EMA Producing OTT_@Pipeline Conference Sept. 25

The Entertainment Merchants Association is producing OTT_X@Pipeline at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles Sept. 25.

It’s the 12th year for the conferences, formerly titled Digital Media Pipeline. The event is a one-day business-to-business conference bringing together the OTT community for research presentations, knowledge sharing and networking.

OTT_X@Pipeline kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast followed by panels, spotlight chats, research presentations and a keynote speaker to be announced. It ends with a cocktail party 5:15-6:15 p.m.

Panels include “What’s the Future of OTT?” and “Efficiencies Toward Profits.” There will be a Movies Anywhere update at 4:45 p.m.

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Research presentations include “To License or Not to License,” about the question of whether to invest in more original content or rely on licensed acquisitions, presented by Alejandro Rojas of Parrot Analytics; “International Development of Premium Digital Video Markets,” a review of the latest trends in international markets for SVOD and transactional digital video, presented by David Sidebottom of Futuresource; and “Navigating the Fragmented TV Landscape,” in which Samba TV will share the latest viewership trends.

EMA SVP Sean Bersell to Leave Association

Entertainment Merchants Association SVP Sean Bersell is leaving the association after nearly 20 years.

Bersell recently moved to Pittsburgh with his wife Heather Norris to be closer to family and “has decided it is time for him to embark on some new endeavors,” according to an email to board members and other stakeholders from EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher.

“Sean has been with the EMA for almost 20 years, starting in August 1999,” Fisher wrote. “He was originally brought on to manage the government relations program as the industry was under fire after the Columbine massacre for allegedly marketing and selling violent videos and video games to minors. Sean led our successful response to that through several federal investigations, countless proposed laws throughout the country, and nine lawsuits — culminating in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. EMA, which recognized First Amendment protections for video games. He also was instrumental in our efforts to protect the right to rent and resell videos and video games and to ward off punitive regulation of the industry’s products.

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“In addition, he has led our public relations and member communications activities, managed our digital supply chain efforts for several years, and organized our conference programming for the past year. But more than that, he has been involved in practically every significant strategic decision of the organization over the past 20 years as we have navigated the industry’s many transitions.

“I have personally appreciated and valued Sean’s advice and guidance over the decades that we worked together, and will miss working with him.

“We are grateful for his service to EMA and wish him and Heather all the best.”

Bersell started his career in 1985 as legislative counsel for U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici. From 1991 to 1993, Bersell served as the assistant director of the National Park Service in charge of the Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs.

In 1993, Bersell joined the government relations staff of the 58,000-member American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and eventually worked his way up to senior director, public affairs for the professional society.

Bersell is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of New Mexico School of Law.

EMA Event Spotlights Digital Delivery

The over-the-top market is exploding, and the Entertainment Merchants Association this year at its annual Los Angeles conference gave it a starring role.

The OTT_X conference, focusing on the OTT market, ran July 16-17 concurrent with the eighth annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit presented by the EMA. In addition to OTT panels and spotlight presentations, the EMA facilitated OTT business meetings in addition to meetings scheduled for LAES participants. The joint event attracted about 400 attendees.

The new focus is part of a bigger shift for the EMA.

“It was really apparent last year that the event needed to change,” said EMA CEO and president Mark Fisher July 16 in opening remarks, adding “as the industry changes so does the EMA.”

“We’ve intentionally shed our support and income from the video game segment,” he said, to be more focused. The organization has also shed physical retail members and distributors.

“It’s a pivot,” he said, but “we’re not going to leave behind the TVOD space.”

A leader in that transactional VOD market, FandangoNow chief Cameron Douglas, also chair of the EMA board, noted the annual confab “used to be an event with meetings between retailers and studios.”

Now, the EMA, via its Ultimate Movie Weekend promotion, is promoting cooperation between studios and digital retailers.

“Who would have thought there would be a major studio backed campaign — except Fox and Disney — that was focused on rental instead of EST,” Douglas said.

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks and chair of the OTT_X  conference, explained the name in opening remarks.

“The X in the name really reflects the core mission of why we’re all here today,” he said. “It’s an exchange. First and foremost, it’s an exchange of ideas.”

Such collaboration is crucial in an era of fast digital disruption.

“These changes are happening so frequently and at such a precipitous pace, the only way we can come out of this is by fostering a community,” he said.

Key challenges for OTT video platforms are customer acquisition and retention, monetization and content discovery, according to speakers at OTT_X.

Having original content is one way OTT platforms are meeting these challenges, said presenter Kathi Chandler-Payatt, executive director and entertainment analyst, The NPD Group. Using Netflix Originals as a case study, she noted that while both original movies and episodic shows are a small percentage of content on Netflix, they garner an outsized share of viewing. Originals made up 16% of new seasons vs. licensed in 2019, but those originals garnered a prodigious 24% of minutes watched. The same holds true for original movies, which are 11% of content and 22% of minutes.

Part of the reason for the uptake of originals is preferential marketing, she noted.

“It’s very smart from a platform perspective to push originals,” she said because the platform owns it. Thus, making a show with Netflix may give content producers a leg up in discovery.

“People think content is king, but discovery is king,” she said.

Originals have a short window to prove themselves, she said. She quoted Netflix VP of originals Cindy Holland as saying that the service generally knows within 28 days whether a new show or season meets Netflix’s expectations in terms of audience reach. In addition to viewership during that period, metrics such as season completion also figure in renewal.

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OTT_X event chair Opeka moderated the panel “Monetization Trends in OTT.” Ad-supported VOD streaming services, such as Xumo, whose CEO Colin Petrie-Norris was on the panel, are ascendant, many speakers noted. Xumo has 160 curated channels and 40 million households in the United States, Petrie-Norris said.

AVOD “can generate very high yield per consumer” with advertising, he said.

Tubi chief content officer Adam Lewinson also cited the growth of AVOD in a keynote presentatoin. AVOD aggregator Tubi has 20 million monthly active users, with 100 million minutes streamed in June and well over 15,000 titles or 44,000 hours of content, “more than double the content volume of Netflix,” he said. June yielded its largest revenue month ever, he said.

“AVOD is for real,” he said.

There are challenges, however.

“The biggest challenge in streaming right now … in all VODs, it’s really about customer acquisition, retention and churn,” he said. “A subset to that is content discovery. Once you crack those problems, that’s when you get to scale.”

A seamless experience on the platform is also “incredibly important,” he said, “just having a seamless experience where the tech fades away.”

“You also want to be ubiquitious,” he said. “You do want to be everywhere that people are streaming.”

Tubi has also employed machine learning in its proprietary content personalization engine.

“The more data that we have on our viewers the more we are able to personalize,” he said.

A key advantage to AVOD is the “barrier to entry is so low” because viewers don’t have to pay, he said.

As for Tubi getting into original programming like its paid SVOD counterparts, “we have no intention of going down that road,” he said. “It’s tremendously competitive. You wind up overpaying for content.”

There is already too much content, he noted.

“Original series are just whizzing by at an epic pace,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Tubi isn’t willing to spend on content.

“I have a nine-figure content budget for the year, and we’re spending it,” he said.

On a panel about windowing of content, Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media, said he was “worried that [AVOD is] the emperor’s new clothes,” a false hope of a monetary savior, noting the amount of revenue that trickles down to content producers who license their titles to such services is small.

Still, competition from increased content is pushing content owners to find new outlets.

“It used to take years for us to put up content on AVOD,” said Cinedigm’s Natasha Pietruschka, adding that now, “Where else can we fill those revenue gaps?”

Transactional digital retailers took the stage during the LAES session. Panelists noted that since consumers are paying directly for content, whether for rental or purchase, the key concern for TVOD platforms is making that experience seamless and easy and the quality top notch.

“The bar is so high because you have paid specifically for that title whether rental or purchase,” said FandangoNow’s Douglas, who was on the transactional panel. “It better play.”

He said FandangoNow has concentrated on making the viewing experience top-quality with extensive 4K offerings and a living room app that rivals any.

While Redbox has made its name on physical disc rentals, Chris Yates, GM of Redbox On Demand, said the new digital sales and rental arm doesn’t cannibalize that core business, it supplements it. It offers a choice when consumers don’t want to go to a kiosk and has resulted in “improved affinity for our brand,” he said.

Speakers at both events discussed the looming launch of new SVOD services, including Walt Disney Co.’s $6.99 Disney+.

Disney is “out in front of the others,” said IHS Markit’s Sarah Henschel during a research presentation. Awareness of the service jumped from 24% in Q1 to 35% in Q2 even before the Disney marketing machine really gets rolling, she said.

The firm expects upcoming services to add 36.7 million paying domestic subs by 2023.

“I think Disney and Apple [with its pending SVOD service Apple TV+] have a leg up because they are already consumer facing brands,” Henschel said. “Disney has the strongest hold in my opinion right now.”

When asked how many in the audience would buy the new service when it launches, the majority of attendees raised their hands.

EMA’s LAES and OTT Conferences Kick Off July 16

The Entertainment Merchants Association will hold its annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit at the Hilton Universal City starting July 16, along with a concurrent conference OTT_X covering the over-the-top market.

Events begin at 9 a.m. following a network breakfast with an introduction from EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher and OTT_X chair Erick Opeka of Cinedigm.

Erick Opeka

For the OTT_X conference, panels in the morning include “Monetization Trends in OTT” and “Windowing 2.0: Key Strategies for Enhancing Content Value & Revenue.” At 11:30 Tubi CCO Adam Lewison will participate in the fireside chat/keynote “AVOD at Scale.”

The LAES program kicks off after lunch. It includes the panel “Consumer View of Digital Entertainment,” two research sessions and the panel “Retailers and Consumer-Facing Services.”

The evening concludes with a cocktail party at 6 p.m. at the Hilton pool sponsored by FandangoNow.

July 17 includes OTT_X business meetings and presentations, as well as discussions on four tracks: EMA Retailing Council, Digital Supply Chain (retailers track), Digital Supply Chain (specialized track) and OTT_X Workshops. Round robin buyer/seller meetings take place from 3-5 p.m.

Register here.

The complete schedule is here.

EMA Announces Details for Concurrent LAES and OTT_X Conferences

The Entertainment Merchants Association will present two conferences — the Los Angeles Entertainment Summit (LAES) and the OTT_X conference — on July 16 at the Universal Hilton in Universal City, Calif.

The two conferences will address different aspects of the entertainment industry, according to the EMA. The LAES will examine the overall digital home entertainment marketplace, while the OTT_X conference, chaired by Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, will look at the over-the-top sector, including subscription and ad-supported VOD.

On July 17 conference attendees can participate in industry roundtables and discussions.

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Registrants for one conference can attend the other at no additional cost, and all attendees will be admitted to the opening night cocktail party from 6:30-8:30 p.m. July 16.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. July 16.

Opening remarks for the OTT_X conference begin at 9 a.m. followed by a research presentation at 9:15 a.m.; panels on monetization of OTT and windowing to enhance value and revenue; and a “Fireside Keynote” on AVOD.

Opening remarks for the LAES begin at 2 p.m., followed by a consumer panel, research presentation and keynote speaker to be determined.

Roundtables and workshops on July 17 include deep dives on conference research presentations, the EMA Retailing Council (EMA members only), supply chain, and OTT.

To register for the LAES, click here.

To register for the OTT_X conference, click here.

Studios, Distributors, EMA Team Up on Massive Digital Movie Rental Promotion

A consortium of studios and key digital retailers, cable companies and satellite providers is sponsoring a digital rental movie sale May 31 through June 3 in which consumers can stream up to 250 different movies at prices as low as $2.99 for recent releases and 99 cents for older, catalog titles.

The “Ultimate Movie Weekend” initiative, led by the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), is believed to be the first time such a coordinated promotion has been undertaken in the United States.

The goal, according to EMA SVP Sean Bersell, is to “introduce consumers who haven’t rented digitally previously to the value and convenience of digital rental, and to entice consumers who haven’t rented digital recently to re-engage.”

The campaign will offer recent releases and catalog movies from Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Participating digital retailers and cable and satellite companies include Altice USA’s Optimum and Suddenlink TV, Amazon Prime Video, the Apple TV app and iTunes, Atlantic Broadband, Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, FandangoNOW, Frontier Communications, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, PlayStation Store, Redbox On Demand, U-Verse, and Vudu.

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The tagline for the Ultimate Movie Weekend is “Rent the Biggest Movies for Less.” Participating retailers will offer between 50 and 250 movies at discounted prices as low as $2.99 for recent releases and $0.99 for catalog movies. The Ultimate Movie Weekend sale includes some of the latest releases that are not yet available on subscription video services. Among the movies in the promotion are A Star Is Born (2018), Bumblebee, Fifty Shades of Grey, First Man, Forrest Gump, The Hunger Games, Robin Hood (2018), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Step Brothers, and Wonder Woman.

The promotional campaign will be supported by a significant media buy, social media marketing, direct-to-consumer outreach, and a dedicated website, www.ultimatemovieweekend.com. The Ultimate Movie Weekend sale is patterned after similar successful efforts last year in Australia, France and the U.K.

“While the popularity of digital movie rentals continues to grow, there is the opportunity to introduce even more consumers to the value and convenience of digital rental, so the industry has come together to offer a compelling promotion that we hope will attract new customers and remind infrequent digital renters of this option,” said EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher. “Plus, with the start of the summer, which is traditionally a heavy movie-viewing season, it’s a good time to remind consumers of the pleasure of getting together with family and friends for a movie night.”

According to industry statistics, in the first quarter of 2019, digital rental generated $564 million in consumer spending, which accounted for approximately 10% of all home entertainment consumer spending in the quarter.

“This is the first effort of its kind in the U.S., and the breadth of participants demonstrates that the home entertainment industry is making it a priority to communicate the value proposition of digital rentals to consumers,” said Richard Smith, SVP, domestic digital sales, for Paramount Pictures and chair of EMA’s Ultimate Movie Weekend planning committee. “We see significant potential to grow this sector of the industry, and in doing so grow the overall home entertainment market.”

“Our studio partners have assembled a fantastic slate of movies, many unavailable on subscription services, which FandangoNow will offer at compelling prices,” added Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at Fandango and chair of the EMA. “Convenience and value have always been the hallmark of home entertainment, and these great movies at discounted prices draws attention to the ease and affordability of renting digitally.”

EMA Adds Seven New Members

The Entertainment Merchants Association has added seven new members: Bitmax, iNDEMAND, Movies Anywhere, Rev, Rightsline, TV Time and Vision Films.

Bitmax is a digital media management company that supports leading content owners and digital distributors, helping them monetize content – from TVOD/EST to SVOD to AVOD.

iNDEMAND distributes premium VOD and PPV entertainment to more than 200 North American TV operators, with a total reach of more than 60 million homes. Jointly owned by Comcast, Charter Communications and Cox, iNDEMAND’s content portfolio features every major Hollywood film studio, top boxing providers and sports leagues.

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Movies Anywhere is a digital movie collection service, bringing together purchased movies from retailers such as iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, FandangoNOW and Xfinity. It is backed by content from Disney, Universal, Warner and Sony.

Rev is a provider of on-demand transcription, closed-captioning, and translation solutions.

Rightsline is a multi-tenant, software-as-a-service rights and contract management platform, offering real-time avails, pipeline management, contract visibility and inventory management.

TV Time is a TV tracking platform, on which nearly a million people worldwide daily keep track of the shows they’re watching, discover what to watch next and engage in a global community of more than 12 million registered TV fans. TV Time offers business solutions through TVLytics, providing data and insights to media companies, talent agencies, advertisers and the content ecosystem.

Vision Films is a worldwide distribution company with a library of more than 800 independent feature films, TV movies, documentaries and music specials.

Edelman Elected Treasurer, Gutierrez Secretary of EMA

Michele Edelman and Pedro E. Gutierrez Jr. have been elected to serve as treasurer and secretary, respectively, of the Entertainment Merchants Association.

Edelman, who had been serving as secretary, replaces Matt Hill of Amazon, who stepped down from the EMA Board due to a change in his responsibilities at Amazon.

Edelman is EVP of marketing and content strategy for Vubiquity.

Gutierrez is director of digital stores movies and TV business and category management at Microsoft.

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The other officers of EMA are chair Cameron Douglas of Fandango and vice chair Suyin Lim of PlayStation Video. Additionally, comScore’s Marty Graham and Google’s Bill Kotzman serve on the board’s executive committee.

Luncheon Fetes Fast Forward Award Honorees

FandangoNow VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas, Redbox CEO Galen Smith, Google Play head of media and entertainment Jonathan Zepp, and the team at Apple iTunes were honored with Fast Forward Awards at a luncheon April 4 in Los Angeles at the Universal Hilton.

The awards, presented by Media Play News, recognize people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

The luncheon was produced by Media Play News and hosted by the Entertainment Merchants Association, which used the occasion to announce a new Leadership Development Foundation to foster executive talent.

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“All of today’s honorees are truly worthy of recognition for their leadership in our industry,” said EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher.

Media Play News publisher Thomas K. Arnold noted that all of the honorees are involved in the digital transactional business. Not all consumers want to get their entertainment buffet-style with the content curated for them as offered by subscription streaming services; many consumers would like to choose the content they would like to see a la carte, he said.

Warner Bros. Entertainment SVP of sales Michael Rweyemamu presented the award to Smith of Redbox, which 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 TV. Rweyemamu noted the irony of the occasion, considering the rocky relationship between the studio and the kiosk company several years ago when the two fought over release windows for low-priced rentals.

“Ten years ago, had you told me I’d be presenting an award to Redbox, I’d have said, ‘Hell, no!’” Rweyemamu joked.

He praised Smith for his leadership.

“Galen, you’ve been a great partner,” he said. “We started off on a rocky road like some relationships, but we’re in a really good place right now. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that you were really tenacious. You were really disciplined, really open to conversations to allow us to be where we are today.”

Smith also noted the evolution of the relationship between the two companies.

“In a similar vein, receiving an award from Warner Bros. I didn’t think was ever going to happen,” Smith said.

The company’s Redbox on Demand digital service “is a real natural evolution for our business,” Smith said.

“We’ve got 50 million customers that rent from us every year; it’s an opportunity for us to help them move to digital,” he said. “This is the last bastion of customers who haven’t moved yet. We have an opportunity to bring them over.”

He also praised the transactional model.

“We did a stint in a more of an SVOD-type business, and it didn’t really work,” he said, in reference to a failed joint venture with Verizon. “Our consumers are transactional, and so we want to do everything we can to support the business.”

In presenting the award to FandangoNow’s Douglas, industry veteran and former DreamWorks home entertainment chief Kelly Sooter praised him for his ability to anticipate trends and forge strong partnerships and lasting relationships — and for always being in touch with the consumer.

“He knows everything about … how consumers behave,” she said.

FandangoNow has been revving up its promotional muscle and is aggressively tying in digital purchases and rentals with its movie-ticket-selling sister company.

Douglas noted he got involved in the digital business at DreamWorks when he was asked to help with a startup (M-GO, which eventually was acquired by movie service Fandango and became FandangoNow).

“As we finally refined what we were doing and launched in 2013 as a transactional service, I truly felt like I was now building the future of digital home entertainment,” Douglas said.

He noted FandangoNow’s early and strong support for 4K and initiatives such as binge bundles and the “Fresh Picks” program, which curates titles deemed “Fresh” by sister service Rotten Tomatoes.

Praising Google Play’s Zepp, who was unable to attend, Paramount Pictures president of worldwide home media distribution Bob Buchi said, “He truly has the talent and the vision to market very impressively to consumers and really change the way that they behave.”

Buchi noted that Google Play, which is in its seventh year, “really put a movie store in the hand of millions of consumers with the Android mobile platform [and] really elevated and streamlined the experience of purchasing or renting a digital product, and opened up a whole new world in literally over 100 countries.”

“They continued to enhance the product day in and day out,” he said. “It’s now on every major television manufacturer and streaming sticks, so it’s really never been easier to rent or to purchase a movie.

“They’re also super champions of 4K which is great for adoption and great for all of our futures.”

Google Play Movies & TV is currently 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.

Google Play’s Bill Kotzman accepted the award on Zepp’s behalf and read a statement from the honoree: “Transactional home entertainment is and will remain a key part of the media and entertainment business.… Google continues to invest heavily in transactional, and we’re excited to continue to grow the category in partnership with all of you.”

The EMA’s Steven Apple accepted the award for the iTunes team. 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.

Photos of the event are here.

EMA Launches Leadership Development Foundation

The Entertainment Merchants Association has formed the EMA Leadership Development Foundation to support professional training and development within the home entertainment industry, and particularly within the EMA membership.

“It’s about time that we recognize that our industry, that of the retailing and streaming of entertainment content to the consumer, is a unique industry and with jobs classifications that are unique to this industry and yet common across our member companies,”said Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the EMA, April 4 at the Fast Forward Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, produced by Media Play News and hosted by the EMA.

The EMA Leadership Development Foundation will provide opportunities for recent entrants in the home entertainment workforce to learn how the industry operates and to interact with their peers in order to advance their careers and offer professional development opportunities in the industry for women and under-represented minorities, according to the EMA.

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The activities for the EMA Leadership Development Foundation will include:

  • Presenting seminars and workshops on the business of home entertainment;
  • Hosting informal professional networking sessions for individuals who work in the home entertainment industry;
  • Managing a structured mentoring program for women and under-represented minorities in the home entertainment industry; and
  • Recognizing individuals in the home entertainment industry who have made significant contributions to the industry, their community, and/or the advancement of diversity in the industry.

 

A Leadership Development Advisory Council will advise the EMA Leadership Development Foundation on programs and strategies for leadership development, education, and recognition within the home entertainment industry. The council will consist of individuals from both within and outside the home entertainment industry who have expertise in professional development and the promotion of diverse workforces.

“The programs of the EMA Leadership Development Foundation will help employees in the home entertainment industry gain a greater understanding of the business of home entertainment, introduce them to their peers in other companies, and provide them with mentoring opportunities,” Fisher said. “This will help them become more effective employees and prepare them for career advancement in the industry.”

The EMA Leadership Development Foundation is a not-for-profit entity incorporated in the state of Delaware. The EMA Board of Directors will also act as the Board of Directors for the EMA Leadership Development Foundation. The foundation will be managed by the EMA staff.

Initial funding for the EMA Leadership Development Foundation came from the dissolution of the EMA Scholarship Foundation and the transfer of its assets to the EMA Leadership Development Foundation.

“The EMA Scholarship Foundation provided a tremendous service to our industry,” Fisher said. “Between its establishment in 1987 and 2019, it helped more than 240 students achieve higher education through scholarship grants totaling more than $1 million. But our industry has evolved over the past three decades and the resources previously dedicated to the Scholarship Foundation we believe can better serve the industry in a new way. We believe that new way, the EMA Leadership Development Foundation, will provide a great service to our industry.”