Redbox Bows First On Demand Original Movie With Bob Saget Film ‘Benjamin’

Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu aren’t the only ones getting into original content.

Redbox on April 9 announced its first exclusive, Bob Saget’s new film, Benjamin.

The dark comedy, which tackles the serious topic of drug addiction, will be released exclusively on Blu-ray Disc and DVD at more than 41,500 Redbox kiosks nationwide on April 23.

Also on April 23, the film will be available for a la carte streaming or digital purchase on Redbox On Demand, the company’s on-demand digital movie store.  The film is the first “Redbox Original” released on Redbox On Demand.

Saget directed and stars in Benjamin, which also features a heavyweight cast of comedians and actors, including Rob Corddry, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kevin Pollak, Peri Gilpin, Dave Foley, Cheri Oteri, Max Burkholder, Clara Mamet, David Hull, Jonny Weston, and James Preston Rogers.

The story unfolds as a family calls an intervention on Facebook for Bob Saget’s on-screen son, Benjamin; a 15-year-old they think is under the influence of drugs. Yet soon it becomes clear that those confronting Benjamin’s problems have many problems of their own.

“We’re making Benjamin available at Redbox because we believe in the power of movies to bring people together around topics that matter,” said Redbox CEO Galen Smith. “Redbox has the unique ability to market films directly to our more than 50 million customers who like the choice of renting from $1.75 a night from the kiosk or instantly on their favorite device or smart TV via Redbox On Demand.”

Now in the midst of a national standup comedy tour, Saget reveals his dramatic, nuanced side while directing and starring in Benjamin.

“This film tackles serious subject matter – our kids and the temptations and challenges they face – but tells it through the lens of a familiar cast of comedic actors who make the topic approachable and poignant,” Saget says. “An exclusive Redbox release brings the important message of the film directly to communities nationwide that are facing the battle of addiction.”

Saget is a Grammy-nominated comedian, actor, director and New York Times best-selling author. Saget hosts, writes and executive produces the new ABC series “Videos After Dark,” featuring home videos with an edgier twist. The show premiered an hour-long first look on March 12 with the full season debuting later this year.

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Saget also can be seen in the upcoming Season 5 of the Netflix series “Fuller House.” His new hour stand-up special, “Zero To Sixty,” is streaming on Amazon Prime and is available to rent or buy on Amazon, iTunes and many other platforms. Saget continues to tour across North America with his standup comedy act.

Benjamin is produced by Nicholas Tabarrok and written by Joshua Turek.  The director of photography is Arthur Albert, the editor is Bruce Green and the music composer is Peter Melnick.

Consumers can watch the trailer at Redbox.com/Benjamin and add it to their “Wish List” before the April 23 release date. On April 23, consumers can visit Redbox.com/Benjamin to reserve a copy for rental at their local Redbox kiosk or stream it via Redbox On Demand.

Media Play News Fast Forward 2019 Awards Luncheon

Media Play News honored four digital retailers with the publication’s second annual Fast Forward Awards for driving the home entertainment industry forward. This year’s awards included a luncheon and ceremony, held April 4 at the Universal Hilton in Universal City, Calif., and hosted by the Entertainment Merchants Association. Awards went to Cameron Douglas of FandangoNow, Jonathan Zepp of Google Play Movies & TV, and Galen Smith of Redbox, and the team at Apple iTunes. EMA used the event to launch its EMA Leadership Development Foundation, aimed at supporting professional training and development within the home entertainment industry, and particularly within the EMA membership.

Fast Forward Awards 2019: Keeping the Faith

Digital retailers are revving up their promotional engines and helping studios chase down the Holy Grail: transactional sales and rentals of movies over the Internet. These four Fast Forward honorees are the leaders of the pack.

The rise of subscription streaming has revolutionized home entertainment consumption — and music, as well.

We still pick and choose what we want to watch (or hear), along with when, where and how. But instead of paying for a specific movie, TV show or song, we pay one price for a month’s worth of access to whatever happens to be
available.

The problem with Netflix and other streamers is that while the buffet of entertainment choices appears endless, the really good dishes are conspicuously absent. Big theatrical movies, in particular, don’t show up on subscription streaming services for years, if ever. And the continued appeal of big-screen blockbusters among home viewers is what’s keeping the traditional “transactional” model alive.

As disc sales continue to decline, digital movie sales and “rentals” (a la carte streaming) are on an upswing, thanks in large part to aggressive and innovative digital retailers.

Four standouts are being honored in the second-annual Media Play Fast Forward Awards, which recognize people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

This year’s honorees are Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at FandangoNow; Google Play’s Jonathan Zepp, head of media and entertainment; Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox; and the team at Apple iTunes (the company asked that no individual be singled out).

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

Google Play Movies & TV is 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.

Redbox 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 TVs — in addition to TVs from Samsung and LG.

And 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. They’ll also be able to buy new movies or TV shows directly through the app.

As an added benefit to consumers, Google Play Movies & TV, iTunes and FandangoNow have also joined Movies Anywhere, the cloud-based movie locker service that allows consumers to access their digital libraries.

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The Media Play Fast Forward awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

The first Media Play Fast Forward honorees, recognized last year, were Movies Anywhere and Fox Innovation Labs.

FandangoNow

Cameron Douglas

FandangoNow is a transactional VOD service owned by Fandango, the nation’s leading movie consumer destination, which also owns Rotten Tomatoes and MovieClips, the top multi-channel network for trailers and movie-related content. FandangoNow serves millions of visitors a month, with more than 80,000 new-release and catalog movies, next-day TV shows, and a growing library of 4K titles available to watch on more than 200 million connected, over-the-top and mobile devices.

The business is split fairly evenly between electronic purchases and rentals, says VP of home entertainment Cameron Douglas, and the service’s heavy push into 4K has resulted in 20% of transactions coming from the ultra HD format when available.

FandangoNow — which prior to its January 2016 acquisition by Fandango was known as M-GO, a joint venture launched three years earlier by DreamWorks Animation and Technicolor — doesn’t rely on algorithms. Instead, its entertainment options are hand-picked by in-house film experts, celebrity guest curators and further spiced up by Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer scores and editors’ picks.

The service also boldly plays up the fact that it offers high-demand content not available on Netflix and the other streaming services.

“We’re proud of our differentiated offerings that you can’t find on iTunes or Amazon,” Douglas says. “For instance, each month we highlight a selection of ‘Fresh Picks,’ critically-acclaimed titles that you’ll want to see but aren’t available on Netflix or other streaming subscription services. Each title is rated fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and is only $2.49 to rent. We also innovated a first-of-its-kind rental initiative called ‘Binge Bundles,’ offering multiple titles from fan-favorite franchises and themed collections, bundled together to rent and binge for one low price.”

What might be FandangoNow’s trump card is its ability to tie in digital movie sales and rentals with movie ticket sales. Most recently, FandangoNow offered a free DreamWorks Animation movie to fans who purchased Fandango VIP tickets to early access screenings of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Another recent promotion offered a free movie ticket for every $20 spent on FandangoNow. “We are a full-service destination for film fans,” Douglas says.

Douglas had been SVP of content at M-GO prior to FandangoNow’s 2016 launch. Before that he held senior positions at top entertainment media companies including DreamWorks, Paramount, Fox and Disney. He began his career in 1986 as manager of affiliate marketing and programming at Showtime Networks, and later held operations, product and merchandising posts at Musicland and Disney Stores. Douglas began his involvement with home entertainment in 1993 when he joined Buena Vista Home Video, at the time Disney’s home video distribution arm, as senior sales analyst and, later, assistant marketing manager. Today Douglas also serves as the chair of the home entertainment industry group, the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA).

Google Play Movies & TV

Jonathan Zepp

Google Play Movies & TV is an online video store that sells and rents movies, TV shows and other filmed content. It is part of Google Play, which launched in March 2012, bringing together the Android Market, Google Music, and Google eBookstore under one brand. Other services operating under the Google Play banner are Google Play Books, Google Play Console, Google Play Games and Google Play Music. Google Play gives customers one place to find, enjoy and share their favorite apps, games, movies, TV shows, music, books and more, on the Web for any device.

Google Play Movies & TV, like the other Google Play services, uses the power of the cloud to manage digital entertainment — so customers can access their movies and TV shows on their phones, and have them available instantly on their computers, tablets or connected TVs.

Google Movies & TV has been particularly aggressive on the promotional front, offering 99-cent movie and TV show rentals around holidays such as Thanksgiving and to power users of its site. In advance of the 91st Academy Awards last month, Google Play offered deals on past Oscar-winning movies as well as the latest Oscar-nominated films. Google Play also featured apps and games inspired by the Best Picture nominees.

The biggest buzz at Google Play, at least among movie enthusiasts, is its 4K upgrade feature. The digital retailer last October announced in a blog posting that when 4K titles are available, the service will automatically upgrade customers’ past movie purchases “so you can stream in 4K, even if you originally bought the movie in SD or HD. It’s all on us, just open the Play Movies & TV app and we’ll let you know which titles have been upgraded.”

Google Play also announced a price drop for 4K movies, with prices as low as $14.99 to own (and $4.99 to rent).

In addition to 4K Sony Bravia TVs, Google announced “you can now watch in 4K using the Play Movies & TV app on most 4K Samsung Smart TVs, and we’re working on adding support for LG as well.” In addition, the Google Play app for Samsung, LG and Vizio TVs was updated.

Jonathan Zepp leads Media & Entertainment for Android & Google Play. He describes himself as “an entertainment content enthusiast fortunate to find my way to Google at a time when the company was broadly considering how to think about entertainment content.”

Zepp is charged with looking after partnerships and business strategy for entertainment, sports and news video content. He and his team also drive business and content operations for Google Pay Movies & TV. He previously led content partnerships for YouTube in the Americas. Prior to joining Google Play in June 2011, Zepp held key digital entertainment leadership roles at Sony Network Entertainment, Paramount Pictures and Napster. A graduate of the Boston University School of Law, he began his career as a corporate and intellectual property lawyer.

Redbox On Demand

Redbox CEO Galen Smith

If you only think of Redbox for its fleet of more than 41,500 bright-red DVD and Blu-ray Disc rental kiosks, stationed outside Walmarts, supermarkets and drugstores, you’re only getting half the picture.

Redbox also operates a digital movie store, Redbox On Demand, that since its launch in December 2017 has “surpassed major milestones to become a real player in the competitive digital home entertainment space,” says Redbox CEO Galen Smith.

Redbox On Demand was established as a complement to the disc-rental kiosks for which the Redbox brand was known. “Our customers come to us for that transactional experience — it’s Friday night, and they want to watch a specific movie,” Smith told Media Play News in January 2018. “We try to satisfy them with our kiosk network, but there are occasions where you might not want to go out and rent a movie from a kiosk. So rather than lose that transactional occasion, we’re giving them the chance to get it online.”

Consumers are seizing that opportunity, Smith says. Nearly 60% of Redbox On Demand consumers are people who have either stopped renting discs at Redbox kiosks or never patronized Redbox before, Smith says.

“We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of customers, including bringing back folks we haven’t seen in a while,” he says. The On Demand service has even surpassed expectations in its ability to bring customers back to the box.

Last December, Redbox On Demand celebrated its one-year anniversary with a most welcome development: Redbox apps are now featured on all Vizio SmartCast TVs. Without apps, it’s hard for digital retailers to sell or rent movies over the Internet. Redbox apps are also available on TVs made by Samsung and LG, and the addition of Vizio — also a top 10 brand — is significant, says Chris Yates, general manager of Redbox On Demand.

Redbox continues to aggressively seek out partnerships with consumer electronics companies to install Redbox On Demand apps on new TVs and devices.

The company also continues to expand its library of content “to include more titles we know our customers want to watch,” Smith says. “Since launch, we’ve added about 5,000 titles, and now have more than 12,000 curated titles in our library. We are focused on providing consumers the content they want most.

“As the industry continues to evolve, consumers are inundated with more entertainment choices, but Redbox and our Redbox On Demand operate in a unique position offering choice across a wide variety of formats and price points. We’re pleased with the momentum we’re seeing with Redbox On Demand — particularly in bringing people back into the Redbox ecosystem.”

Smith was named CEO of Redbox in 2016 and is the architect behind many of the company’s major achievements, including Redbox On Demand and removing delays in studio windows at the kiosk. A former Morgan Stanley investment banker with an MBA from the University of Chicago, Smith, 42, joined the finance team at Redbox in May 2009 as director of corporate finance. Coinstar, the operator of a network of coin-cashing machines, had just acquired the other half of Redbox from the McDonald’s Corp. Within two years, Smith had become SVP of finance for Redbox. “I loved being in the business,” he told Media Play News. “I started negotiating studio contracts and building relationships across the ecosystem.”

Smith was the CFO of Outerwall (Coinstar’s new moniker) when the company was sold to private equity investor Apollo Global Management in September 2016, and Smith was named CEO of Redbox.

“With this offering, we are giving consumers more choices than ever before,” Smith says of Redbox On Demand. “We are bringing them back into the Redbox ecosystem and reminding them of the great value we offer at the box at $1.75 a night.”

Apple iTunes

Less than three months after the June 2006 launch of Blu-ray Disc as the next-generation physical media product, Apple’s then 3-year-old iTunes Store birthed the digital movie sales business.

“Today, we are making more than 75 films available online, and we will be adding more every month,” the late Apple founder Steve Jobs told reporters at a September 2006 press event. The first batch of films were from Disney, Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax, “including Pirates of the Caribbean and Cars,” he said.

Two years later, in his Macworld 2008 keynote, Jobs announced iTunes would begin “renting” movies over the Internet, as well.

Since then, the iTunes Store has continued to be among the most aggressive digital retailers, with a growing library of what now numbers about 112,000 movies and 300,000 TV shows for sale or rent, playable across a broad swath of Apple devices. A “Family Sharing” feature lets up to six people in a family share each other’s iTunes purchases.

Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple’s share for selling and renting movies, TV shows and other video content had dropped to between 20% and 35% — down from over 50% as recently as 2012. Despite the percentage drop, Apple told the Journal that its movie rentals and purchases had risen over the previous year and had reached their highest level in more than a decade.

Apple keeps a sharp eye on what’s going on in theaters. For the release earlier this month of Captain Marvel, the iTunes store discounted numerous Marvel movies, dropping the purchase price to $14.99 for such recent hits as Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man.

On the eve of the January CES in Las Vegas, Samsung Electronics announced it will offer iTunes movies and TV shows, and provide Apple AirPlay 2 support, on 2019 Samsung Smart TV models beginning this spring. In what is believed to be an industry first, a new iTunes Movies and TV Shows app will debut only on Samsung Smart TVs in more than 100 countries. AirPlay 2 support will be available on Samsung Smart TVs in 190 countries worldwide.

Speaking at the Samsung “First Look CES” preview event at the Aria Resort & Casino, Andrew Sivori, a VP of TV product marketing at Samsung Electronics America, told members of the press, “For the first time, users in more than 100 countries will be able to access the iTunes Movies and TV Shows app. … Users will be able to access their iTunes Movies and TV Shows purchases as well as buy or watch something new from the iTunes store.”

Q&A: 10 Questions

We sat down with three of our Fast Forward-winning retailers — in a virtual way, of course — for a discussion of key points affecting the digital movie sales-and-rental trade. (Jonathan Zepp was traveling; his quotes are from an earlier interview with Thomas K. Arnold in Variety.)

How do we get across to consumers the value proposition of buying or “renting” a digital movie when they are used to an all-you-can watch “buffet” from Netflix and the other streaming services for a little more than $10 a month?

Cameron Douglas, FandangoNow: “Premium content for purchase has always coexisted with subscription services. When I worked at the studios, we always knew our titles would hit the pay window on HBO or elsewhere at some point, but we still had reliably significant volume for the physical DVDs and Blu-ray Discs for a long retail lifecycle. As subscription offerings continue to grow, so too does consumer comfort and familiarity with streaming. You soon discover that the breadth of content out there requires the frequent tap of a ‘Buy’ or ‘Rent’ button, even if you already have access to one or more subscription services, because those subscription services often don’t have the movie you want.”

Galen Smith, Redbox: “Redbox — at the box and On Demand — offers new-release movies that subscription services won’t have for months, years or ever. ‘Back to the Movies’ is a Redbox initiative that was soft launched in August 2018. It speaks to and reminds people what movie watching used to be, the nostalgia it creates for so many people, and why we need to get it back. Entertainment consumption has become a solo event of endless scrolling, binging for hours, or sitting in a room with everyone on their own devices. But being together is missing. So with our Back to the Movies initiative, we are encouraging consumers to take a step back. Watching a movie used to bring people together, and we need to make an effort to do it again. And just because you have an all-you-can-eat solution, some of the best content is not available in subscription. Redbox provides the best content at the best value.”

Jonathan Zepp, Google Play Movies & TV: “The subscription streaming model offers a compelling value proposition for many users, but a lot of great content is not available in that model. That is especially true for users who value earlier access to the most popular new-release movies. I’d love to see the industry articulate the value proposition of the transactional model relative to subscription and ad-supported options, especially around content availability. We are thinking a lot about how to make this awareness more intuitive within our ecosystem.”

What makes your digital service unique?

Douglas: “Fandango is the only company out there in our space solely dedicated to the full entertainment lifecycle, from pre-release awareness and trailer buzz through Fandango MovieClips to the first reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, advance tickets on Fandango to home entertainment on FandangoNow. One might guess that’s just an internal operational benefit, but it’s actually a boon for consumers too. For example, this year we were able to be a big part of the awards season conversation, across Fandango, FandangoNow, and of course Rotten Tomatoes as well. Fans flocked to our network looking to catch up with the year’s best movies, knowing that Fandango could give them access to all the awards contenders in one place, whether the films were only playing on the big screen or already available at home.”

Smith: “Three things. First, choice. Redbox is dedicated to making Movie Nights memorable and meaningful events that can be enjoyed across a wide variety of formats and price points. DVD rentals start at $1.75 a night, Blu-ray Disc rentals start at $2 a night and 4K UHD rentals in select markets for $2.50 a night. Via Redbox On Demand, Video On Demand rentals start at $3.99 a night for new releases. Consumers can also purchase previously rented movies and games at the box or through On Demand via electronic sellthrough.

“Second, value. Enhancing our value at the box, our loyalty program ‘Redbox Perks’ rewards customers with points for free rentals when they rent or purchase movies at the box or On Demand. The program now has more than 32 million members, with more than 3 million new customers joining in 2018 alone.

“And, third, marketing. Recent promotions, such as ‘Stream On Demand, Get a Free Physical Rental’ have proven to drive both On Demand and physical rentals from new and lapsed customers. Redbox Perks includes three tiers (Star, Superstar, Legend) to recognize our most valuable customers with special benefits; and badging that gives them fun challenges to earn serious bragging rights. Related to our Back to the Movies initiative, a new ‘Family Fun’ badge is earned when Perks members watch three movies that bring the family together for Movie Night. Also, our incredibly popular ‘Spin’ series offers gamified promotions like Summer Spin and Winter Spin that give customers the ability to win instant prizes and be entered for larger prizes (entertainment packages and fun trips).”

Zepp: “Since our launch we have worked to constantly iterate and improve the experience for consumers. This includes establishing a global footprint. We are … available in more markets than any other transactional service in the world right now.”

What key moves/strategies have helped grow the transactional business at large and at your service in particular in the past year?

Douglas: “We were early adopters of 4K back in 2014, and it was a good bet for us to be first-to-market in 4K in those early days. That part of our business has grown over the years to become a truly significant part of FandangoNow in the past year. 4K has become one of the main ways that mainstream consumers make the transition from physical to digital. Last year, we also began a concerted effort to converge the FandangoNow experience across all of our apps, whether you are using Web, mobile, one of our connected TV apps, or of course our native experience on Roku. I’d say right now, our 10-foot experience on connected TV’s is the best in the market.”

Smith: “We’ve built out a talented and dedicated team to support the Redbox On Demand business across product management, technology, content acquisition, merchandising and marketing. Further, our service offers access to consumers that no other digital retailer can provide, which makes us an incredibly valuable partner. We are expanding the category, and for that I am excited about the year ahead.”

Has the studio strategy of giving digital movies a two- or three-week window over the DVD and Blu-ray Disc release proved effective? What else would you like to see the studios do?

Smith: “Each of the studios would need to opine on its effectiveness across the broader base. For our segment of the market, many of our consumers simply cannot or are not willing to pay $15 to $20 for a movie. It’s one reason our rental business is much larger than our electronic sellthrough business. There is a marketing benefit in letting our consumers know a movie is on its way to the kiosk and VOD.”

What have been your key marketing/promotional efforts in the past year?

Smith: “Redbox recently relaunched the brand, including digital and TV spots as well as sponsorships, such as the Redbox Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Our Perks loyalty program has become a major marketing engine for Redbox with new badging opportunities that range from seasonal and title-specific marketing to promotional support. We’re proud of our Back to the Movies initiative that has launched across Redbox social media channels and through media partnerships with Attn: and Scary Mommy (media companies leveraging social media).”

Netflix has made content recommendations a hallmark of its service. Can that technology be applied to the digital retail market?

Douglas: “Recommendations are already part of what we do at FandangoNow, and it continues to get better and better. In the case of Fandango, it comes down to personalization more than discrete recommendations — this is a big focus for us.”

Smith: “Definitely. Personalizing an experience for a consumer is important. Even though we try to curate content for consumers, we want to make sure that the most relevant content is recommended to improve their experience. To accomplish this, we have a new recommendation engine rolling out to all of our platforms that leverages our history of rental occasions over the past 16 years to suggest the content the consumer may want to watch most.

“To augment this, we have invested heavily in our Marketing Analytics team to help refine the algorithms that drive our recommendations. In 2018 we developed an enhanced customer segmentation and targeted marketing programs aligned with these segments. These campaigns are designed to drive repeat visits for new customers, increase frequency for engaged customers, and grow retention among our long-tenured customers. We continue to build additional machine-learning models (artificial intelligence) to optimize our promotions and deliver personalized recommendations to our customers across our storefronts. In the process, we are driving incremental trips and making the customer experience better by surfacing the most relevant titles to our customers in our outbound marketing and on our storefronts.”

Uniform pricing remains a mandate among digital platforms — unlike among packaged-media retail. Will there ever be loss-leader pricing on new-release digital titles?

Smith: “Redbox is in a unique position to drive value through our Perks loyalty program that earns physical rentals for On Demand and box transactions. We also work closely with studios to offer and promote promotional temporary price reductions on specific titles.”

A hallmark of packaged media has been special features and bonus material. Why aren’t those features included and/or marketed for digital?

Douglas: “They are included to some extent, and most of the digital retailers, including FandangoNow, have tried and tested various ways of surfacing this content. It certainly was a great way to entice consumers to buy in the physical era, whether or not the content was ever watched by most buyers. I think the bar is higher for digital and as an industry we need to make this marketing tactic even more relevant in the digital era.”

Smith: “That’s a great question. We love having the special features on our physical discs but would also love to have them on digital purchases as well.”

The Sky Store in the U.K. includes a DVD with any digital movie purchase. Any plans to replicate that strategy in the United States?

Smith: “We don’t have that strategy specifically, but if you think about our loyalty program, we are trying to encourage consumption on both digital and physical by awarding points for digital transactions that can be used on physical product. We think we can uniquely bring the two worlds together.”
Netflix is partnering with telecoms and pay-TV operators to offer discounted and/or free service in exchange for access to new subscribers.

Would digital retail consider partnering with SVOD to sell the latter’s original content in addition to including free Netflix access with each digital transaction?

Douglas: “Everything is on the table, as long as it supports our core Fandango consumer brand promise, which is to provide premium content, whenever and wherever fans want to see it, whether it’s the theater or at home. We’re seeing new models — and more acronyms! — every day, and I’m so grateful to be a part of such an exciting era of growth and innovation at Fandango.”

Smith: “Unlikely. It makes sense for someone selling bandwidth and data to partner with Netflix so that their consumers use more bandwidth (Comcast, T-Mobile). For Netflix originals (or Hulu or Amazon, for that matter) we would happily offer their content to our consumers at the kiosk or on VOD as available. In fact, we offer a number of their originals today. It is great for us as it offers consumers the opportunity to try an original at a great value, and if they like it, we can be a great acquisition channel for the respective SVOD service. Not every consumer will want to commit to a monthly fee, let alone multiple services, so we think we can stand in the gap and offer content on a transactional VOD and physical basis to help extend reach.”

Digital Retailers to be Honored in Second Annual Fast Forward Awards

Media Play News Feb. 19 announced that four digital retailers will receive the second annual Media Play Fast Forward Awards, honoring people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

This year’s honorees are Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at FandangoNow; Google Play’s Jonathan Zepp, Head of Media and Entertainment; Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox; and the team at Apple iTunes (the company asked that no individual be singled out).

With streaming continuing to dominate the home entertainment business,  the transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) model is more important than ever to the Hollywood studios.

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TVOD — both electronic sellthrough (EST) and a la carte streaming — also posted significant gains in 2018, thanks in large part to aggressive and innovative digital retailers.

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

Google Play Movies & TV is 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.

Redbox 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 TVs — in addition to TVs from Samsung and LG.

And 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. They’ll also be able to buy new movies or TV shows directly through the app.

The Media Play Fast Forward awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

The four digital retailers will be profiled in the March issue of Media Play News‘ monthly magazine, available in both print and digital editions, and honored at a luncheon in Los Angeles at a date that has not yet been determined.

A portion of the proceeds of the luncheon will benefit Caterina’s Club, a Los Angeles charity that provides warm meals, affordable housing assistance, and job training to homeless and low-income families throughout Southern California.

Redbox, Sony Pictures Extended Disc, Digital Distribution Pact

Redbox and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) on Jan. 7 announced a new multi-year distribution deal that continues to make SPHE DVD and Blu-ray Disc titles available at Redbox kiosks on the day they are released.

Additionally, as part of the deal SPHE titles will also be available on Redbox On Demand, the company’s year-old digital retailer that allows consumers to buy and stream movies and other content over the Internet. Redbox  On Demand is considered to be one of the big eight digital retailers.

“Sony Pictures Home Entertainment continues to be a great partner in making their content accessible to Redbox consumers no matter how they want to watch it,” said Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox.  “We’re excited about their 2019 content slate and look forward to making it available at our kiosks and through Redbox On Demand.”

“Redbox continues to be an important distribution partner for our content,” said Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution at SPHE. “At Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, we are committed to satisfying all the ways audiences engage with entertainment, and our deal with Redbox is an important part of our efforts to provide a wide range of options for our consumers.”

The new deal goes into effect with SPHE’s latest and upcoming home entertainment releases, including Goosebumps 2Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Holmes & Watson.

Redbox has distribution deals in place with all major studios except Walt Disney. The company has always stocked DVDs and Blu-ray Discs from Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures as soon as they are released, but 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. used to hold back releases from Redbox for as long as a month because the studios feared rentals would cannibalize sales, particularly since Redbox kiosks are often situated outside big retail stores like Walmart. Universal even sued Redbox over renting its discs.

Over the last year, however, Redbox has negotiated new distribution deals with these studios that have either reduced the holdbacks to one week or eliminated them entirely.

2018: Getting Along in a Multi-Platform World

Back in 1989, a State Department official named Francis Fukuyama wrote a controversial essay on the “end of history,” opining that the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc communism, the reform movement in China, and the reunification of Germany signaled a triumph for Western democracy and a very real promise of freedom and liberty for all.

Fukuyama’s vision of a global utopia didn’t last long, but for a brief moment in time cultural and political differences seemed to be set aside in favor of everyone working together to make the world a better place.

Similarly, in 2018 the various factions in home entertainment seemed to set aside their differences and recognize that we’re living in a multi-platform world — and that a peaceful coexistence between disc and digital, subscription and transactional, was, indeed, possible.

“2018 saw the continued integration of technology and content at an even more accelerated pace, and, with that, the opportunity to engage fans with more focused and meaningful experiences that extend the life of our film and television properties,” said Keith Feldman, president of worldwide home entertainment for 20th Century Fox.

Indeed, studios cut back on selling content to Netflix — most notably Disney, which pulled all its movies off the service by the end of the year — in favor of issuing it on their own platforms. They rallied behind Movies Anywhere, a digital movie storage “locker” launched in October 2017, and saw digital movie sales soar, with an 18% gain reported in the third quarter of 2018, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group numbers.

Netflix, meanwhile, vowed to spend $8 billion in 2018 on producing its own shows, with the goal of making its content library 50% original.

Studios that once sued Redbox for renting DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, claiming the kiosk vendor was cannibalizing disc sales, struck distribution deals in which prior holdbacks were either sharply cut back or eliminated. They also rallied behind Redbox On Demand, a digital movie store launched in December 2017.

On the retail front, big-box chains like Best Buy and Walmart put discs back into the spotlight, buoyed by the emergence of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

And digital retailers like FandangoNow and Google Play revved up their promotional muscle and pumped up the message that they had fresh movies for sale or rent. FandangoNow even put up a notice on its home page, touting the fact that it offers “New releases not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime subscriptions.”

It was all part of a bigger picture, in a year dominated by major media mergers — AT&T buying Time Warner, Disney buying 20th Century Fox — suggesting it was high time to come together and restructure existing business models to reflect changing consumer habits.

Content, as always, was king, but the feuding fiefdoms of the past were at last coming to peace with each other — and with themselves.

Subscription streaming continued to dominate the home entertainment business in 2018. Indeed, in the first nine months of this year, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, consumer spending on Netflix and other subscription streaming services rose more than 30% to $9.4 billion, nearly $2 billion more than consumers spent on all other forms of home entertainment combined– disc purchases ($2.79 billion) and rentals ($1.37 billion); digital purchases, or electronic sellthrough (EST, $1.8 billion),  and digital rentals, or transactional video-on-demand (TVOD, $1.57 billion).

But where Hollywood once saw a threat, in 2018 the studios saw an opportunity. As consumers, thanks to streaming, became increasingly accustomed to viewing movies and other content electronically, studios focused on moving them toward on-demand digital purchases or rentals — driving home the message that new releases aren’t typically available through subscriptions.

“Our comprehensive and strategic efforts to drive digital ownership and bolster engagement such as leveraging the early window, offering exclusive extras and emphasizing the best viewing experience possible are proving to be very effective as consumers continue to move toward and embrace the digital experience,” said Chris Oldre, EVP of pay TV, digital and international distribution at Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

“Movies Anywhere has had a tremendous impact on transforming digital consumption and is a testament to the strength of the studios and digital retailers that have joined forces on an unprecedented scale. This year Disney once again experienced remarkable growth as our digital sales exceeded expectations in conjunction with the studio’s unrivaled box office success. Disney has the top three bestselling digital titles to date with Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. We’re also incredibly proud of our celebration of Marvel’s 10-year anniversary this year.  We promoted the Marvel Cinematic Universe home entertainment catalog with a special sales promotion across digital, which undoubtedly helped propel Avengers: Infinity War to the No. 1 live-action spot on the all-time digital sales chart in a record-setting period.”

Ron Schwartz, president of Lionsgate Worldwide Home Entertainment, said that as consumer habits evolve, digital movie sales and rentals – electronic sellthrough (EST) and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) — remain a priority. “We saw a significant increase in industry spending in this area in 2018, up 20%, and we will continue to collaborate with our retail partners on fresh ideas to keep consumer interest alive,” he said. “We see a large and growing market with multi-platform and specialty releases and will continue to build our leadership in this area.”

At the same time, Schwartz notes, “Disc sales remain robust … 4K UHD BD is rapidly gaining in popularity, as spend is on track to double this year versus last. We are committed to serving our audiences across the full spectrum of the digital   and physical business and we will continue to be a first mover in adapting these businesses as they continue to evolve.”

For Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home media distribution at Paramount Pictures, 2018 was the year of 4K.

“More than 42 million homes now have a 4K Ultra HD television and roughly 400 titles are available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc and over 600 on Digital 4K,” Buchi said. “The numbers keep growing and for good reason: 4K brings home entertainment to life like never before, delivering content that better represents filmmakers’ original vision.  We’ve seen this play out with the week one 4K sales of Mission: Impossible — Fallout, which delivered our highest number of UHD discs sold, as well as the highest percentage of our physical sales ever.”

Disney’s Oldre agrees. “4K Ultra HD is a robust line of business for us and we’re experiencing healthy growth,” he said. “We continue to receive solid support from our physical retail partners and are confident it’s a market that our customers will continue to embrace given the format’s premier resolution.”

Catalog sales were another bright spot in 2018, Buchi said. “We’ve seen our digital catalog sales growing in markets around the world, including a 35% increase domestically through October, which indicates that more and more consumers have become comfortable with the format and are returning to the concept of building collections.  In addition, physical catalog sales have exceeded our expectations, as we continue to make concerted efforts to celebrate anniversaries of classic titles and strategically promote films from our library.”

Retailers certainly did their part in pushing the transactional business. At Best Buy and Walmart, the emergence of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray led to bigger disc sections and, in the case of Best Buy, placement back in the center of the store.

Redbox in 2018 relaunched its brand, which included some major ad campaigns and sponsorships, including the Redbox Bowl college football game on New Year’s Eve at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The company also revamped its loyalty program; negotiated more favorable distribution deals with studios; and expanded the availability of previously rented movies and video games at kiosks.

The Redbox On Demand digital service, meanwhile, celebrated its first birthday in December with a new app on Vizio SmartCast TVs. The company also expanded its selection to 12,000 titles, from 7,000 at launch. CEO Galen Smith in December told Media Play News that Redbox On Demand has “surpassed major milestones to become a real player in the competitive digital home entertainment space. We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of customers, including bringing back folks we haven’t seen in a while.”

FandangoNow, a business unit of movie-ticket seller Fandango, struck deals with most major studios that allow it to package movie rentals into “binge bundles” that let consumers watch multiple movies at a lower price. The new offering launched on the Labor Day weekend with more than 100 bundles.

FandangoNow also cross-promotes digital movie sales and rentals with ticket sales. In December, just before the holidays, consumers who spent $20 on FandangoNow received $8 toward a movie ticket.

In the end, studio executives agree, it all comes down to keeping consumers engaged — which requires constant work.

“From a functional solution like Movies Anywhere that allows consumers to build and enjoy a streamlined digital library, to premium viewing with 4K HDR, to story extensions through virtual reality and other emerging formats, keeping consumers invested and engaged requires constant experimentation and innovation,” says Fox’s Keith Feldman. “Our ongoing challenge is to exceed consumer expectations today and simultaneously deliver next-generation offerings that will continue that engagement in the future.”

Redbox On Demand Celebrates First Birthday With New App Deal with Vizio

Redbox On Demand celebrates its one-year anniversary this month with a most welcome development: Redbox apps are now featured on all Vizio SmartCast TVs.

Without apps, it’s hard for digital retailers to sell or rent movies over the Internet. Redbox apps are already on TVs made by Samsung and LG, and the addition of Vizio – also a top 10 brand – is significant, said Chris Yates, general manager of Redbox On Demand.

“Our expansion to Vizio SmartCast TVs brings Redbox On Demand to millions of families directly from their couches,” Yates said. “As we head into 2019, we’ll continue to focus on the importance of device expansion to make our app available on as many devices as possible.”

Redbox – known for its nationwide fleet of more than 40,000 red kiosks where consumers can rent DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays for a little more than a buck a night – in December 2017 launched a digital movie store called Redbox On Demand.

Redbox On Demand lets customers buy or rent digital copies of films over the Internet, putting the company in the same digital retail space as Amazon Prime Video, Apple iTunes, FandangoNow, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV and a handful of other vendors.

The service launched with more than 7,000 movie and TV show titles available for on-demand streaming or purchase and digital distribution deals with all major studios except the Walt Disney Co.

A year later, said Redbox CEO Galen Smith, Redbox On Demand has “surpassed major milestones to become a real player in the competitive digital home entertainment space. We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of customers, including bringing back folks we haven’t seen in a while.”

More than 50% of Redbox On Demand transactions are from people who have either stopped renting discs at Redbox kiosks or never patronized Redbox before, Smith said.

To maintain the momentum, Smith said, Redbox is aggressively seeking out partnerships with consumer electronics companies to install Redbox On Demand apps on new TVs.

Redbox also is expanding its library of content “to include more titles we know our customers want to watch,” Smith said. “Since launch, we’ve added about 5,000 titles, and now have about 12,000 titles in our curated library.”

Redbox also is prepping its first-ever national ad campaign, which will promote both kiosks and Redbox On Demand. Two national spots are in the works, bowing at the 2018 Redbox Bowl, a college football game between the Michigan State Spartans and the University of Oregon Ducks that will be held on New Year’s Eve at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Looking back, Smith said the concept for Redbox On Demand was simply to give customers more choices on how to bring entertainment into the home.

“Our customers come to us for that transactional experience — it’s Friday night, and they want to watch a specific movie,” he told Media Play News last January. “We try to satisfy them with our kiosk network, but there are occasions where you might not want to go out and rent a movie from a kiosk.

“So rather than lose that transactional occasion, we’re giving them the chance to get their movie online. We want to make sure we still capture that demand. It’s complementary to what we’ve been doing for years.”

Smith also sees Redbox On Demand as a way to transition consumers to the concept of bringing entertainment into their homes digitally. “We have a whole set of customers who might not have tried TVOD or EST, and we think we can transition them to this new form of content delivery that they’re not yet using,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity for us to get them to stay within the Redbox ecosystem and serve their needs — and it helps the studios, as well, by getting consumers interested in doing a higher transaction.”

Like other digital retailers, Redbox On Demand charges customers significantly more to stream a movie online ($3.99 to $4.99 for new releases, $1.99 for older films) than to rent a disc at a kiosk ($1.750). “The kiosk will always be the best value,” he said, “but if you want to watch it without leaving your home the value comes in the form of convenience, the ability to press a button on the remote and get the movie directly from the app.”

Redbox, Warner Strike Same-Day DVD, Blu-ray Disc Deal

Redbox and Warner Bros. June 27 announced a new agreement bringing all newly released DVDs and Blu-ray Discs from Warner Bros. to Redbox kiosks on the same day as their initial release.

Previously, there was a one-week delay. And before the one-week delay was instituted in May 2017,  Warner withheld new DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases from Redbox kiosks for 28 days, fearing that inexpensive rental availability would cannibalize sales — particularly since Redbox kiosks are often situated outside, or inside near the entrance to, big retailer disc sellers such as Walmart.

That rationale is no longer valid, Redbox CEO told Media Play News in February 2018. “We reach a different segment of the market, so I think there’s a better understanding today of the benefits Redbox provides to the studios,” he said. “This view that sellthrough is being hurt by rental, that’s a pretty outdated view of the world, I think. The studios understand it’s a great opportunity to serve a customer base they might not otherwise serve.”

The new agreement with Warner Bros. also maintains new-release and catalog availability via Redbox On Demand at first release.

“We’re thrilled to announce this day-and-date agreement with Warner Bros. that provides the consistently strong slate of Warner Bros. titles to consumers at their earliest physical retail sell-through availability,” Smith said in a statement. “We appreciate the partnership with Warner Bros. in making their content accessible to Americans – whether for rental or purchase, on disc or On Demand.”

“Warner Bros. is pleased to continue our long-standing relationship with Redbox,” said Mike Takac, EVP of  sales at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “We’re aligned in our mutual goal of satisfying consumer demand for Warner Bros. content — in any format, across platforms.”

Upcoming new releases from Warner Bros. include Rampage (July 17) and Ready Player One (July 24).

The Redbox retail network now includes more than 41,500 kiosks and has more locations than Starbucks’ and McDonald’s in the U.S. combined. Redbox offers movies and video games for rental and purchase at a great deal, starting at $1.75 a night for a DVD rental.

Redbox On Demand offers many of the same new-release movies available at the Box, and an expanded library of hit movies and TV shows, for convenient rental or purchase On Demand.

Redbox Launches 4K Ultra HD Rentals in Six Test Markets

Making good on a promise it made in January at CES, Redbox on May 22 announced the launch of 4K Ultra HD rentals in six test markets.

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs rent for $2.50 per night, 50 cents higher than the rental rate for regular Blu-ray Discs (DVDs are $1.75). The test is rolling out across more than 2,500 kiosks in Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin, Detroit, Miami, and New York City.

“This is a major move for Redbox as we focus on expanding consumer access to home entertainment options across price points and formats,” said Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox. “As the popularity of 4K content increases and pricing of 4K hardware decreases, we’re excited to offer the best viewing experience at the best price for 4K Blu-ray discs.”

Initially, four high-profile action films will be available for rent in the six test markets:  Black Panther from Walt Disney/Marvel, The Commuter from Lionsgate, Warner’s The Matrix and The Martian from 20th Century Fox.

“We’re starting with a mix of new and catalog titles, so consumers can rent new movies in all available disc formats or go back and experience The Matrix and The Martian in a new way,” Smith said.

New releases and popular catalog titles will be added regularly, and the number of titles and copies will vary by kiosk and location.

“As we go forward, we will try to add movies if not every week, then close to every week,” Smith said.  “Certain titles are not being made on 4K Ultra HD because there isn’t enough demand — 12 Strong, for example, wasn’t made in 4K Ultra HD — so as we start to grow the business with the studios, it’s a great way to partner together and hopefully allow more movies to be made in 4K Ultra HD.”

“Redbox has a history of supporting consumer adoption of new technologies and elevating the quality of the viewing experience,” added Ash Eldifrawi, chief marketing and customer experience officer at Redbox. “Our nightly rental model makes the ultimate viewing experience a great deal that’s more accessible to consumers.”

The 4K UHD test adds to Redbox’s recent rollout of Nintendo Switch video game rentals in six markets nationwide: San Antonio, Portland, Seattle, Nashville, Denver and Salt Lake City.

In December 2017, the company announced Redbox On Demand. The service complements the company’s deal-driven, new-release offering at kiosks and broadens Redbox’s selection of movies and TV shows via transactional video on demand (VOD) and electronic sell-through (EST).

All Redbox rentals, including 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, can be returned to any Redbox location. Consumers can visit www.redbox.com to learn more about the test and required hardware, including the option to watch on 4K UHD-enabled game consoles.

The Redbox 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray rental test comes as players are coming down in price. Best Buy recently began advertising a Magnavox model for $79.99, down from $199.99.

According to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, sales of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs in the first quarter of this year were up 130% from the first quarter of 2017, accounting for nearly 12% of total Blu-ray Disc spending.

In the first quarter of 2018, 4K UHD TV penetration reached nearly 35 million U.S. households and 4K UHD players are now in more than million U.S. homes. Notably, more than 1 million 4K UHD players were sold in Q1 2018 alone, representing one-third of all Blu-ray Disc player sales in the quarter and an increase of 58% from Q1 2017.”

Consumers now have more than 300 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray titles available for viewing on Ultra HD Blu-ray players and enabled game consoles and 438 4K Ultra HD Digital titles, DEG reported.

Smith said he hopes that Redbox kiosk availability of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray titles will help transition the format from the early adopters to mainstream audiences.

“Obviously it is the very best experience for an at-home opportunity to consume content, so we are giving our customers another choice,” Smith said.  “And by having this format available in our kiosks, it helps to validate it. We want to help the studios take it from a niche product to a mainstream product.”

Smith said he also hopes to aid in the educational effort and alleviate consumer confusion.

“Right now, it’s a little confusing in terms of what you need,” he said. “You need a 4K Ultra HD disc and a 4K Ultra HD TV, and you also need a 4K Ultra HD player. And by us being in the market and being able to communicate with a very movie-loving consumer, we can expand the market.”

Redbox Snags First Exclusive With Rights to New Nicolas Cage Film

Redbox is now exclusively offering discs of The Humanity Bureau, starring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Lind, for rent at all Redbox kiosks.

The arrangement marks Redbox’s first movie exclusive. “We’re always looking for opportunities to add to our content offering based on what we know customers like to watch,” says a Redbox spokesperson.

The Humanity Bureau is the first film released by distribution company QME Entertainment Inc., a joint venture between Quiver Distribution Inc. and Minds Eye Entertainment.

“We’re thrilled to work in partnership with Redbox to ensure that our film The Humanity Bureau will be readily available to consumers nationwide at their more than 41,000 kiosks and Redbox On Demand,” said Berry Meyerowitz, co-president of QME Entertainment. “Their commitment to the rental market is unparalleled and guarantees that we will be able to reach a widespread audience.”

The Humanity Bureau, which made its theatrical debut in April, is a dystopian thriller set in the year 2030 that sees the world in a permanent state of economic recession and facing serious environmental problems as a result of global warming.

“Redbox provides customers with the newest home entertainment releases, months or years before subscription streaming services,” said Galen Smith, CEO at Redbox. “Partnering with QME Entertainment as the exclusive window partner on The Humanity Bureau further demonstrates our commitment to delivering the latest content across multiple price points and formats.”

The Humanity Bureau is now available to rent exclusively on DVD and Blu-ray Disc at all Redbox kiosks in the United States through June 11. The film will be available to purchase at designated retailers, online and in-store, on June 12.