Women in Home Entertainment 2020: The 12 Captains Talk COVID-19, Remote Working and Lasting Changes

Media Play News asked the 12 “captains” in our third annual Women in Home Entertainment issue to participate in a detailed Q&A about their careers and the challenges of COVID-19, which truly has made 2020 a year like no other. We also asked some fun questions to liven, and lighten, things up. An abridged Q&A appears in the August 2020 print and digital edition of Media Play News. The full Q&A has been broken down into three sections, running here on consecutive days. This is the second part, on the impact of COVID-19 on their working and personal lives — and on our business.

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CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY, PART TWO

How has your work life changed with COVID-19?

Sarah Aubrey, Head of Original Content, HBO Max: Working from home has been an immense change not without its challenges, but we are all still working at the same incredible pace as we were in the office. Our teams have persevered, managing launching a platform alongside home schooling and shared spaces. Because of the determination of our teams, we were able to launch HBO Max on schedule and continue to debut and create new Max Originals, all from our homes. We have had to adjust how we tackle things day to day, but we are still accomplishing them, and with a level of quality that I think only this team could achieve. I keep reminding everyone, “Guys, when you have a baby, that’s not the end, that’s the beginning.” We are just at the beginning with HBO Max and I am excited to share everything we still have coming.

SEE ALSO ‘WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2020: THE 12 CAPTAINS TALK CAREER PATHS, HIGHLIGHTS AND TOUGH CALLS’

Kelly Campbell, President, Hulu: While there have been some obvious changes and challenges transitioning to a remote work environment, I’ve also been energized by the more than 2,500 Hulugans who have worked hard to maintain our culture beyond the physical walls of our office space, provide support to their colleagues and continue to push our business forward. As a company leader during this uncertain time, my focus remains on the health and safety of our employees and making sure I’m present, available and proactively communicating with all Hulugans on a regular basis.

SEE ALSO ‘WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2020: THE 12 CAPTAINS — WHO THEY ARE’

Agnes Chu, SVP, Content, Disney+: Like so many other working moms out there, it’s changed in many ways. Working from home has rewards and challenges. In between Zoom calls, I’m able to steal a hug or play a quick game with my 2-year-old daughter. I treasure that. But it can also be difficult to draw lines and have clear boundaries. With the help of my amazing husband, I’m learning new lessons every day in how to navigate and balance both.

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Andrea Downing, Co-President, PBS Distribution: We went remote in mid-March and instituted weekly conference calls with the full team to keep everyone in the loop. We invited some of our vendors to join us periodically to meet the broader team and talk about the work they are doing and how they are being impacted by the pandemic. Because productions shut down, affecting content delivery and procurement, and some of our vendors closed, we have had to be nimble and creative and quickly adapt to changing circumstances. I am really proud of how our team came together and almost seamlessly managed all that has been thrown at them.

Kathleen Gallagher, EVP and Managing Director — North America, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: While we have found ourselves working under the most unforeseen circumstances, I am especially proud of our team’s ability not only to navigate and excel in the face of the unprecedented challenges currently facing our industry, but to achieve such exceptional outcomes, as evidenced with The Invisible Man and, most recently, Trolls World Tour. Personally, much like everyone else, I am still figuring out the best way to balance office hours and family time. I have a 5-year-old son who has been out of school since March, and it is critical that I make time for him throughout the day. Of course, this isn’t easy as most of us are on back-to-back calls. It has been a unifying experience to get a glimpse into the home lives of our colleagues as kids and pets make guest appearances throughout the day. And, it has also been very empowering to see the broad support, compassion and respect around maintaining a work/life balance extend throughout the highest levels of our organization.

Hilary Hoffman, EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: I am so incredibly proud of my marketing team, who so swiftly and skillfully adapted to working remotely. With Universal’s decision to release select films to PVOD coming right on the heels of the stay-at-home order, the team around the world faced a massive undertaking in determining quickly and effectively the best way to join together to deliver on this new and unprecedented consumer offer. Together we successfully led the way in helping to launch the new platform while at the same time continuing to maintain a robust traditional home entertainment business.

Kim Overall, EVP, Consumer Insights and Innovation, Sony Pictures Entertainment: I am learning that working remotely and virtually means we need to look out for one another in different ways and listen to what we need on an individual level. Creating new routines and rituals is really important as we adjust to our new ways of working, interacting and socializing. Asking questions and listening have never been so important as we seek to understand the moment we are in and know how best to help and support each other.

Cindy Holland, VP, Original Content, Netflix: Like everyone, I’m spending more time on video conferences than I ever imagined, and a lot less time at industry events. And it’s always casual Friday, but I’ve never been that formal anyway.

Dametra Johnson-Marletti, GM, Digital Store Category Management, Microsoft Corp.: First, my heart goes out to the many lives that have been lost and families that have been impacted by COVID-19. From a work life perspective, Microsoft has been working remote since mid-March. With some minor enhancements, I was able to replicate the comfort of my Microsoft on-campus office. That, combined with the power and impact of Microsoft Teams meeting and collaboration technology has given us the ability to continue to drive business results, serve our customers, and collaborate with our partners in a very meaningful way. What I do miss most is seeing my co-workers every day. I work with a great group of people and it’s really hard in this environment to replicate the impromptu hallway chats or those quick office pop-in-type conversations — both work and social catch-up topics.

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Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, Film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment: We are busier than ever, and the work is incredibly challenging, which is a welcome respite from the monotony brought on by so many other things being shut down — travel, socializing and in-person meetings, to name a few. My whole career has focused on navigating changes in technology and consumer behavior, but the speed of change has exponentially accelerated. We are forced to find creative solutions and new ways of doing things on the fly, building the train while it is going down the track.

Amy Jo Smith, President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group: Since COVID-19 and working from home, I’ve found the DEG team is working more efficiently, but with some loneliness. We are on call all day, but also have time to slip in a walk with dogs or do a load of laundry. The days blend together and the hours start earlier and end later. I buy gas once a month, wear pants with no zippers and haven’t worn shoes without laces.

Lexine Wong, Senior EVP, Worldwide Marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment: I vividly remember my last day in the office. We ended the day celebrating a new partnership with our Sony Music partners in a small conference room with 30 people, drinking tequila and eating tapas from one of their sponsors. We said “see you in a bit” … and now 20 weeks later we are still working from home. Like many studios we were immediately faced with the challenge of theaters closing and focused quickly on getting our recent theatrical releases out on home entertainment. I was worried about my team feeling disconnected and wanted to make sure information was disseminated in real time without having to send tons of emails, so I instituted a “daily check-in” on Microsoft Teams for everyone on the marketing team. We continue to have them, and anyone in the marketing organization can join and add items to the daily agenda. Working from home has changed the entire social ecosystem, and I think many of us look forward to being back together and enjoying the camaraderie from in-person meetings, grabbing a quick coffee or lunch and touching base in the hallways when it’s safe to do so.

 

How has your personal life changed?

Aubrey: As much as my kids can drive me crazy, it’s been a real joy getting to spend more time together than we would have were I in the office. And I’ve been cooking more. My beef enchiladas have hit a new level of deliciousness.

Downing: I have been able to spend more time with my family, an unexpected benefit of the pandemic, and I am grateful that we are all healthy and managing well. I am acutely aware that there are so many who are not so fortunate. Without the commute I have more hours in the day, so I have been getting outside to walk or run consistently. It is challenging to not be able to get together with friends or travel the way that I used to, but I connect frequently through voice and video calls.

Holland: Way more time indoors, though I still find time for a daily bike ride.

Johnson-Marletti: On the homefront there were definite bright spots. The greatest by far has been the quality family time that has been created by by everyone being quarantined at home. Like many who work every day, especially working moms, the pace of life felt like a treadmill on high prior to the shutdown. The constant balance of work commitments, commute time, family activities, and other daily tasks seem to consume most hours. So, the instant slowing of life was quite enjoyable and really allowed us time together that we would not have otherwise had. All of that said, we have really started to miss the many wonderful things that create enjoyable variability in life, like travel, sports (pro and youth), concerts, and getting together with lots of friends, especially during the summer. We greatly look forward to when those things are once again the norm.

Schell: Since most activities outside the home are canceled, my immediate family is spending a lot more time together! That’s been a silver lining, being able to grab lunch with my 4-year-old and being home for dinner the moment my last meeting is over rather than having to commute in traffic. Like everyone else I’ve been catching up with old friends across geographies, like a monthly virtual meet-up of my business school section classmates.

Wong: With nowhere to go, you would have thought being quarantined at home with my husband and two kids (high school and college age) would have been pretty mellow … not so much, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Being forced to hang out and spend mealtimes together made for lots of interesting discussions. We experimented with lots of new recipes, planted a garden to try to create the “farm-to-table” experience (four kinds of tomatoes, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, eggplant, shishito peppers), participated in Zoom workouts, started our college kid on Robinhood to create a stock portfolio (Shopify was huge!) and worked on a ton of house projects, from organizing to building shelving and varnishing tables — Marie Kondo watch out! We even started composting!

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Where do you work at home? Did you already have a home office, or did you have to modify a space?

Aubrey: My home office is wherever I can find space for my laptop. My new office is my chair in the corner of my bedroom and then with my kids in the dining room.

Downing: I have a home office that I had to modify slightly to video conference effectively, primarily from a technology standpoint. I am still working on finding a way to keep my cats out of the picture — they always show up and insert themselves in my calls. They are now well-known across the company!

Gallagher: I didn’t have a home office. I started at the dining table. That lasted about a week. I created a mini office in the corner of the guestroom, which I later enhanced with a treadmill. I spend a lot more time looking at the treadmill than I do running on it! Aside from that, the setup is functional and comfortable, and having the distinct space definitely helps me transition between work and family mode.

Holland: I already had a home office.

Johnson-Marletti: I already had a home office set up, and really just needed a few modifications to replicate my on-campus work space, like getting a double monitor (life-changing), bringing home my comfy ergonomic chair and investing in a good webcam. I also upgraded my espresso machine — it’s not as good as the Microsoft version, but it does the job.

Overall: I modified a little spot upstairs that lets me look out onto the road, and I filled the walls with photos, quotes and other things that make me happy.

Schell:  I converted a guest bedroom, which has conveniently been empty since none of our East Coast family or friends can come visit. But I find that mixing it up helps keep me sane: spending time outside when the weather permits, or in the living room in the rare moments when my house is quiet. My home office can really be wherever my laptop is.

Smith: I have a home office but have given it to my daughter so she has quiet space for her virtual school. As a result, I’m in the kitchen as anyone who has been on a video call with me can confirm.

Wong: My original home office was in an open area which didn’t work at all due to all the noise with the kids being home, so I ended up setting up camp in an extra bedroom. I bought a better printer and slowly started acquiring office staples like a small filing cabinet, desk organizers, etc. as I realized we probably wouldn’t be heading back to our offices for a while.

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What’s the best thing about remote working?

Aubrey: Wearing my pajama pants.

Downing: Watching the way our team adapted to the new situation so quickly. They really leaned in and figured out how to work remotely while supporting their teams and managing their family obligations. Our weekly conference calls created an opportunity for a broader selection of team members to give updates on the business, which has led to greater transparency and sharing ideas for adapting our business as issues arise.

Gallagher: I have been so impressed by our team’s ability to quickly embrace and thrive in this new way of working. A great example is how swiftly and easily we are able to assemble the right group of people together for meetings. What previously may have taken days or weeks to schedule when we were in the office often now can take a matter of hours to accomplish. This ability to effectively adapt to a new work style and function nimbly has served us well in maintaining momentum, quality and consistency with both customers and consumers. That — and being able to wear sweats every day!

Hoffman: We have experienced meaningful upside in working together remotely. In particular, there is a special feeling of unity that we are all in it together.

Holland: The flexibility to work from anywhere.

Johnson-Marletti: NO COMMUTE!  Seattle commute times were difficult — not L.A. difficult, but getting there, and the commute was even worse when it rained (if you can believe that). So, getting all that time back has been great and has further allowed for greater productivity at work and better balance at home.

Overall: I get to hear the voice of my 6-year-old son playing downstairs when I am working and it always fills my heart with happiness and makes me smile.

Schell: Since no one can be physically together, it puts everyone around the globe on an equal footing. When I’m working across different departments with people who usually sit in different buildings, or working on releases around the world, I’ve found that communication has actually improved. Since we aren’t limited by who is in the room, we can reach out to a broader set of people and leverage more opinions and expertise than we could before.

Smith: I’m grateful to see my daughter throughout the day and share a laugh with her. It’s nice not to be on the road stuck in traffic. I love being able to spend more time with my daughter and husband.

Wong: Saving commute time, less pressure on deciding what to wear every day since it’s only my top half that I worry about, and being able to walk my dog at lunch. Because we are social creatures at heart, the ease of turning our cameras on for every Zoom/Teams call has helped reinforce connections with colleagues — and it’s been fun to get a little glimpse into our colleagues’ personal lives.

 

What is the downside?

Aubrey: Wearing my pajama pants!

Downing: I miss seeing everyone in person and having the impromptu conversations that happen during a typical workday. It is easier to pull a number of people together on short notice when you’re in the same office and challenging to do that when we are remote and juggling multiple work schedules.

Hoffman: The downside is the loss of spontaneous dialogue and ideation as a team. And we all miss the hallway and elevator conversations that extended beyond business into personal life. The loss of our ability to travel also has been a challenge. While international business can definitely be managed by video call, nothing replaces the opportunity to gather together in the same time zone and work with your colleagues in real time.

Holland: The flexibility to work from anywhere, and the perception that one is always available.

Johnson-Marletti: The downside by far been has been not seeing the fun, smart and amazing people I get to work with each day, having impromptu meetings, catching up on each other’s lives while grabbing coffee, or having lunch together. I will most definitely appreciate those times far more when they return.

Overall: I have to confess, I miss the office! The rate of change in our industry is so rapid right now and has been accelerated in some areas in the past few months. As we try to understand the changes in real time and solve for ways to respond I miss not being able to grab a coffee with one of the many wonderful thought partners in our business to talk through options together.

Schell: It’s harder to build a culture, and as a manager, harder to get an informal read on how the whole team is doing. No more walking the halls and chatting with whoever is around. That’s been particularly difficult when you know so many people are going through a hard time, and as we try to tackle sensitive topics like addressing diversity and inclusion.

Smith: I feel isolated from my office DEG teammates and the industry at large.

Wong: There’s no delineation of when the day starts and when it ends. With no commute time, you end up being “always on,” a blur of meetings every day, with one day running into the next … wash/rinse/repeat. You can imagine the fun we had re-promoting our movie Groundhog Day!

 

What impact is COVID-19 having on your business, and what are you doing about it?

Aubrey: Like everyone in our creative community, our productions and teams have been impacted by COVID-19, but fortunately we have been able to keep our programming slate on track and our teams have been incredibly inventive and have remained dedicated to our goals working at the same pace we had in the office. Our launch slate and planned summer programs have been set for some time and thankfully were mostly unaffected, but we did have some projects in production that were placed on hiatus while we figure out the best, and safest, path forward. The health and safety of our casts and crews are our first priority. Care for our employees, cast and crew are the most important consideration in all decision-making. But we are still really busy! We have several projects in post-production, with people working from the safety of their homes using editing rigs we provided. We were able to continue shooting the Max Original CNN Films documentary On The Trail as part of CNN’s news-gathering operation and have also greenlighted new series such as “Selena + Chef,” an unscripted cooking show starring Selena Gomez, and “Homeschool Musical,” a scripted series from Tony winner Laura Benanti. Both of these projects were born out of quarantine and demonstrate the innovation and creativity of the teams at HBO Max.

Campbell: It’s no secret that people are watching more television now that they are spending more time at home, and Hulu, like other streamers, has benefited from that. But I think our growth in 2020 has been less about the pandemic and more about the creativity and innovation we’ve brought to market this year. The Hulu Originals team led by Craig Erwich has delivered its most successful slate of originals ever, from “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Hillary” and “Ramy” — which just received Emmy nominations in major series categories — to breakout hits like “Normal People,” “Solar Opposites” and our original film Palm Springs. Through FX on Hulu, which we launched earlier this year in partnership with John Landgraf, we’ve provided viewers with even more Emmy-nominated series, like “Mrs. America” and “Devs.” Hulu’s technology and design teams introduced a newly redesigned interface that helps Hulu viewers find and discover the content they love more quickly. And on the advertising front we continue to introduce new non-traditional ad formats to provide the best experience possible to our viewers, and more-innovative solutions to brands. All of these things together are driving Hulu’s strong momentum this year.

Chu: Obviously, this is an unprecedented time. In so many ways it has reinforced the power of storytelling and its vital and indelible role in society. At a time when we can’t easily come together physically, people are looking for content that brings them together emotionally. Disney+, with our depth and breadth of library content and new multigenerational stories like “The Mandalorian,” “Encore!” and “Diary of a Future President,” is able to do just that. From a production standpoint, it’s obviously tough. COVID safety protocols are challenging us to find new ways of doing things. My team likes to say that creativity is the best antidote for road blocks. Whether it’s voiceover talent calling in their performances or musicians scoring content from home, we are able to complete and fine-tune projects that were already in process. We are also spending more time on the development process and writing new material. I really think that we’ll see a lot of interesting storytelling come out of this period of time — not just here but across the industry.

Downing: The biggest impact has been the growth of our subscription channels and TVOD revenue as a result of the stay-at-home orders and increase in streaming. With the disruption to content production and delivery, we’re thinking creatively about how to fill the content pipeline to ensure that we are well-positioned for the months ahead.

Gallagher: It has been encouraging to see a rebound in our catalog business over the past few months. We have so much content that consumers love and can look to for comfort and escape during this time. We have been partnering with retail to make sure shelves are stocked, and our brand team has been working to develop promotions and collections that can drive significant value for shoppers.

Holland: We’re fortunate to have great shows in the pipeline and we’re proud to be a place viewers are turning for comfort and escape at a really challenging time. We have some shows shooting outside the U.S., but there are many that are still paused here. Things won’t look exactly the same when we return to production, but we’re looking forward to it and are focused on our cast and crews’ welfare and safety.

Johnson-Marletti: Unlike many businesses across the country and world, during the pandemic, the e-commerce space has realized explosive growth and creative business model innovation. At the peak of the global shutdown and quarantine — around April — we saw many people turn to digital entertainment to fill their time, whether it was gaming online with friends, movie and TV consumption or just online shopping, we have seen new high-water marks across the business broadly. The many Microsoft teams that bring content and our services to life have done yeoman’s work in ensuring that our customers can find what they are looking for when they want. We have been very pleased with our ability to be there to connect customers to their community of friends and to our partner’s tremendous content during these challenging times.

Overall: We are very focused on listening to and understanding how our most-valuable entertainment consumers are changing their content consumption behaviors and preferences, from what and when they are viewing to how they are interacting on social media.

Schell: Our business has been dramatically affected in so many ways — production has been stalled, theaters are closed, and so many marketing tactics and channels have been shut down. At the same time, consumer demand to be entertained at home has skyrocketed, so there is a huge appetite for content at a time when there are no new theatrical releases. Scoob! had been intended for theaters, and with the marketing campaign underway, consumer products hitting stores and theaters closed, we released it under a new premium rental and ownership model and proved that audiences will show up for eventized in-home releases. We’ve also been filling the void by highlighting films from our vast library through different themes, and our catalog business is booming. And of course, we’ve thrown our support behind the launch of HBO Max. As the custodians of the Warner Bros. library, we have a vast repository of marketing assets and ancillary content and social communities at our disposal, there is so much we can provide the Max team to support their offering which draws heavily from Warner Bros. content.

 

How are you collaborating with colleagues and meeting with customers?

Aubrey: Our office is built on collaboration, so we are constantly working together over WebEx, checking in with our creative partners, and continuing to work on our slate in creative ways under these new circumstances. I am so impressed and proud of my team, and of the teams across the company, who have shown such resiliency and continued passion as we continue to make deals, write scripts and edit our programming from home.

Downing: I prefer video conferences if I am connecting for multiple agenda items or don’t know the person well, but often have quick phone calls with those I am regularly in touch with to discuss one or two issues.

Gallagher: Most of our communications and exchanges are happening primarily via video conference. I don’t know the last time I scheduled a regular phone call. We are all looking for that personal connection as we spend so much time in our homes.As much as it can be sometimes exhausting to be on video all day, I am really happy that this mode of interaction has become our norm.

Holland: Like everyone else, we’re on a lot of video conferences.

Johnson-Marletti: Primarily through Microsoft Teams. The Microsoft Teams Business Group has been working overtime to continue to innovate and evolve Teams based on customer feedback. This is the same technology my kids used during remote learning as well. Needless to say, our home bandwidth has really been working overtime.

Overall: Zoom, Teams, OWL — every piece of enabling technology we can get our hands on to stay as close to one another as we can.

Schell: All internal meetings have moved to video conferences on Teams, and depending on which customers we are meeting with, we use various other video conferencing systems, like Google Hangout when meeting with YouTube, of course! We work on shared digital documents together. It’s all technology that existed before, but until we were forced to use it, adoption was slow — we were more of a telephone and email culture. It works well because everyone is on the same level playing field, dealing with makeshift home offices, kids and pets in the background. If some people were in the office and some people at home I think it would have been much more difficult to make it work for those not in the office.

Smith: DEG quickly pivoted to a virtual meeting environment, bringing the industry together in small salon discussions and a larger expo where we invite expert speakers and members to share their perspectives and services that will help the industry grow.

Wong: One of the best things that has come out of the quarantine is the exceptional collaboration with the different divisions and departments across the studio. One of the most productive partnerships has been with our theatrical counterparts. Aside from the shortened windows, where we quickly passed the baton and leaned on each other’s expertise to develop the best go-to-market approach, we set up a marketing “stay-at-home” task force where we were able to brainstorm and prioritize a ton of ideas to support the catalog. Everyone rolled up their sleeves to help access talent and support the social handles, giving the commercial teams great marketing programs for our retail partners. We also did a similar task force with the TV production and marketing team which resulted in creative executions in the form of cast reunions, table reads and live Q&As.

 

How many Zoom or other video conference calls do you have in an average week?

Aubrey: Too many to count!

Downing: Pre-pandemic I had one or two video conferences per week. The last several months, I have averaged around 40 a week.

Gallagher: Somewhere around 30.

Holland: It varies, but they’re pretty much back to back.

Johnson-Marletti: Thirty-plus Microsoft Teams meetings each week.

Overall: The short answer is probably too many, but the reality is that it’s our new normal and I would much rather see people and be able to share a smile and a laugh than not!

Schell: I find that I spend most of the workday on video calls. That can be anything from a one on one to a presentation to hundreds of people. We’ve tried to institute companywide meeting-free lunch breaks and Fridays, so those times are a bit lighter. With California schools indefinitely closed, we will be re-looking at schedules in the fall to try to accommodate working parents who are doing double duty with kids at home.

Smith: Three to four a day.

Wong:  Between 40 to 50 conference calls per week. Just a push of a key to the next meeting … join, leave, join, leave. It’s efficient, but not great for getting your steps in!

 

Has a return to the office date been set, and if so what changes are you expecting?

Aubrey: It is a company priority to restart television and film production, but care for our employees, cast and crew is the most important consideration in all decision-making, and we are prioritizing productions for our testing and safety resources. There are no imminent plans for my team to return to the office, but we are currently starting up smaller productions in consultation with local authorities, the unions and medical experts. There will definitely be changes to how our productions are run, and we will do everything we can to make sure that our employees, cast, crew and creative partners feel protected and comfortable each step of the way. With our wide range of formats and shooting locations, each production is different and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Downing: We have not set a date for returning to the office because too many variables are in flux. We don’t know what is going to happen with schools and day care centers, which impacts many on our team, and we are mindful that some have health concerns for themselves or their families. We stay up to date with the guidance from local and national health officials and recommendations about opening offices. I am sure that when we go back, it will be a combination of remote and in the office and we will adapt as needed based on circumstances.

Johnson-Marletti: We will not return to the office prior to January 2021. Microsoft has done a terrific job communicating with all employees very broadly on a regular basis. The company prioritizes employee safety first, so when we do return, we are expecting to align to a clear set of guidelines and protocols meant to keep everyone safe and that contribute to flattening the curve.

 

Do you envision any long-term changes in our industry?

Aubrey: There has been a lot of innovation around using digital experiences and formats that I think will remain in place and be useful once we begin to reopen and restart productions, festivals and other large gatherings. By opening up once-exclusive events to a wider platform digitally, we are able to more freely share with the community and expand our reach to voices around the world.

Downing: It is difficult to anticipate how the industry will change long-term because this time in history is unprecedented. But I think more content will be available for streaming rather than in theaters, stressing an already challenged sector of the entertainment market, with continued consumer transition to subscription-based models. Given the uncertainty about how long we will be susceptible to this virus, and anticipating the possibility of another pandemic, I think that companies will be adapting their technology and work spaces to position themselves for greater resilience.

Johnson-Marletti: For sure, I think there will be lasting changes across the industry as a result of the global pandemic and how it’s been handled around the world. The entertainment industry as a whole feels like a continuous circle that has many interrelated dependent parts, each of which has been impacted in slightly different ways, which makes predicting the long-term effects on the whole ecosystem very difficult. For example, consumer confidence in returning to the theater is varied at this point and in many places not allowed at all. That puts enormous strain on both theater chains and studios, as they now have to decide on releasing straight to home entertainment or waiting for blockbuster-worthy theater-going crowds to return — the economics for these options are very different. Production is largely at a standstill, so the funnel for new-release content becomes smaller, which effects theaters, studios, broadcasters, and subscription and transactional services that rely on that content to attract and retain a consistent flow of customers.  So again, the level of uncertainty across the ecosystem makes it hard to call where we’ll ultimately settle into a new normal. That said, creativity and business model evolution remains high, that coupled with the continued collaboration with our partners continues to be a bright point of hope for us.

Schell: Since so much business-as-usual isn’t possible, we’ve had the opportunity to experiment. We are figuring out how to do some things more efficiently and create new kinds of cultural moments. Across the industry, we’ve proved that audiences will show up for event in-home releases such as Scoob! and Trolls World Tour and gotten to see the impact on subscriptions of putting a huge event like Hamilton straight on to SVOD. With so much less event television programming and no live sports or awards shows, we’ve had to find more audiences on digital. Since in-person events aren’t possible, in lieu of premiere and fan conventions, we’ve been leveraging virtual audiences in Fortnite (Tenet trailer release) and on TikTok (#ScoobDance) and hosting virtual press junkets. We’re learning what can work better than the ways we’ve always done things, and what are sacred cows for a reason. Undoubtedly these learnings will influence how we go forward.

Smith: I foresee long-term changes to how we do business and how we function as a global community. I don’t think this will be unique to entertainment. I envision a business community where most meetings and transactions take place via video. And, we learn how to foster relationships and discussions via video conference.

Women in Home Entertainment 2020: The 12 Captains Talk Career Paths, Highlights and Tough Calls

Media Play News asked the 12 “captains” in our third annual Women in Home Entertainment issue to participate in a detailed Q&A about their careers and the challenges of COVID-19, which truly has made 2020 a year like no other. We also asked some fun questions to liven, and lighten, things up. An abridged Q&A appears in the August 2020 print and digital edition of Media Play News. The full Q&A has been broken down into three sections, running here on consecutive days. This is the first part, on their career paths and highlights.

SEE A PHOTO GALLERY OF THE TOP 12 WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT

 

THE CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY, PART ONE

Tell us about your career path. 

Sarah Aubrey, Head of Original Content, HBO Max: I began my career as an entertainment lawyer, later transitioning to production starting with Bad Santa and then joining forces with Peter Berg at our production company Film 44. During this time, I produced series and features such as “Friday Night Lights” and Lone Survivor. I then joined Kevin Reilly, who I had worked with on “Friday Night Lights,” at TNT as EVP of original programming for the network. We created programming that evolved the network into a place for premium tentpole dramas with series such as “Claws,” “Animal Kingdom” and the Emmy Award-winning drama “The Alienist.” I worked hard in this position to champion diversity and inclusion both in front of and behind the camera. During this time we were able to more than double the number of women holding jobs at the highest levels on the average TNT scripted project, and TNT jumped an impressive 320% on the annual GLAAD TV report rankings for LGBTQ representation. Kevin then presented me with a once-in-a-career opportunity, to be on the ground floor of HBO Max, a brand-new platform that brings together an incredibly special portfolio and group of creators in one place. [Reilly recently left WarnerMedia in a management shakeup.] In this role, I oversee our Originals slate from drama, comedy, unscripted, documentary, animation, and feature films, with something for everyone in the household. My team and I are empowered to go after unique, distinctive stories from creative voices that make a cultural impact, stories that we feel passionate about and that deserve to be seen by a wide audience. We are proud to have launched with the 2020 Sundance Documentary feature On the Record as well as the fan-favorites “Love Life” and “Legendary,” and to continue bringing incredible stories to our platform such as “Expecting Amy,” “On the Trail,” the “Friends” reunion special, and, of course in 2021, the long-awaited Snyder Cut (director Zack Snyder’s cut of the 2017 superhero film Justice League).

SEE ALSO ‘WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2020: THE 12 CAPTAINS — WHO THEY ARE’

Andrea Downing, Co-President, PBS Distribution: I started my career in manufacturing after I graduated from college in the Midwest, in a picture frame factory. I have always said yes when asked to take on new projects or tasks, and the more that I successfully managed, the more senior my position became. At some point, I realized that I wanted to be in a region where there were more of my peers, and I moved to Washington, D.C. Clearly there’s not a lot of manufacturing on the East Coast, so I started over in an entry-level position, but soon moved into a management position. A friend recommended me to someone at the Discovery Channel, a startup at the time, and while it meant taking what looked like a step backwards in terms of my role, I wanted to be in a larger, more entrepreneurial organization. I started taking on what needed to be done, and quickly became the go-to person. The decision to join Discovery led me to where I am today.

Kathleen Gallagher, EVP and Managing Director — North America, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: I have been with Universal for almost 20 years. I have been so fortunate to have found amazing mentors and advocates in this organization who have given me opportunity and exposure. I started in this industry as a sales analyst for Kmart and Walmart. I have held many different roles in the sales and trade marketing functions that taught me the importance of being customer- and consumer-centric in everything we do. That sensibility has been incredibly helpful to me in this role as I strive to find the right balance between sales, operations and finance.

Hilary Hoffman, EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment: I appreciate this question, as it comes at a critical moment in time when we all should be reflecting on our own career journeys as well as those of our team members and colleagues across the industry. I believe that my path has been greatly influenced and supported by my mentors and leaders. Going forward, my goal is to heighten my focus on others in our organization, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to grow, thrive and always feel supported professionally.

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Cindy Holland, VP, Original Content, Netflix: I grew up in Nebraska, where the nearest arthouse cinema was about 30 miles away. I loved what I saw, though, and couldn’t wait to work in film. I moved to L.A. and worked at the Mutual Film Company and Baltimore-Spring Creek Productions, where I had a wonderful mentor in Paula Weinstein. Before Netflix, I worked at an e-commerce startup you may remember called Kozmo.com. Through that, I met Ted Sarandos, and then I joined Netflix in 2002 when we were a DVD-by-mail subscription service. From the very beginning we had the ambition to be a global entertainment company, and it’s been incredible to see that now realized all around the world.

Lexine Wong, Senior EVP, Worldwide Marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment: My entire career in entertainment has been at Sony, so I’ve basically grown along with the industry from disc to digital. Prior to entertainment I had a short stint in advertising in New York. That fast-paced account management position gave me a taste of marketing brands and led me to the ever-changing world of home entertainment. I’ve enjoyed every minute of the journey — from rolling out new formats and platforms around the world, to reimagining marketing tactics, to developing and leading a team of smart, driven, creative and enthusiastic individuals. In my 20-plus years at Sony I have been continually confronted with new and different business challenges and am constantly learning. For example, when I was given the opportunity to begin supporting the television distribution business last year, I found that it was primarily a B2B marketing model. By taking a chapter from our home entertainment consumer-first marketing approach and using audience data and insights from our strategy team, we have been able to more effectively drive awareness and ratings and support our commercial teams and distribution partners.

 

If you had to pick one career highlight, what would it be?

Aubrey: The launch of HBO Max and the opportunity to build a streaming platform from scratch within a company that has a tremendous legacy.

Kelly Campbell, President, Hulu:  Joining the team at Hulu — and now Disney — has been the biggest highlight of my career.  Having the opportunity to work with so many brilliant, creative people who are genuinely passionate about having a positive impact on our viewers and communities has been life-changing, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I firmly believe that this is the most exciting place to be in this industry right now.

Agnes Chu, SVP, Content, Disney+: In my 13 years at Disney, I’ve been incredibly blessed to have had two epic professional adventures with teams that have transformed our company in significant ways. During my time as [former CEO] Bob Iger’s chief of staff, the company was building Shanghai Disney Resort.  My grandparents are from Shanghai, so it was especially meaningful to be part of planning its grand opening. It was such a gift to have watched Imagineers transform farm land into a truly fantastical and breathtaking park with thousands of fans lining up on opening day. And, of course, the launch of Disney+. This team really knows no bounds in terms of their creativity, inventiveness and tirelessness. So many talented people from across the Walt Disney Company collaborated to make the launch a success. It’s awe-inspiring and gratifying to wake up every day and get to work with some of the most gifted storytellers in the world.

Downing: Being recruited and hired to work at PBS as a vice president, particularly when I did not have a lot of experience in what I was being tasked to do. But the woman who recruited me had been my boss at Discovery and knew my track record. The trust that she placed in me to get the job done set me on the path to my current role at PBSd.

Holland: Sharing “Orange Is the New Black” with the world over its seven seasons was an unforgettable experience.

Dametra Johnson-Marletti, GM, Digital Store Category Management, Microsoft Corp.: I consider myself to have been extremely blessed in my career. I have had many great experiences over the years. As I look back over my entire career, I have to say landing at the company where I have spent two-thirds of my career to date, has not only been a huge highlight, but being at Microsoft has positioned me to realize many great benefits, highlights and unique experiences several times over. Whether landing in my current role focused on digital entertainment and content, or working with our partners across the industry or traveling the different parts of the world to help drive impact for the company, the decision to come to Microsoft has been the foundational highlight that has led to so many others.

Amy Jo Smith, President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group: My most memorable career stop was my brief tenure at the White House. One of my duties was to take VIP guests of the Oval Office around the White House. I had the great opportunity to meet the children and grandchildren of Presidents Eisenhower, Ford and Carter.  One of my most interesting walks around the White House was with Ambassador Shirley Temple Black, who had many fantastic stories to share during both her stints as ambassador.

 

What was the toughest decision you’ve ever made?

Aubrey: To leave the security of being a practicing attorney to start my career as a producer.

Chu: This job is full of tough decisions.  My advice on this is to confront them with heart and strength of conviction, and be open-minded and fair.

Downing: The first time I was faced with the challenge of having to let go of team members, some of whom were more senior than me. It was the right decision for the business, and a learning curve in terms of making the decision and implementing the plan. It is never easy to do, but I think the first time is by far the hardest.

Johnson-Marletti: I think issues and decisions related to people are by far some of the most difficult decisions that leaders must contend with at work. Decisions that have involved removing people from their positions are always challenging. As a leader you balance being a steward of the company, a coach for your team, and an attractor and developer of talent — yet for any number of reasons, sometimes a change is required. As a leader you own that, implement it with empathy and grace, with the understanding that you are dealing with a person’s life and livelihood. All of these factors make such decisions extremely challenging.

 

Women In Home Entertainment 2020: The 12 Captains — Who They Are

Hollywood, you’re getting better — but we’re still not quite there.

UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report, released in February, found that, overall, there are more acting jobs for women in film. In a look at 145 films released in 2019, women had 44.1% of the lead acting roles and accounted for 40.2% of the total cast.

But if you look behind the scenes, there remains much more of a divide. In 2019, just 15.1% of the directors, and 17.4% of the writers, of top-grossing films were women. The 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report also includes a workplace analysis of the top 11 studios, and found that 82% of ‘C’-level positions, and 80% of all senior executive positions, are held by men.

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This is why, for the third year, Media Play News is saluting the top women in home entertainment — with a special focus on the top “captains” who are driving the business — as selected by a panel of studio executives, key retailers, journalists and other industry leaders.

Our list of “captains” this year has expanded from 10 to 12, in recognition of the proliferation of high-profile streaming services. Our Women in Home Entertainment section takes on special significance this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic — which has presented our executives with a whole new series of challenges that are explored, in detail, in the Q&A section with our captains that follows our introductions.

THE CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHO THEY ARE

Sarah Aubrey

Head of Original Content, HBO Max

Sarah Aubrey

Aubrey heads up Original Content for HBO Max, presiding over a robust slate of Max Originals that offers programming options for every member of the household from preschool aged children through adults. Max Originals include a wide range of genres and formats, slanted toward Gen Z, millennial and female audiences, including programs such as “Legendary,” “Love Life,” “Expecting Amy,” “On the Trail,” “Raised by Wolves,” “Close Enough,” “Looney Tunes” and more. Previously, Aubrey was EVP of original programming for TNT, where she played an integral role in the network’s evolution into one of the premier destinations for prestige original dramas. Under her leadership, the number of women holding jobs at the highest levels on the average TNT scripted project more than doubled. TNT also jumped an impressive 320% on the annual GLAAD TV report rankings for LGBTQ representation. Prior to joining TNT, Aubrey was a prolific television and film producer, responsible for such projects as “Friday Night Lights” and “The Leftovers” while at Film 44, and films including Bad Santa before that.

SEE ALSO ‘WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2020: THE 12 CAPTAINS TALK CAREER PATHS, HIGHLIGHTS AND TOUGH CALLS’

Kelly Campbell

President, Hulu

Kelly Campbell

Campbell manages Hulu’s suite of on-demand and live streaming businesses within the Walt Disney Co.’s Direct-to-Consumer & International business unit. Campbell previously served as chief marketing officer of Hulu. Her team of marketers was responsible for creating and executing initiatives across brand, creative, subscriber growth, entertainment publicity, consumer research and viewer experience. Campbell has earned several industry accolades, including one of Business Insider’s Most Innovative CMOs, Cynopsis Media’s Top Women in Digital Media, Ad Age’s Women to Watch and FierceCable’s The Fierce 50: Executives Reshaping the Business of Pay-TV. Most recently, she made Forbes’ Most Influential Global CMOs list for embracing transparency in influencer marketing.

SEE ALSO ‘WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2020: THE 12 CAPTAINS AND WHAT THEY LIKE TO WATCH, WHOM THEY’D LIKE TO MEET

Agnes Chu

SVP, Content, Disney+

Agnes Chu

Though she is leaving in September to lead publisher Conde Nast’s studio and distribution unit, Chu is being honored as one of the key players behind the successful launch of Disney+. Chu is responsible for identifying and developing series, feature films, short-form content and other entertainment formats for the service. Reporting to Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing, Chu leads the Disney+ Originals teams for scripted, unscripted and content operations, partnering closely with Disney-owned internal content creators, including The Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Over the course of her career at Disney, Chu has served in a variety of roles. Prior to her current position, she served as executive of story and franchise development at Walt Disney Imagineering. From 2013 to 2016, she worked for Bob Iger as VP, office of the chairman and CEO, leading corporate synergy in the integration of Lucasfilm and the grand opening of Shanghai Disney Resort. While at ABC Entertainment, managing content production for the broadcast network’s digital platforms, Chu garnered an Emmy nomination for “Lost: Mysteries of the Universe,” a pioneering streaming extension of the fan-favorite series “Lost.”  Chu began her career at Jigsaw Productions, working on Academy Award documentary nominee Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and “The Blues,” a seven-part series on PBS with directors Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Alex Gibney.

SEE ALSO ‘WOMEN IN HOME ENTERTAINMENT 2020: THE 12 CAPTAINS TALK COVID-19, REMOTE WORKING AND LASTING CHANGES’

Andrea Downing

Co-President, PBS Distribution

Andrea Downing

With more than 20 years of experience in the media and entertainment business, Downing has a successful history of leading organizations for growth and profitability in dynamic landscapes. Her vision for PBS Distribution (PBSd) has evolved the focus of the organization to a global distribution company with a diversified portfolio of businesses, including three direct-to-consumer subscription video-on-demand (DTC-SVOD) services at its core. A strategic leader with a strong operational background who embraces change to transform organizations with new business strategies and products, Downing leads the company including strategic, financial, and operational aspects of PBSd.

Kathleen Gallagher

EVP and Managing Director — North America, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Kathleen Gallagher

Gallagher leads UPHE’s physical home entertainment business, including sales, operations, finance, customer marketing and distribution partnerships across the United States and Canada. She assumed her present position in March 2018, after serving as SVP of sales, customer marketing and category management for UPHE’s U.S. physical sellthrough and rental businesses. She started at Universal in 2000 as assistant category manager and served in various sales, category management and customer marketing positions. Gallagher began her career in 1999 at Sony Pictures Entertainment (at the time, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment).

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Hilary Hoffman

EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Hilary Hoffman

Hoffman oversees strategic marketing and business strategy for Universal and its distributed lines worldwide across new-release, catalog and TV properties for both digital and physical, focusing on the complete product lifecycle. Her responsibilities encompass defining go-to-market strategies and the overall approach for consumer engagement, including developing and leveraging new platforms and technologies as well as direct-to-consumer initiatives to drive profitable growth across all formats. During her tenure at Universal, Hoffman has overseen the campaigns of some of the studio’s biggest, revenue-generating releases and has successfully been a driving force behind Universal’s leading footprint in new industry initiatives.

 

Cindy Holland

VP, Original Content, Netflix

Cindy Holland

Holland, a 17-year Netflix veteran, is responsible for acquiring and launching original series for Netflix members around the globe. Under her purview, Holland and her team have launched award-winning and critically acclaimed projects that span drama, comedy, family/YA, documentaries, unscripted, stand-up specials and docu-series. She was named to the 2018 Time 100 list of the most influential people. According to the magazine, “in less than a decade, Cindy has helped orchestrate one of the biggest entertainment revolutions since the invention of the television.”

 

Dametra Johnson-Marletti

GM, Digital Store Category Management, Microsoft Corp.

Dametra Johnson-Marletti

Johnson-Marletti has responsibility for digital content categories (Gaming, Movies & TV, Entertainment and Consumer Apps) across all Microsoft digital storefronts.  She is charged with working with external content creating partners to optimize customer experiences and financial opportunities through creative content marketing programs, and business model innovation. Johnson-Marletti joined Microsoft in 2001 and has since made multiple contributions across a number of different businesses, including nine years in the Xbox Division. Prior to coming to Microsoft, Johnson-Marletti spent almost 10 years with Bristol Myers-Squibb, where she held several positions across dales and dales management in the Southern California area. A former professional women’s basketball player, Johnson-Marletti is a Los Angeles native who currently lives on the East Side of Seattle with her two teen children.

 

Kim Overall

EVP, Consumer Insights and Innovation, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Kim Overall

Overall is responsible for identifying and developing the studio’s capabilities to become a more consumer-centric, data-driven organization. Her group utilizes data analytics and consumer insights, enabling SPHE and Sony Pictures Television Distribution to make better-informed decisions to satisfy consumer demand for content. Formerly, Overall was SVP of SPHE’s United Kingdom, Norther Europe and EMEA partnerships. In this role, she was responsible for defining the commercial strategies for the region and supporting the EMEA territories. She joined SPHE in 2008 as the managing director for Australia and New Zealand.

 

Jessica Schell

EVP and GM, Film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Jessica Schell

Schell joined Warner Bros. in 2014 as EVP and GM of film at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and oversees all aspects of the transactional home entertainment business for Warner Bros. films worldwide. At Warner Bros. she has taken on additional responsibilities managing theatrical lifecycle marketing, cross-enterprise synergy initiatives, and immersive entertainment. Schell spent her early career at the Walt Disney Co. and Allen & Co. and is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. At NBC Universal, she held roles of SVP of digital strategy and business development for NBC Universal, and EVP of business development and digital for Universal Pictures.

 

Amy Jo Smith

President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group

Amy Jo Smith

Smith heads the leading trade group for the home entertainment industry. The DEG promotes entertainment platforms, products and distribution channels that support the movie, television, music, consumer electronics and IT industries. A former White House communications advisor, Smith since 1997 has led the industry-funded organization through the industry’s wholesale evolution from videocassettes to DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and today’s digital age. She joined the DEG as executive director under then-President Emiel Petrone, and was promoted to president in 2013 and CEO in 2017. Before the DEG she was SVP and group director at ad agency Cohn & Wolfe.

 

Lexine Wong

Senior EVP, Worldwide Marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Lexine Wong

Wong leads Sony Pictures Television Distribution’s global home entertainment marketing team and is charged with delivering breakthrough marketing campaigns across a wide range of product from Sony Pictures Entertainment’s studio labels and television series. Specific areas of oversight include consumer and brand strategy, creative advertising, media and digital, PR and strategic partnerships, content development and new product development. Wong’s insights-driven marketing strategy is the foundation for product development and continued marketing innovation around new platforms critical for growth in the industry, such as Movies Anywhere, augmented reality, 4K UHD and other direct-to-consumer digital offerings. With more than 25 years in advertising and consumer marketing, Wong began her career at Young & Rubicam, before joining what would become Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, where she rose to EVP of worldwide marketing in 2001 and her present position in 2006.

Restocking the Shelves, Part Four: Maximizing Recent Releases

Deep catalog product isn’t the only part of the studio library fueling home entertainment as theatrical titles are stalled during the pandemic.

Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution, notes that Sony Pictures had a full pipeline of high-profile product when the pandemic hit. “And we’ve been actively promoting those titles to keep them top of mind, as well as releases from the end of last year, like Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” he says.

“Mother’s Day gave us an opportunity to revisit one of our more recent releases, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women,” adds Sony Pictures Home Entertainment senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong. “Our team worked with Hello Sunshine to help launch a brand-new online series called ‘Comedians on Classics’ just in time for the holiday. The content featured rising female comedian Taylor Tomlinson giving a fresh and hilarious take on the beloved Louisa May Alcott story, which resonated with the film’s audience. The video has been viewed over 515,000 times since launch.”

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment is coming up with inventive ways to market films that premiered digitally at premium prices (due to the theaters shutting down) once they become available on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and regular digital channels.

“With captive at-home audiences demonstrating a heightened need for great family entertainment during this time, we recognized a unique opportunity to evolve and elevate our new home entertainment release for Trolls World Tour to fit the tone and tenor of the moment,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “We created a robust Dance Party Edition offering that includes dynamic song and dance elements and all-new character-driven short-form content, we launched TikTok and Zoom-style Trolls music videos, and we adapted other marketing efforts to virtual tactics to remain connected to consumers in real time and further keep Trolls World Tour relevant.”

At Warner Bros., the May release of Scoob! was the studio’s first-ever PVOD and premium digital ownership title. The animated film came to market through “a tremendous joint effort between our theatrical team and home entertainment,” says Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film, for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “When the health crisis hit and the decision was made to release Scoob! in homes, the marketing campaign for the film shifted from theatrical to at-home messaging and we enjoyed a very successful release. International release plans were just announced and it will be a mix of theatrical exhibition in markets where theaters are open, and premium in-home viewing.”

Schell says the film has become Warner Bros.’ No. 1 digital release, ever.  “We recently announced our 4K and Blu-ray release dates for Scoob!,” Schell says, “and we are leveraging the extensive at-home messaging and awareness from the May debut and are drafting heavily on the film’s success to continue strong sales through our physical availability.”

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Three: Seeing Through Windows

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

Bob Bakish

Home entertainment’s success in supporting new releases cut off by theater closings is attracting attention from the studio hierarchy. Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, Paramount Pictures’ parent company, sang the praises of home entertainment during a presentation during the first Credit Suisse Virtual Communication Confab in mid-June. He said home entertainment has helped Paramount justify capital spending on new movies during a year of uncertainty.

“We sold The Lovebirds [to Netflix] early in the COVID-19 window,” he said. “We also accelerated the EST window with Sonic [the Hedgehog], which performed very well for us.”

The movie, starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, grossed more than $300 million at the global box office before the theatrical shutdown.

The executive said the company is monetizing the Paramount library by releasing more than 100 movies via CBS All Access and through the “Sunday Night Movie” on the Paramount Network.

While the theatrical pipeline may be stalled for now, home entertainment executives look forward to its robust return.

Ron Schwartz

Ron Schwartz, the longtime president of worldwide home entertainment at Lionsgate, says the entertainment industry is united in helping the theatrical exhibition business return to full strength quickly.

“We, like everybody else, are eager to see our partners in the theater business open again soon,” he says. “We want to see crowds again flock to theaters, to see tentpoles and art-house films, to buy concessions and to enjoy a tremendous community experience that has made our industry so special for so many years. It’s an important part of our ecosystem, and we’re all looking forward to a safe and productive return to the movie-going experience, which we believe is right around the corner.”

Some challenges lie ahead, Schwartz says: “What will exhibition look like when theaters reopen? What’s going to happen with capacity? We can’t rush back, but we have to make sure we give theaters enough great content so they can re-open quickly, successfully, and thrive.”

The home entertainment side of the business, Schwartz says, will remain catalog-driven until theaters have fully re-opened and the supply of theatrical titles has been completely replenished. “We will continue to work with our retail partners to come up with creative ideas, dig deep into our catalogs, and look for repromotes and anniversaries — any opportunities to engage the consumer,” he says.

Schwartz says he is heartened that during the stay-at-home period, the public’s love of movies, TV shows and other filmed content seemed to intensify.

“The one thing we’ve all seen is a love of content,” he says. “We’re seeing it consumed like never before — physical, streaming, transactional, packages — and it is clearly evident that the public’s appetite to consume our product is not only healthy but still growing. That’s why I remain so bullish about our business.”

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final installment in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’

Restocking the Shelves, Part Three: Seeing Through Windows

One positive trend that has emerged during the pandemic, home entertainment studio executives say, is that consumers seem to be gaining a better understanding of the difference between transactional and subscription streaming and are realizing that not everything they might want to see is available on Netflix or the other big SVOD services.

“Because consumers are spending so much watching digital video at home, they are acutely aware of which titles are available on the various platforms,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution.

Hilary Hoffman

“It has become clear that consumers sheltering at home not only have become increasingly engaged in our catalog offerings to keep entertained, but also have progressively grown to become more savvy in navigating the spectrum of formats,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As such, we have continued to invest and reward consumers to stay engaged in the category and have been working in lockstep with our digital and physical retail partners to ensure that we remain hyper-focused on delivering the broadest access and best possible in-home experience.”

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“Consumers have become much more receptive to different price points,” adds Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong. “They realize not everything’s on Netflix, and it’s worth it to them to pay a transactional amount for something they really want to watch. They really have embraced all the ways to consume digital video.”

That includes the physical disc. “We are encouraged by the resilience,” Spivak says. “When you think of the structural impediments, stores being closed, online ordering taking longer to fulfill — consumers who love the physical disc are persevering and that business is holding up quite well.”

Studios were fortunate that two of the biggest retail sellers of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, Walmart and Target, were able to remain open throughout the pandemic because they also sell groceries and thus were deemed “essential” businesses. Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment, says studio marketers have already met with Walmart to discuss fourth-quarter plans, with a focus on catalog.

“We went through a whole planning session with the Walmart team,” Powers says.

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

But the biggest lift to DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales, studio marketers say, comes from e-commerce sellers such as Amazon.

“We’ve seen quite a boom in e-commerce,” Powers says. “Initially we were unsure about the supply chain and how retail would react, but we kept all our new-to-Blu-ray titles on the calendar and saw a very positive response so we’ve continued to fill the slate with additional titles.”

Indeed, in addition to monthly waves of “Paramount Presents” releases, Paramount recently has come out with a 25th anniversary edition of the Alicia Silverstone comedy Clueless and 40th anniversary editions of horror classic Friday the 13th and John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. Clueless and Friday the 13th also are available in limited edition steelbooks.

“We’re really leaning more into the collector’s market,” Powers says. “That’s where e-commerce really shines.”

Jeff Brown

It’s not just movies, either. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment enjoyed a banner spring with TV product, says Jeff Brown, EVP and GM, Television. “The second quarter was a panacea for transactional television content, physical as well as digital,” Brown says. “Our business grew over 40%, year on year. And if you exclude ‘Game of Thrones,’ which had an extraordinary performance last year with the final season broadcast and transactional release, our business nearly doubled. This really shows peoples’ appetite for television content, and while obviously stay-at-home behavior contributed to this, there were several other opportunities we were able to capitalize on.”

One was the fact that Warner now distributes TV content from HBO and Turner digitally as well as physically.

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

Another is a strong slate of product, released just in time for viewers to enjoy while encouraged by state and local governments to stay in their homes. “Our top drivers included ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ as well as the animated original movie titles Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which was probably our best-performing DC animated movie since Batman: The Killing Joke and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge,” Brown says.

The third factor behind Warner’s strong TV quarter is a series of “Entertaining the World” promotions, Brown says, with a menu of promotional actions for digital retailers such as Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and FandangoNow.

“We promoted shows such as ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire,’ and Hanna-Barbera and DC animated classics,” Brown says. “We were able to look at the total Warner-HBO-Turner TV and animation library and come up with compelling retail programs, and we coordinated this on a semi-monthly ‘wave’ basis to provide an abundance of promoted content to retailers in a timely manner.”

Editor’s Note: This is part three in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’

Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

As the theatrical pipeline has dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, home entertainment divisions have turned to their marketing gurus to create excitement around the catalog releases filling the void.

Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution, says the studio’s home entertainment marketing team, headed by senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong, has been “getting really creative when it comes to catalog.”

Wong says Sony has been mining its vault for product appropriate for “seasonal events — finding little gems that we can elevate and create a buzz behind.”

Jason Spivak

“As Easter was the first major holiday in this new period of uncertainty, we worked quickly with our theatrical counterparts to create a Pinterest hub of Easter-themed activities to ensure that families would be able to celebrate the holiday at home with perennial favorite Peter Rabbit,” Wong says. “The activities were seeded to parenting influencer and bloggers to help foster excitement not only for the first “Peter Rabbit” film, but also for the upcoming second installment, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.”

Sony Pictures also has been closely monitoring fan conversation on social media.

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“Shortly after quarantine began, we noticed that the 1993 film Groundhog Day had entered the social media zeitgeist in a major way as people settled into the repetition of stay-at-home routines,” Wong says. “To join the conversation and invite those at home to revisit the movie, we created an official Instagram account for the film that encouraged fans to post their own Groundhog Day moments and launched a tongue-in-cheek trailer for a ‘sequel’ …oddly similar to the first film’s trailer.”

Lexine Wong

Social media watch-alongs featuring classic Sony Pictures films “also proved to be an invaluable tool in allowing movie fans to maintain the communal watching experience that they love, even during a period when we aren’t physically able to be together,” Wong adds. “We worked with editorial partners like Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Nerdist, ComicBook.com and others in collaboration with film talent to help host live viewings of fan-favorite titles while viewers posted reactions in real-time via social media.

“While these watch-alongs initially began with new release titles like Bloodshot and Bad Boys for Life, selections have since delved into catalog favorites like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Hook, Center Stage, War Room, The Mask of Zorro and This Is the End — catering to a wide range of viewer tastes.”

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

Another initiative at Sony Pictures was the launch of the Sony Pictures Kids Zone YouTube Channel. “The hub was the brainchild of moms and dads on our team who found themselves in a brave new world of juggling work-from-home with parenting duties,” Wong says. “Our content team had hours’ worth of kid-friendly activities, educational content and sing/dance-alongs that had been created for past titles, so they set about curating playlists to help parents who were in a similar position of looking for ways to entertain and educate their kids. The launch saw coverage from dozens of press outlets, exhibitor partners, prominent celebrity moms and social media influencers.”

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Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, notes that “with the current resurgence in catalog interest, we have used this time to create compelling new collections and promotions at retail to keep the space fresh and updated and have sought to further heighten exposure through creative marketing.”

To that end, she says, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment generated millions of impressions by employing a Twitter catalog watch-party series, which spotlighted several library classics and anniversary releases such as Halloween, Apollo 13, Breakfast Club and Jaws. The studio was able to enlist the help of cast members, filmmakers and special celebrity guests such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Howard and Anthony Michael Hall, and partnered with notable filmmaker Kevin Smith to produce a special podcast for the 45th anniversary of Jaws.

Mike Takac

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment routinely partners with digital retailers and in June has teamed with Apple TV and iTunes to promote top catalog films with new key art that features a travel postcard line look. “It’s a fun, creative way to re-position our titles to evoke the feeling of summer travel at a time when most people are stuck at home,” EVP of sales Mike Takac says.

Looking ahead at the rest of the year, Takac says, “We know our success is going to ride largely on our ability to monetize our catalog. We’re fortunate to have some national promotions. We’re going to drive around DC Fandom, we’ll have a ‘Back to Hogwarts’ push, and of course we’re going to drive Halloween and holiday really hard, with a little more consumer marketing than we’ve done in the past.”

Takac says Warner Bros. also is working on a promotion to encourage consumers to buy and rent movies they’ve always been meaning to watch. “We’re still working on that,” he says. “But we can probably bubble them up in a more meaningful way.”

To boost interest in its DC content, Warner is planning a big promotion called DC FanDome, a company-wide initiative that will take place Aug. 22.

Jessica Schell

“It’s a free virtual fan experience celebrating all the superheroes and super villains in the DC Multiverse and will include panels featuring past, present and future talent; filmmakers and creators from DC properties; announcements on upcoming projects; exclusive content debuts; cosplay and fan art; and much more,” says Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film, for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “It will be a 24-hour immersive global event designed to appeal to fans, families and kids, and the virtual themed worlds will be full of special presentations and localized content to appeal to a worldwide audience. This is a truly massive undertaking and all of WarnerMedia is coming together as one to produce this special event.”

Studios have also been designing special deals to entice consumers.

Warner also has been testing “pricing elasticity,” Takac says, for titles “deep in our catalog that we normally don’t promote. We’ve been working on that for many months and may be able to leverage that in the back half of the year.”

The Walt Disney Co., which owns both Disney Media Distribution and Fox Home Entertainment, also is focused on special pricing for its catalog as well as partnerships with retailers, says SVP of marketing David Kite, Disney Media Distribution.

Early on, says Kite, “we partnered closely with all divisions across the Walt Disney Co. to align our strategies and act responsively to the disruptions in the market.”

Initially, he says, “we achieved a great amount of success with the early in-home releases of Onward and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which reaffirms the value and appeal of both our content and the window.”

More recently, Kite says, “our team has created unique monthly in-home promotions in collaboration with our digital and physical retail partners, offering consumers access to the movies they love at special pricing while they’re at home with their families.”

Adam Frank, Lionsgate’s SVP of worldwide digital sales and distribution, attributes a large part of Lionsgate’s success with catalog titles to its close relationships with retailers.

“Retailers have always been the lifeblood of our home entertainment business,” Frank says. “We need them, they need us, and we pride ourselves on win-win relationships. We look for openings, mine titles from our library and identify anniversaries and seasonal opportunities. It’s similar to the strategy we’ve employed for years, but now with even more consumers entering the space for the first time, and these newer consumers building their libraries through impulse purchases.”

One recent partnership was a “Best of Lionsgate” catalog promotion with Microsoft Movies & TV, with more than 25 films, mostly action titles. “We saw a triple-digit lift, week over week, amounting to incremental revenue in the six digits” he says.

Editor’s Note: This is part two in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’

Universal Puts Bonus Content Menus Front and Center on New Blu-ray Disc, DVD Releases

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment aims to drum up consumer awareness of Blu-ray Disc and DVD bonus content, which the studio believes is a key selling point for its physical product.

Beginning with the urban horror film Us, which arrives on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on June 18, the studio is introducing a new “bonus features” menu that is prominently displayed on the opening screen, instead of being buried behind layers of disc menu options.

The new menu also features compelling visual clips, rather than mere lines of text, that can be accessed with a single click of the remote.

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To further drive consumer awareness of a disc’s bonus content, supplemental features will begin playing automatically after film’s credits.

Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, told Media Play News that the studio is playing up bonus content because a new Attitude & Usage study indicates that bonus content continues to be an important selling point for home entertainment enthusiasts, especially among the premium formats.

Heavy buyers are influenced the most, with 34% saying they check for bonus content before they buy a disc. The percentage is even higher (52%) among 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray buyers.

“Our consumers have clearly indicated that bonus content is a vital part of the physical disc offering,” Hoffman said. “By continuing to evolve our products and create a greater, more enhanced viewing experience, we reinforce for them the value in ownership and keep them connected and engaged to our products and the category.”

In addition, Hoffman said, bonus features are often the deciding factor in whether a consumer buys instead of streams. Forty percent of buyers choose to purchase rather than stream because they want the bonus content.

“Only through change and innovation can we hope to keep pace with our consumers’ ever-evolving habits and preferences,” Hoffman said. “We are optimistic that Universal’s latest design enhancements will serve to further buoy consumer engagement in our products. Our hope is to see the entire industry move in this direction.”

At least one other studio also is looking at ways to increase the visibility of bonus content. “Paramount is always looking at improving the experience consumers get when they purchase our movies on Blu-ray or digitally,” said Vincent Marcais, EVP of marketing for Paramount Home Entertainment.  “We are evaluating the bonus menu options while continuing to focus on 1) providing even better ‘extras’ such as alternate endings and deleted scenes on the upcoming  Pet Semetary and 2) presenting our extras on digital platforms so our customers can have even more incentive to purchase.”