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.