Top 10 for 2023: The Biggest Home Entertainment Stories of the Year — Transactional

The year 2023 saw the entertainment business hit with two strikes — one by the actors and one by the writers — that slowed the production pipeline and added to the ongoing upheaval in the industry. Roiled by the walkout, ongoing disruption in the aftermath of the pandemic, the growth of streaming and the continued erosion of disc sales, the transactional business struggled to compete with the gush of streaming content.

Here is a countdown of the top 10 home entertainment news stories of 2023 in the transactional business — disc and digital — as selected and ranked by the Media Play News editorial staff:

10. Oppenheimer Shortage

The much-maligned disc business got a significant confidence booster in November when reports surfaced that demand for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray copies of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s Oppenheimer was so great that retailers were running out. UPHE promised a quick restock, but in the meantime retail-exclusive editions of the film began commanding big prices on auction sites such as eBay, with copies of a Best Buy-exclusive Steelbook reaching asking prices in the $200 range by the end of the year.

9. Disney’s Epiphany

The Walt Disney Co., stung by its aggressive approach to streaming, appeared to rediscover the transactional business this year, giving films generous windows for digital purchase and no longer neglecting the physical disc. In August, Disney announced that several of its most popular Disney+ streaming series, including “The Mandalorian,” “WandaVision” and “Loki,” would be packaged into “Collector’s Edition” 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays and Blu-ray Discs chock-full of bonus features.  One month later, Disney announced its most extravagant Blu-ray Disc boxed set ever: The Disney Legacy Animated Film Collection, consisting of 100 classic on Blu-ray Disc, digital codes for each title, a copy of the original theatrical poster art, a collectible lithograph from Disney Animation’s new musical comedy Wish, and a collectible crystal Mickey ears hat with exclusive Disney 100 engraving. The retail price: $1,500.

8. Courting Collectors

While the DVD frenzy was initially fueled by families buying movies their kids would watch over and over again, the target audience for the mature, and much-smaller, disc business in 2023 was the collector. Studios were mining their libraries for classics they deemed worthy of 4K release and either issuing themselves or licensing them to independents; no surprise, then, that 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray sales were actually up, even though the overall disc business experienced another double-digit decline. Studios also revved up their retail exclusives, many of them handsomely packaged Steelbooks with gobs of extras.

7. No More Red Envelopes

Netflix in September pulled the plug on its legacy disc rental business, which birthed the company 26 years ago as well as the subscription model Netflix would later use to launch its streaming service. “Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members, but as the DVD business continues to shrink, that’s going to become increasingly difficult,” Netflix said. “Making 2023 our final season allows us to maintain our quality of service through the last day and go out on a high note.” Renting DVDs and, later, Blu-ray Discs by mail was Netflix’s sole revenue source for its first 10 years in business, but after launching its streaming service disc revenue plummeted. The company generated less than $146 million from disc rentals in 2022, a 20% drop, while first-quarter 2023 rental revenue was just $32 million. The final rental, which shipped Sept. 29 in its signature red envelope: the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit.

6.  Distribution Disruption I

Ingram Entertainment, once the largest distributor of home entertainment products, in September announced it is getting out of the DVD and Blu-ray Disc business. “Expenses are exceeding sales [so it’s] time to exit,” chairman and CEO David Ingram told Media Play News. The La Vergne, Tenn.-based company had been one of the prime champions for a uniform Tuesday street date, and remained at the forefront of distribution through waves of retail consolidation and the transition of the business from VHS rental to DVD sellthrough. Ingram in 2019 became even bigger when it swallowed up its chief competitor, Baker & Taylor.

5. Party On

The gala launch parties in and around Hollywood for films making their DVD debuts were a staple of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but gradually faded away with the rise of streaming. In 2023, studios once again began celebrating the disc and TVOD release of their major films, beginning in January with Disney hosting a release party for The Menu at the Blockbuster pop-up on trendy Melrose Avenue. Since then, we’ve seen a dance party at the California Science Center for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a making-of documentary screening for Universal Pictures’ Oppenheimer, a Venice Beach party for Disney’s A Haunting in Venice and a pizza party for Paramount’s  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, attended by Seth Rogan and other filmmakers.

4. Retail Retreat

Brick-and-mortar retail was even less kind to the venerable physical disc in 2023 than it had been in 2022, when the big story was Walmart cutting its DVD/Blu-ray Disc floor space by 20%. Media Play News executive editor John Latchem in September reported that the disc sections at most Target stores have been reduced to an endcap for new-release DVDs and Blu-rays, and about one aisle for catalog titles, “while 4K editions all but disappeared from the chain’s stores….” A month later, Best Buy, which in the late 1990s led the charge by big retailers to take over the DVD sellthrough business, announced it would be phasing out DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays at its 1,000+ stores as well as online — including the exclusive Steelbooks prized by collectors.

3. Distribution Disruption II

In August, it was reported that Walmart was in talks with Studio Distribution Services (SDS) about helping manage parts of its physical media business. SDS is the joint venture formed by Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. in April 2021 to distribute discs in North America. The venture is headed by Eddie Cunningham, a former president of UPHE. Sources told Media Play News that Walmart issued a request for proposal (RFP) and selected SDS. Walmart reportedly gives other studios and independent suppliers a certain deadline to come aboard. Cunningham said that while SDS “was initially set up for Warner Bros., Universal and their partners, it was built in a way that would allow it to scale up easily.”

2. PVOD Redux

A major development in 2023 was a growing number of theatrical titles being made available for digital purchase or rental in as little as 18 days after their theatrical openings, at a premium price. What’s known as premium video-on-demand, or PVOD, has long been a studio dream, and one that became a reality in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic shut theaters, leaving Hollywood with no option other than to premiere films at home. But as the pandemic faded from the headlines, so did PVOD — until this year, amid the growing realization that streaming on its own was unsustainable.

1. Window Treatment

The top story in the transactional space in 2023 was the return of windows. Three studios that previously had released most of their big theatricals simultaneously to traditional home entertainment (digital and disc) and their sister streaming services — Max at Warner Bros., Paramount+ at Paramount and Disney+ at Disney — shifted back to the old way of doing things, making their films available for digital or physical purchase or rental several weeks before they were dispatched to streaming.

View Media Play News‘ top 10 streaming stories of 2023 here.

BayView Announces Output Deal With Summer Hill Films

BayView Entertainment has announced an output deal with Summer Hill Films.

The output deal will be focused on both streaming and physical media, with the first titles expected to begin arriving in July 2023.

Upcoming films will include the family drama Jack and the Treehouse, the mystery Devil’s Lake, the gritty indie feature Howlin’ Refrain, The Strange Case of Normalcy, and the crime drama Black Birds in a Storm.

Launched in December of 2007 for the purpose of financing independent film production, Summer Hill Films was responsible for the release of numerous titles into the theatrical, home video and streaming marketplace.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“With the industry undergoing shifts in viewing habits on an almost weekly basis, I feel it is important to have our titles in the hands of an independent distributor who can give them the maximum exposure,” Summer Hill’s CEO Ted Chalmers said in a statement. “I’m more than pleased that Bayview will be adding our titles to their extensive offerings.”

“This agreement adds more strength to our current catalog offerings by adding over 200 new films,” Peter Castro, BayView’s VP of acquisitions and business development, said in a statement. “Summer Hill’s titles (both new releases and catalog) will be a crucial part of BayView’s release strategy for the foreseeable future. We are honored to welcome both Ted and Summer Hill Films to the Bayview family and dedicated and excited to make Summer Hill’s titles successful within the expanding BayView catalog.”

The agreement comes on the heels of BayView Entertainment’s 2023 acquisitions of Passion River Films and Mutiny Pictures.

 

 

Time to Reinstall Windows

The entertainment business has finally smacked up against reality. It’s just not profitable to offer the bulk of a studio’s catalog (including the newest theatrical hits) at a subscription price around $10 a month. Who knew? 

Studio executives of yore. 

In the rush to cut costs to fill the profit hole left by the subscription streaming craze, perhaps entertainment chiefs should look to those past strategies. Maybe it’s time to reinstall some windows. 

Raising SVOD sub prices (as many have done), selling ads (as Netflix and others have done) and cutting costs by laying off 7,000 to save $5.5 billion (a la Disney) are only stop-gap measures. Windows are, and have always been, a way to extract the maximum revenue from content. 

Studios need to go back to basics. Offer content in the window (and successive windows) that will extract the best overall return. For some titles, that begins with a theatrical window; for others it starts in the home entertainment pipeline, including streaming. But it makes sense for some very desirable titles to open numerous windows between theatrical and streaming — including newer, higher-priced premium digital purchase (PEST) and rental (PVOD) windows. And let’s not forget regularly priced digital purchase and rental — and disc. 

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Streaming is only one stop in the entertainment pipeline. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the first or last. Services should get content when it’s the best time for that content to maximize revenue. Streaming — no longer the shiny new kid on the block — should earn its place in the window lineup. 

Q&A: MVD’s Ed Seaman Relishes Running and Expanding the Family Business

Ed Seaman is chief operating officer of MVD Entertainment Group, a leading independent distributor of filmed content in a variety of genres, from horror to documentary, with a special emphasis on music.

“Serving artists and audiences” is MVD Entertainment’s purpose statement and has served as a guiding light for Seaman throughout his career. Starting with MVD in 1989, Ed Seaman joined the family business started by his father in 1987, longtime industry veteran Tom Seaman.

Having learned every aspect of the business, by the early 2000s Ed Seaman was running MVD, and transformed it from being primarily a wholesale entity for music videotapes to a traditional full-service audio and video distribution firm, and exponentially grew the business.

Today, MVD exclusively represents a vast catalog of audio and visual content on DVD, Blu-ray, CD, vinyl and digital rights, worldwide. MVD’s customer base consists of major retail chains and digital platforms, along with a strong commitment to independent retailers and digital sites.

Media Play News asked Seaman about MVD’s origins, its footprint in the industry and trends in home entertainment. 

MPN: Tell us about the genesis of MVD and what the company has been known for over the years.

Seaman: MVD is a true “mom and pop” story; my parents started it in their family room in the mid-1980s. My father was in the music business his whole life, and he launched MVD as a wholesaler for music videotapes. My sister Eve Edwards joined in 1988, and I came on board in 1989. In the late 1990s, we converted a number of wholesale relationships to exclusive DVD licensing and distribution deals, and we started seeing real growth, acting at that time as part self-distributed label, and part wholesaler. By the early 2000s, we started offering non-music films, which was a big departure for us — and very early on acquired a strong catalog of digital rights on our content. And by 2006 we entered the audio distribution business — selling both physically and digitally.

MPN: What’s MVD up to now? How does MVD acquire product?

Seaman: Within the last 10 years we’ve grown dramatically; our main focus is exclusively distributing great video and audio labels. We are really proud of our representation of great brands like Arrow Films, Blue Underground, Severin, Synapse, and many more from the film side. We continue to sign content to our own brands (MVD Rewind, MVD Marquee), with our video specialist Eric Wilkinson scouring the earth to find hidden gems. On the music side, it is a similar focus; we have great record labels like Time Life, Bear Family, Made in Germany, and much more. We’ve never lost our interest in music-related films too — it is where we come from and will always hold a special place for us.

MPN: How many titles do you have in your catalog and how many do you generally release each year?

Seaman: A lot … I’d say we release around 75 titles per month on film, and another 150 or so on audio. Our team does a great job evaluating and attacking the opportunities on each release, and focusing on the biggest and best opportunities. We have excellent data systems that help illuminate and execute those opportunities, and we’ve got an amazing dedicated team, many of whom have spent their entire career at MVD.

MPN: What is MVD’s footprint in the digital marketplace on streaming services or digital purchase and rental?

Seaman: We’ve been very progressive all along in the digital landscape with a vast catalog of exclusively distributed content. We have great direct relationships with all the major platforms, both for film and for music, and we are aggressive when it comes to working with new and upcoming services, provided they have a sound model and sound finances. MVD built its own delivery systems for digital video, meaning we don’t go through a lab to get our goods delivered to the vast majority of streaming services. That saves our content providers a lot of resources, and allows us to try out some of the newer services without as much start-up risk.

MPN: How many video labels do you distribute and are you looking for more? What can you offer a label?

Seaman: We have around 30 active video labels — and yes we are ready to welcome more. MVD brings a lot to the table — quick responses and great advice, monthly reliable payments, transparent accounting, including massive visibility through our b2b site, marketing services (which we don’t mark up), possible manufacturing through our replicators (not marked up), and more. Overall, we strive for trade partnerships in our relationships. Our trade partners tell it better than I can at https://mvdentertainment.com/why-mvd/

MPN: What are the trends you are seeing in physical media? What’s the format breakdown?

Seaman: Collectible products given the deluxe treatment is the strongest trend we see. It has to be the right type of film of course with cult-like status, but labels that painstakingly transfer, clean and correct old film to 4K, create and add new content, and beautifully package these films see some great rewards. So, yes, UHD is doing really well, in some cases outselling their Blu-ray companions. The collectors are clearly hungry for well-done UHD.

DEG Panel: Transactional Business Still Hardy — and Poised for Takeoff

Despite being squeezed by the pandemic, the transactional business is still sturdy and is poised to take off once new releases in the pipeline grow from a trickle to a steady stream.

That’s according to Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, and Eddie Cunningham, the former Universal Pictures Home Entertainment president who now runs Studio Distribution Services, the Universal-Warner Bros. disc distribution joint venture. The two executives spoke on a virtual DEG Expo panel March 24 moderated by Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold.

As industry pundits have observed, content in the transactional arena, which includes physical disc and digital purchases and rentals, dwarfs what consumers can find via subscription or other streaming services. That content has helped the transactional business survive recent jolts, the executives said.

Even the Blu-ray Disc and DVD business, which has been steadily declining for the last decade, remains a viable business, Cunningham said.

“In 2020 despite a pandemic and despite all the pressure of retail closures around the world … and pretty much no new releases after the first couple of months of the year — there’s still a $7 billion retail market, globally,” Cunningham said of the disc business.

“Obviously the last few months, there haven’t been that many new releases. But as that starts to come back in the second half of this year I think you’re going to see a real resurgence,” Smith added, noting that Redbox, with kiosk rentals driven by new releases, is looking forward to a more consistent flow of new content.

Cunningham said he’s been getting a similar message from the big retailers.

“Everybody’s incredibly excited about the new releases starting to come back into this business,” he said. “And I think we feel good about the fact that the big retailers … seem very, very committed to this category. We’ve got new titles every single week. We spend marketing money. We drive people into stores. We introduce fun. We introduce theater into the stores. … So a lot of them are pretty excited about us getting back into the new-release business. … Maybe we could even find a way of sort of growing this [physical] business or certainly hugely flattening the decline over the next year or two after the numbers we made during the pandemic.”

In the meantime, Cunningham said catalog has been picking up the slack, with such series as “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Office” and even children’s stalwart “Curious George” selling well despite streaming availability.

“If content is available on subscription services, you can still sell a lot of content physically on those same franchises,” Cunningham noted.

“Then there’s a huge amount, about 40% of consumers, who’ve never ever until this day ever transacted digitally, so they’re a huge target for us,” he said, adding “I think physical’s going to be around for a long time to come.”

The disc rental business, which Redbox dominates with thousands of kiosks in the United States, is here to stay as well, added Smith.

“We obviously have a view that it’s going to be sustainable for the long term,” he said. “It’s a great value to consumers. It’s incredibly convenient. … The fact that we’ve got 41,000 kiosks around the U.S. really helps with that. I think what we’ve been able to do is augment that experience. We’ve got this massive loyalty program with over 37 million people in it, and so we’re rewarding them for behavior and then rewarding them with things like free content and so it gives up a great opportunity for us to reinforce that value ecosystem.”

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Redbox marketing makes sure to let consumers know when new releases are available and doesn’t discriminate between the different ways a consumer might access content. The company offers consumers both physical and digital transaction options, letting them choose.

“We’re communicating with them on a regular basis in terms of what are those [new release] movies, and again, however you want to watch it, physically or digitally, we can be there to serve you with that,” he said.

Even though the company is offering a digital alternative, physical transactions aren’t suffering, Smith noted.

“Even when our customers started to transact digitally, it didn’t mean they stopped transacting physically,” he said. “They actually started transacting physically more. It reminded them again of all these great new movies that are available.”

As head of the disc distribution joint venture, Cunningham said he’s tasked with creating efficiencies and providing a focus on the physical business. The joint venture’s mantra is “two plus two equals five,” to make a bigger whole from the combined parts, he said.

Follow us on Instagram

“The coming together of Universal and Warner and other third-party distribution partners is going to enable us to do things like share boxes coming out of Technicolor, which in turn saves a lot of in-store labor, transport costs and so on,” he said. “I think we’re in a position to start maybe talking a bit more again about some front-of-store displays in some of these big retailers where we’ve lost that.”

Two plus two equals five also means finding ways to leverage the studios’ combined content.

“Over the next year or 18 months you’re going to see some amazing things coming out of [the joint venture],” Cunningham said. “There’s going to be huge opportunities on Middle Earth, DC, Bond, classic monsters. It’s actually the 90th anniversary of Dracula coming up, so we’ve got an opportunity around anniversaries. ‘Fast and Furious,’ ‘Jurassic,’ ‘Dune,’ ‘Halloween,’ there are huge opportunities to draft off these kinds of things.”

He also envisioned boxed sets of titles from different studios as an added bonus for consumers.

“We’re going to work incredibly hard to see how we can put the two studios’ content promotions together and make something bigger,” he said.

Redbox, too, is looking to combine the advantages of different businesses. In addition to its digital and physical transactional offerings, the company also has ad-supported streaming and even a content acquisition and production arm.

“In terms of Redbox Entertainment, we have a ton of data obviously about what actors work, what genres work, and so what we want to do is say, ‘OK, we’re seeing a little less product from the studios, let’s go ahead and buy it, acquire it, produce it ourselves,’” Smith said. “We’re basically making sure that we program to our consumers what we know they are going to want. And we’re agnostic so we’re releasing it across all the digital retailers and then we’re actually selling it to streamers as well on the backend. We just want to make sure there’s good content made for consumers.”

Sony Pictures to Release ‘The Marine 6’ on Disc, Digital Nov. 13

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has set a Nov. 13 release date for The Marine 6: Close Quarters, the sixth installment in the action film series produced by WWE Studios and starring various WWE wrestlers in the lead roles.

The film will be available on digital, Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

In Marine 6, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin returns as Jack Carter, joined by fellow WWE wrestling stars Shawn Michaels and Becky Lynch. Carter and another former Marine, Luke Trapper (Michaels), join forces to rescue a kidnapped girl from a gang of international criminals. The film also stars Louisa Connolly-Burnham (Time Will Tell), Terence Maynard (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and Tim Woodward (K-19: The Widowmaker).

The digital, Blu-ray Disc and DVD releases of The Marine 6: Close Quarters include two behind-the-scenes featurettes.  In “Making Maddy & The Marines,” Mizanin and Michaels take on newcomer Lynch, highlighting their experiences on set and what it was like to work together. The second featurette, “The Breakdown: Epic Fights,” features the WWE wrestlers and  stunt choreographer Tim Man breaking down the fight scenes and revealing how they trained for their roles.

Directed by James Nunn and written by Craig Walendziak, The Marine 6: Closer Quarters is produced by Michael J. Luisi and executive produced by Richard Lowell.