter or Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games were streamed more than other content.