Studio Marketers Push Direct-to-Consumer Approach During Pandemic

As Hollywood slowly re-emerges from shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic, studios have rejiggered marketing efforts to help sell content and entice a wary consumer base.

At an Aug. 31 online industry roundtable, marketing reps from Amazon Studios, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Neon and Searchlight Pictures International discussed the marketing challenges for new movies in the COVID-19 era. Specifically, studios contend they don’t have the luxury of time to educate consumers about a new title as they did pre-COVID-19.

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“In the old days … we all thought that you had to launch a trailer early out, maybe four, five months out, and then you would build awareness and so forth,” Dwight Caines, co-president of marketing at Universal, told the roundtable hosted by Variety. “Now, we launch trailers a month and a half out and feel that we can still build awareness for that core audience.”

The marketers said social media and video chat platforms have become the new norm pushing a movie, the director and key actors to the consumer in place of the previous press-junket that often limited talent to time-consuming one-on-one interviews.

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“There’s something that’s very democratic and sort of egalitarian about being able to work with the talent in different time zones via technology,” said Searchlight’s Rebecca Kearey.

Marketers said the move toward premium VOD and transactional VOD for some new-release titles has been helped by advancements in technology that enable talent to conduct many more interviews from the comfort of their home.

“That’s one of the elements that when we return to life as we knew it, a theatrical experience, we will still keep some of those remote publicity and campaign opportunities,” Caines said.

Christian Davin, head of movie marketing at Amazon, said the push toward PVOD and expedited transactional VOD allows studios “to pierce the cultural zeitgeist in a global way.”

“When you have a singular day and date release around the world, it no longer matters if you live near a theater … or if you’re in a country where in a traditional model the movie wouldn’t get to you for a couple of weeks. You can, through the power of technology, have a shared universal experience with people across the globe,” Davin said.

Netflix, Amazon, Hollywood Studios Seek Millions in Piracy Damages

Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and several Hollywood studios are seeking default judgement regarding millions in damages from a shuttered Florida-based streaming service accused of copyright infringement.

The SVOD services and studios last year — through their Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment anti-piracy coalition — filed litigation against Set Broadcast LLC, which had marketed an online set-top device dubbed “Set TV Now” affording 260,000 subscribers access to preloaded movies and TV shows.

“Defendants market and sell subscriptions to ‘SeTVnow,’ a software application that defendants urge their customers to use as a tool for the mass infringement of plaintiffs’ copyrighted motion pictures and television shows,” read the complaint filed last April in U.S. District Court in Central California, Western Division.

The complaint cited 51 copyrighted works illegally distribution causing more than $7.6 million in statutory damages. Defendants include Jason Labossiere, owner of Set TV, and employee Nelson Johnson.

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After reportedly hiring legal representation to answer the lawsuit, Labossiere and Johnson allegedly failed to respond to legal inquiries or pay their legal bills.

“Though the Setvnow service appears to no longer be available, Set Broadcast’s apparent cessation of its willful and flagrant infringement does not and should not prevent this court from exercising its discretion to permanently enjoin Set Broadcast from infringing plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” read the amended complaint first reported by TorrentFreek.com. “There is a significant threat of continuing irreparable injuries to plaintiffs.”

Whether Netflix & Co. see any damages paid remains to be seen. Dish Network already has a $90 million judgement against Set TV that must be paid.

A hearing on the default judgement is slated for July 29.

Studios, Streamers Sue Online TV Service for Pirating Content

Hollywood studios and over-the-top video behemoths Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have joined together in a lawsuit against “SeTV Now,” an online service allegedly streaming pirated content globally.

The suit – filed April 20 in Los Angeles District Court – by Amazon Content Services, Columbia Pictures Industries, Disney Enterprises, Netflix Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Televsision, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Universal City Studios Productions, Universal Cable Productions, Universal Television and Warner Bros. Entertainment, alleges “SeTV Now” and co-defendants Jason Labossiere and Nelson Johnson are pirating “mass copyright infringement” of plaintiffs’ movies and TV shows and marketing access to them via software to consumers for “only $20/month.”

“Whether their customers choose a subscription or a preloaded box, what [Florida-based] defendants actually sell is illegal access to plaintiffs’ copyrighted works … without authorization. These streams are illegal public performances of plaintiffs’ copyrighted works,” read the complaint.

The studios, Amazon and Netflix filed the litigation in California, citing the state as the “locus of most of plaintiffs’ productions and distribution facilities.”

The suit alleges “SeTV Now” sells “click-and-play” no-contract subscriptions and set-top box devices in California, in addition to offering technical support and marketing on social media in the state.

“On April 10, 2018, a ‘SeTVnow’ customer who selected the ‘new releases’ category would have had the ability to access immediately hundreds of titles, including movies still in theaters,” read the complaint.

The defendants were not immediately available for comment.

The studios, Amazon and Netflix seek a jury trial and unspecified monetary damages.

Studios, SVOD Win Court Injunction Against TickBox TV

Hollywood studios and subscription streaming video services have been granted a preliminary injunction against TickBox TV, the Atlanta-based company allegedly selling illegal access to myriad TV shows and movies through a proprietary set-top box.

U.S. Federal District Judge Michael Fitzgerald Jan. 30 in Los Angeles ruled TickBox must maintain changes it made to its user interface and marketing after Universal Pictures, Columbia, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Amazon and Netflix filed a lawsuit last October.

TickBox argues it merely sells hardware and cannot be liable for the actions of third-parties, i.e. its consumers.

Indeed, at the bottom of its website, TickBow said its hardware “should not be used to download or stream any copyrighted content without permission from the copyright holder.”

But Fitzgerald ruled that while TickBox had not necessarily “caused” users to illegally stream or download copyrighted content, it had sold them the means to do so.

“TickBox may be held responsible for the instances of infringement that would not have otherwise occurred in the absence of the Device,” Fitzgerald wrote.

The judge ordered TickBox and plaintiffs to iron out technical safeguards that protect the latter’s copyrighted content, in addition to implementing software updates that could reset devices already sold.

The Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, which represents studios and digital companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, hailed the judge’s decision.

“This is an important step, particularly given the court’s conclusion that the ACE members are likely to succeed on the merits of their case,” spokesperson Zoe Thorogood said in a statement. “We look forward to further developments in this case.”