News Analysis: Hollywood’s Indian Strategy — A Star in the Making

Move over, Bollywood. Legacy Hollywood is targeting the world’s second-largest population with low-cost streaming services and original content designed to be consumed on portable devices.

From the recent launch of Lionsgate Play from Starz, which also operates joint venture StarzPlay Arabia, to Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, Hollywood is targeting India’s 1.1 billion portable media devices as fertile ground for multi-billion-dollar infrastructure/content investments.

From 2019 through 2020, the SVOD market grew from 23 million subscribers to 57 million subs — and is predicted to reach 200 million subs by 2025, according to Futuresource Consulting.

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The top six Indian SVOD providers, including Disney+ Hotstar, Prime Video and Netflix, all boast heavy financial backing, marketing budgets and strong content production capabilities. Overall, there are approximately 30 active SVOD providers competing for the national and regional market share. Part of this mix includes Bollywood, with many local studios also launching their own direct-to-consumer services.

“Consequently, pay-TV operators are ramping up efforts in diversifying their offerings,” said David Sidebottom, principal analyst at Futuresource. “However, the learning curve for those shifting from satellite broadcasting to IP is steep and requires notable investment.”

When Disney acquired 21st Century Fox assets, included in the $71 billion purchase was Hotstar, a streaming platform with an Ace card: Indian Premier League cricket. As a result, India represents 30% of the Disney+ platform’s 95 million subscribers — just 9.5 million less than the service’s U.S. sub base.

“We did see a bump up when the IPL season started,” Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said on the fiscal call. “But we’ve also made it economical for a consumer to sign up for a one-year subscription versus going month-to-month. So those are some of the things that we’re looking at and utilizing to mitigate the churn that one could expect from IPL, but it’s a more diversified offering in terms of programming than just cricket.”

Indeed, the just-launched Star streaming unit within Disney+ and featuring general entertainment is seen as key to the platform reaching 300 million subs globally within three years.

“While North American markets remain critical for most streaming players, it is emerging markets such as India that will drive the next wave of subscriber growth,” Aditya Raghunath, research analyst with T.A. Pai Management Institute, wrote on The Motley Fool.

Netflix in 2019 launched a lower-cost mobile-centric subscription service in India, three years after bowing standard service in the country. The service’s original series, “Delhi Crime,” recently won the International Emmy for Best Drama Series.

“We’ve been growing every year. We’ve been just building our team, developing content, figuring out what works, whether that’s ‘Sacred Games,’ or ‘AK vs. AK,’ you know, just lots of different types of content,” Hastings told Fortune IndiaIndeed, Netflix is targeting India for much of its next 100 million subscriber growth.

“If you play very safe, you’re not doing justice to your audiences who deserve new storytelling,” said Monika Shergill, VP of content for Netflix India.

Amazon, which of course eyes India for its e-commerce potential, also offers Prime Video as a standalone service priced from $1.79 per month. Subscribers have access to ad-free content in myriad languages Prime Video lets users stream ad-free content in HD and 4K (at no additional cost) across various languages. The service also offers access to Prime Music, Prime Reading, Prime Delivery and Amazon Pay Credit Card, among other services.

“The number of hours Prime Video is watched in India in the last two years has grown by six times,” Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos told an Indian media event in 2019. “Prime Video is working well all over the world, and there is no place it is doing better than in India. It’s incredible.”

Nielsen to Track Content Diversity in Hollywood

Nielsen Feb. 17 announced it is partnering with entertainment metadata tracker Gracenote to record visibility into the gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of talent appearing in TV programming and the audiences watching it. Dubbed Gracenote Inclusion Analytics, the new software aims to give content creators, owners, distributors and advertisers data around on-screen diversity and representation to enable more inclusive content. Future enhancements will expand product coverage to include theatrical movies as well as behind-the-camera talent including directors, producers, writers and other key roles.

Nielsen said the information will enable distributors to highlight content within their catalogs featuring diverse female leads for Women’s History Month or fuel recommendations connecting audiences of diverse content. A studio could evaluate whether its content meets diversity, equity and inclusion benchmarks — highlighting programs for licensing opportunities. Similarly, a brand could identify and target the most inclusive content to inform its ad investment or product placement decisions.

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“The entertainment industry has a massive challenge ahead — to ensure the talent associated with popular TV programming mirrors today’s increasingly diverse viewing audiences,” Sandra Sims-Williams, SVP of diversity, equity and inclusion at Nielsen, said in a statement. “By democratizing information around representation in content, Gracenote Inclusion Analytics holds the power to push the industry toward better balance and a more equitable future.”

According to a recent Nielsen report, women make up 52% of the U.S. population but comprise only 38% of top recurring cast in popular broadcast, cable and streaming programming. At the same time, people of color account for 40% of the broader population, but are present in only 27% of top TV roles. These data points highlight significant imbalances between representation in content and key audience groups which, by addressing, would serve to accelerate equity in entertainment.

The new industry tracker combines Gracenote’s video program metadata and ethnicity data with Nielsen television ratings and SVOD content ratings. Based on these inputs, the software delivers proprietary metrics assessing the degree to which different identity groups are featured in programming and how evenly this reflects viewing audiences. These include:

  • Share of Screen quantifying an identity group’s (e.g., women, LGBTQ, Black) representation among the top recurring talent
  • Inclusion Opportunity Index comparing share of screen for an identity group (e.g., women) to their representation in population estimates
  • Inclusion Audience Index comparing share of screen for a group to their representation in the program’s viewing audience


“Audiences today actively seek out programs that highlight people who resemble them and experiences that reflect their own,” said Tina Wilson, head of analytics at Nielsen. “Under these circumstances, it’s critical that the entertainment industry create authentic content which resonates with underrepresented groups. Together, Nielsen and Gracenote are uniquely positioned to help the industry seize upon this opportunity by way of new data analytics solutions ensuring meaningful connections between content and audiences.”


Looking Ahead: Home Entertainment Executives Eye 2021, Say PVOD Is Here to Stay

After a year in which COVID-19 upended Hollywood, 2021 looms as one big question mark for home entertainment executives.

The pandemic accelerated the growth of streaming and made premium video-on-demand (PVOD) an economic and logistic necessity due to the closure of movie theaters. And despite the lack of fresh theatrical product, the transactional end of the home entertainment business flourished.

In 2020, films that would have been major theatrical releases — including Disney’s live-action Mulan, Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour and Warner Bros. Scoob! — hit PVOD first before moving on to other windows. Studios made the most of captive home audiences by seamlessly transitioning from PVOD to TVOD, and at the same time dug into their vaults and came up with creative ways to market catalog titles.

“COVID didn’t introduce new trends to entertainment, but it did accelerate what was already happening,” observes Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

With a vaccine rollout underway, the big question is whether things will return to normal — or whether the changes have been so pronounced, so significant, that Hollywood will never return to its old ways. Whichever way the wind blows, industry executives say, the strides made by PVOD are unlikely to be reversed even once most of the country has been vaccinated and it is safe for theaters everywhere to reopen.

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“COVID was clearly an accelerant to move more entertainment consumption to the home,” says Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox. “Event films will still be big theatrically, but there will be a push to accelerate consumers’ abilities to watch at home through PVOD and shorter overall windows — both digitally and on disc.”

Galen Smith

He adds, “We don’t believe the theatrical model will return exactly as it existed prior to COVID. The evolution over the last year benefited consumers and content creators through the introduction of new products — and a number of them, like PVOD, are here to stay. PVOD has been a model the studios have wanted to add for many years, and I expect to see more PVOD releases in 2021.  It’s another way to provide customers choice, which is good for them as well as for the industry.”

Dametra Johnson-Marletti, corporate VP of Microsoft Digital Stores Category Management, agrees. “I think many consumers will be excited to return to the theaters when the COVID risk is nearer to zero,” she says. “That said, I also think that PVOD is here to stay, particularly for titles that are not forecasted to be box office blockbusters, and for a certain segment of viewers.”

The mantra for home entertainment executives, then, is to keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry, and on the consumer, and be prepared for more changes as well as more uncertainty.

Bob Buchi

“What we saw in 2020 was an anomaly, but it also demonstrated our ability to pivot and continue to monetize our content through the distribution strategies and platforms that are available to us and that make the most sense,” says Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures. “All of these options — including traditional theatrical distribution — will continue to co-exist in a post-pandemic world.

“I feel strongly that we need to stop framing things as ‘normal,’ whether that’s ‘back to normal’ or ‘a new normal’,” adds Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. “Our business is currently in an accelerated state of evolution, as the pandemic created the perfect environment for overdue experimentation with distribution models. Many studios are working within this unique opportunity to offer consumers new ways to consume content at earlier points in its lifecycle, and consumers have embraced the change. There is no replacement for the experience of seeing a movie in a state-of-the-art theater, but we expect content owners will continue to meet entertainment lovers wherever it is that they choose to consume new content.”

Amy Jo Smith

Similarly, streaming is likely to enjoy continued high growth rates. “Recent research from the NPD Group shows that the average U.S. consumer now relies on seven different streaming video services, up from five in April,” says the DEG’s Amy Jo Smith. “This is another case of the pandemic accelerating a trend that was already underway. It’s great that consumers have so many streaming options at different price points and offering different content. It’s the belief of DEG’s D2C Alliance Steering Committee that as consumers continue to customize their entertainment experience subscription and ad-supported services will continue robust growth, as will large, mainstream services and those that offer more specialized content.”

The transactional end of the business is perhaps the most fluid as 2020 gives way to 2021. Against all odds, the business didn’t collapse when the theatrical business did. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some dicey moments — nor will it be all smooth sailing ahead.

Dametra Johnson-Marletti

“The Microsoft Movies & TV transactional service thrives mostly on new blockbuster content,” Johnson-Marletti says. “With new production shuttered for much of the year, and top content releases pushed to 2021, our TVOD business certainly felt some headwinds. Our team had to become very creative and scrappy as they worked with our studio partners to find unique avenues for growth. We had a multi-part strategy that included shifting more focus to our catalog by bringing forward a lot of the fan favorite and classics for consumers to find more easily. We also focused on building great thematic and seasonal collections.

“Given the current state of the pandemic-related shutdown, and the related outlook through the first two quarters of calendar year 2021, I think we will likely expect much of the same, with some positive light starting to emerge in the late April to early May timeframe. The pervasiveness of vaccine adoption, the openness of the world (as it pertains to theaters), and new windows and rollouts will all be key inputs to how the back half of 2021 plays out.

“I definitely think the approach [we took in 2020] represents a viable set of tactics that will continue to serve our customers, partners and business well in the new year.”

With the continued erosion of disc sales in 2020 — at the nine-month mark, combined consumer spending on Blu-ray Discs and DVDs was down nearly 23% from the prior year, to a new low of $1.8 billion — digital retailers will likely continue to stress the collectibility of digital movie sales, as they did with catalog product during 2020.

“It may not be widely known or understood, but in many ways digital movie collections offer a level of security, portability, and confidence that discs cannot,” Johnson-Marletti says. “Your entire library can be accessed from almost any device, it travels with you seamlessly, and you never have to worry about damaged or lost discs. To the purest of collectors, the absence of tangible boxes may not fully satisfy, but, again, there are many benefits that outweigh the cardboard. Lowering the cost of entry and creating compelling promotions and offers that inspire first-time adoption could be a way to spur greater digital movie sales.”

Despite the emergence of PVOD and continued growth in streaming, some observers expect theaters to stage a dramatic comeback once most of the country has been vaccinated.

“As [Paramount studio chief] Jim Gianopulos pointed out in November, when theaters re-opened in Japan and China, audiences returned en masse, driving huge box office returns for films that were available,” Paramount’s Bob Buchi says. “Clearly, windows and consumer behaviors are shifting, but the theatrical experience will endure.”

Even so, Buchi says, “each film and situation is unique.  For some films, like Top Gun: Maverick and A Quiet Place Part II, the theatrical model is optimal.  On the other hand, we found tremendous success with PVOD for Love and Monsters and Spell. Some films make sense for subscription streaming services.  It is not one-size-fits-all and every film needs to be evaluated individually.”

Ultimately, he adds, “we will continue to explore new distribution models and opportunities to bring our content to audiences wherever and however they want to enjoy it.”

Jim Wuthrich

Warner’s Wuthrich agrees. “Consumer empowerment is good for the industry and our goal is to meet the fans where they are — theaters, OTT, digital, physical,” he says. “While fans may have a preferred channel, they often participate in many, such as going to the theater, subscribing to HBOMax and picking up the Blu-ray. The multichannel experience could be one movie or across different movies, depending on interest.

“One thing is certain: If we are successful in creating compelling stories, fans will continue to show up.”

Homebound: Home Entertainment Takes Center Stage as Consumers Practice Social Isolation

Never before has home entertainment played such a crucial role in the industry.

With live events such as sports and concerts canceled, movie theaters closed, and other activities outside the home scrubbed, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust home viewing into the spotlight as consumers across the globe honor stay-at-home orders.

After years of aborted experiments, premium VOD is finally having its moment as studios rush ‘A’-list films into the home market, hurrying titles to digital to follow the audience.
Streaming services and other digital retailers are rolling out promotions to entice captive consumers — and are experiencing an explosion in viewership growth.

Meanwhile, studios are taking a big hit as theatrical revenue dries up. Observers say the growth in home viewing will only make up a fraction of the lost revenue from movie theater exhibition.

The theatrical pipeline, an important source of new content for home entertainment, has slowed to a trickle as studios shut down productions and postpone or scrap release plans for feature films and series. Warner Bros. postponed the theatrical release of perhaps its biggest title of the year, Wonder Woman 1984, to Aug. 14 from June 5.

Other delayed big Hollywood movies include the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, postponed until November from its original April theatrical date; the Walt Disney Co.’s live-action Mulan, moved from March 27 to July 24, Black Widow, to Nov. 6, The Eternals, to Feb. 12, 2021, and Jungle Cruise, a full year to July 30, 2021; Universal Pictures’ latest “Fast and Furious” film, F9, moved from May 2020 to April 2021; and the Paramount Pictures horror sequel A Quiet Place: Part II, similarly postponed from its previous March 20 theatrical due date.

Such original digital series as the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” and Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney+ will likely debut later than expected due to production halts.

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Fast-Tracked to Digital

As theaters began to shutter, studios filled the void with early digital releases for the growing home audience. Disney March 13 announced it would bring its animated mega-hit Frozen II to Disney+ March 15, three months ahead of schedule.

“We are pleased to be able to share this heartwarming story early with our Disney+ subscribers to enjoy at home on any device,” said Bob Chapek, the former Disney home entertainment chief who recently was elevated to CEO of the Walt Disney Co.

The studio later offered Pixar’s animated Onward, which had just premiered in theaters March 6, for early digital purchase March 20, with the film hitting Disney+ April 3, and canceled the planned May 29 theatrical release of Artemis Fowl, directed by Kenneth Branagh, instead signaling it would debut the film on the Disney+ streaming service at some point.

Universal Pictures March 16 announced it would release its current theatrical slate into home entertainment distribution channels. Movies included The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma, among others. Universal also called off the theatrical release of the DreamWorks Animation sequel Trolls World Tour and instead released the film through video-on-demand April 10. Titles were offered on digital channels for a 48-hour rental period at $19.99 each.

“We wanted to provide an option for people to view these titles in the home that is both accessible and affordable,” NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said.

Warner subsequently announced the early digital purchase availability of Birds of Prey and the Fantaulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (March 24), the Ben Affleck starrer The Way Back (also March 24), and Impractical Jokers: The Movie (April 1) at $19.99.

“With audiences largely unable to view films in theatrical release under current circumstances, we have decided to provide the alternative of early digital ownership of our currently released titles to people looking for great entertainment options,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “So, while we remain big fans of the theatrical experience and hope audiences are able to return to cinemas in the near future, we understand that these are challenging times, and offering this option simply makes sense.”

Paramount Pictures, meanwhile, scrapped the April 3 theatrical release of The Lovebirds and offloaded it to SVOD service Netflix, and the studio fast-tracked theatrical release Sonic the Hedgehog for digital purchase starting March 31.

The studio also looked to non-new theatrical content to fill the pipeline.

“We are working creatively to ensure that there is a constant flow of fresh content for both consumers and retailers to fill the theatrical void,” said Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment at Paramount Pictures. “Fortunately, we have a robust schedule of television content from CBS, Showtime, Nickelodeon and Paramount; new theatrical releases from Saban; plus a wealth of catalog initiatives, including our new
Paramount Presents line.”

Sony Pictures, too, pushed a theatrical release — Bloodshot — into the digital market early, less than two weeks after its theatrical debut, though the studio said it wasn’t a long-term change in strategy.

“Due to the unique situation where Bloodshot became inaccessible as a result of theater closures nationwide, the film was made available for digital purchase on March 24, 2020,” read a Sony statement. “Sony Pictures remains committed to traditional theatrical windows.”

Lionsgate rushed I Still Believe, about Christian music star Jeremy Camp, to premium VOD March 27. The film opened March 12 in theaters.

“We’re enormously proud of the movie that the Erwin Brothers created and are grateful to be able to share it with audiences for their home viewing pleasure,” said Joe Drake, chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.

It’s not just the big studios that shifted release plans.

Independent supplier Mill Creek Entertainment adjusted its schedule as well.

“We are having to make some adjustments to release dates, particularly where interviews, commentaries and other special features were in the process of being produced,” said Barrett Evans, Mill Creek VP of marketing and product development. “Other titles are getting early digital releases to maximize the potential sellthrough in light of reduced store traffic.”

He noted disc sales have increased at mass merchants and other retailers deemed “essential businesses,” especially with Mill Creek’s complete-series television releases and value-priced multi-feature collections.

While there have been some hiccups in disc manufacturing, Paramount, too, has seen continued physical business.

“Although store closures and supply chain challenges have hampered physical opportunities around the world, we continue to see demand for both rental and sellthrough of discs and are committed to servicing those consumers,” Buchi said.

Redbox, its rental kiosks conveniently placed in grocery stores and other high-traffic retailers during the pandemic, told customers via a statement that employees and retailers were cleaning the kiosks regularly and emphasized social distancing advantages.

“Our automated kiosks, by their very nature, eliminate the need for customers to interact with store personnel ‘behind the counter,’” read the statement. “Of course, customers can further minimize time and interaction at our kiosks by renting and reserving their DVD in advance online, or via our app, and then simply ‘pick up and go’ at their favorite retailer. And we have fast tracked the deployment of ‘contactless’ technology at tens of thousands of our locations, so customers can securely pay with a quick ‘tap,’ rather than swiping or using a chip reader.”

Like others, Redbox also pushed its digital options, including its just-launched Redbox Free Live TV.

“Those who would prefer to stream movies from home can also choose Redbox On Demand, where we have a fantastic selection of new-release movies for rental and purchase,” the statement read. “More than 30 channels are also available to stream for free, instantly on your Smart TV or favorite device.”

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Marketing Goes Digital

Indeed, the industry at large turned to marketing digital.

Mill Creek began to aggressively promote its TVOD service, Evans said, and offered sales on kidvid titles to help stay-at-home parents entertain the little ones.

Other digital retailers, too, rolled out promotions to draw the at-home viewer. FandangoNow touted the embarrassment of theatrical-grade early release riches and offered 20% discounts to first-time users.

“During this stressful time, when most of us cannot attend our beloved local theaters, Hollywood is bringing current movies to the comfort of our homes,” said Fandango managing editor Erik Davis.

The service also mounted promotions for Sonic the Hedgehog (offering an eight-minute clip and family activity sheets) and Trolls World Tour (with discounts on other DreamWorks titles with rental preorder).

Notably, fast-tracked Universal release The Invisible Man topped FandangoNow’s charts as soon as it hit digital.

“As fans continue to look for new content to watch at home, FandangoNow has experienced its biggest weekend ever,” FandangoNow head Cameron Douglas said March 23. “Our top sellers consisted of movies right out of the theaters, as well as other digital releases not yet available on subscription services.”

Also highlighting the early availability of top theatrical titles, Amazon March 22 announced via email the launch of Prime Video|Cinema, a new online hub where “you can watch the latest movies just released in theaters — without leaving home.” The launch featured Disney’s Onward available to buy for $19.99, with Universal’s The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma available to rent at the same price.

Walmart’s Vudu digital storefront similarly clustered early access movies under a “Theater at Home” banner.

Digital library service Movies Anywhere rolled out a beta of Screen Pass, which allows consumers to share titles in their collection with friends and family.

The studios, too, put an increased focus on marketing in the digital realm.

“With consumers restricted to their homes, the industry is seeing a significant increase in digital transactional consumption, and we are striving to meet that demand by working closely with digital retailers to offer and promote titles and curated collections at appropriate prices,” said Paramount’s Buchi.

With FandangoNow, Paramount hosted a Sonic “watch party” featuring a live Twitter commentary from the film’s stars, Ben Schwartz (Sonic) and Lee Majdoub (Agent Stone), along with the film’s director, Jeff Fowler.

Warner Bros. has similarly “been working with online media outlets, fan sites and portals to come up with novel and unique ways to entertain people who are passing time at home for the foreseeable future,” stated the studio. “To date, several online ‘watch parties’ have taken place with filmmakers and talent interacting with fans via Skype or Twitter as audiences watch films together in real time, including Birds of Prey with, which featured director Cathy Yan, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Ella Jay Basco and DC Comics writer Gail Simone; a DC Daily Birds of Prey watch party hosted by the site’s talent; and a Shazam! watch party on which featured director David F. Sandberg and Asher Angel and Jack Dylan Grazer from the film.”

Several other screenings of both new-release and catalog films are currently in development, according to the studio.

Free for All

With an expanded at-home audience — some perhaps venturing into digital entertainment for the first time or expanding their digital repertoire — many online services showered the market with free or discounted content to whet the appetite.

As part of its #StayHomeBoxOffice coronavirus campaign, HBO announced it would stream multiple series, documentaries and movies for free on HBO Now and HBO Go beginning April 3.

Apple TV Channels extended to 30 days free trials to ViacomCBS’s Showtime OTT and MGM-owned Epix (through May 2 with no subscription required), AMC Networks’ Acorn TV and Lifetime Movie Channel, among other channels.

Amazon Prime Video began offering select children’s and family-themed entertainment free to anyone with a free Amazon — not Prime — account.

As part of Dish Network’s pandemic-related “Stay in & Sling” initiative, Sling TV launched several free promotions for news and other content and services.

“With social distancing recommendations extended nationally, we are working find new ways to help serve the public as it continues to shelter in place,” said Warren Schlichting, group president of Sling TV.

Actor Patrick Stewart, star of the CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Picard,” took to Twitter March 24 to announce that fans can enjoy a free month of the SVOD service as they shelter in place. CBS All Access offered a month-long subscription to anyone in the United States through April 23 with the code GIFT.
Comcast March 25 announced that it had made the VOD catalogs from a series of premium networks and SVOD services available to its Xfinity X1 and Flex customers for free for 30 days.

AT&T March 26 announced it would offer DirecTV, U-Verse, AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now subscribers free access to HBO, Starz, Cinemax and Epix into April.

Roku on March 28 announced its streaming media devices would highlight free content on The Roku Channel, via email newsletters and social media through a “Home Together” campaign.

Gold Rush or Fool’s Gold

As the pandemic spread and stay-at-home orders proliferated, research firms and analysts gathered data and opined on the spike in home entertainment consumption.

The vast majority of U.S. respondents to a March TV Time survey said they planned to increase TV content consumption during the crisis. The survey, fielded to 3,126 U.S. users of the TV Time App March 13-15, found among those planning to stay home/isolate or who were considering it (91%), 84% said they intended to increase their TV consumption during this period.
“Streaming services are poised to be among the biggest beneficiaries to capture consumers’ viewership and engagement,” the TV Time report concluded.

Conviva analyzed global streaming data from a 21-day period between March 3 and March 23, comparing the last week with the first two. Streaming skyrocketed on a global scale, increasing more than 20% compared with the previous two-week period, with North America streaming up nearly 27%.

Percentage viewership of VOD apps jumped double digits in a Vizio survey comparing two weekends in March, as more consumers began to stay home due to the coronavirus crisis.

Viewership of ad-supported VOD apps jumped 19% while overall viewership of TV apps grew 9% from the weekend of March 7-8 to the weekend of March 14-15, according to a survey of 9.6 million Vizio SmartCast users. Meanwhile, research firm Inscape found both streaming viewers (OTT) and linear viewers watched 10% more content overall in its survey of 14 million opt-in TVs comparing the same time periods.

Comscore found average in-home data use jumped 18% in early March compared with the previous-year period. OTT streaming significantly increased across connected TVs and streaming boxes/sticks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the research firm. In comparing OTT streaming behavior March 1-16 in 2019 to the same period in 2020, Comscore found notable year-over-year growth in both the number of households and time spent with OTT content on both connected TVs and streaming boxes/sticks. Streaming hours grew 24% on connected TVs and 16% on streaming boxes/sticks.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ curtailed streaming quality so as not to overload infrastructure.

Strategy Analytics forecast global streaming video subscriptions would increase by 5% in 2020, projecting 949 million paid subscriptions globally by the end of 2020, an increase of 47 million from earlier forecasts.

“One significant factor affecting future SVOD growth is the impact of the coronavirus in both the short and long term,” said Michael Goodman, director of TV & Media Strategies. “In the near term the coronavirus will actually boost SVOD subscriptions, as well as viewing of these services, as an ever-growing number of consumers adopt social distancing or are forced into quarantine.”

Goodman said long-term effects of the virus on SVOD depend on the length of the pandemic and resulting economic damage. As businesses shut down and individuals are laid off, consumers will alter how they spend money on essential and non-essential services.

Indeed, many pundits acknowledged home entertainment viewing was experiencing a surge.

“Yes, they will see increased usage in home entertainment distribution,” Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities, said of the early digital releases, but he questioned long-term profitability.

He said kiosk disc rental/digital service company Redbox “definitely benefits” in the short term.

Richard Greenfield, media analyst with Lightshed Partners, said the elimination of live sports on TV makes SVOD a valuable alternative.

“To the extent consumers are increasingly working from home and refraining from out-of-home activities, without sports to watch on TV, we suspect streaming services such as Netflix will see increased subscriber additions and higher utilization per account (leading to higher ARPU plans that enable more users per household and lower churn),” Greenfield wrote in a March 12 note.

Analyst Laura Martin with Needham, one of the first Wall Street pundits to predict a home entertainment surge as a result of the pandemic, cautioned that with the pandemic exploding in Europe, international Netflix subscriber growth will stall.

“In distressed times, people will give up their Netflix subscriptions,” Martin wrote in a note.

Greenfield disagreed.

“Netflix appears incredibly well-positioned to entertain consumers as [other] entertainment options dry up, especially if more movie theaters close globally,” he wrote.

Studios, Industry Under Pressure

While the growth in home entertainment was a bright spot as the pandemic grew, the entertainment industry at large took major hits. Numerous industry events, including the National Association of Broadcasters show scheduled for Las Vegas in April, were canceled.

The studios warned of leaner times. Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, and the Walt Disney Co. had to close their respective amusement parks and warned Wall Street of losses
ahead. NBC noted it would suffer the loss of Olympic coverage this summer as the games were postponed to 2021.

The Walt Disney Co. April 3 announced it would start furloughing non-essential U.S. employees April 19.

“With no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time,” a Disney representative said in a statement.

Disney also announced that executive chairman Bob Iger, who earlier this year stepped down as CEO, would forgo his entire salary, and that Iger’s successor as CEO, Bob Chapek, would have his salary cut in half.

Industry heavyweights set up relief funds for those displaced.

Netflix March 20 disclosed the creation of a $100 million relief fund for people in the entertainment business waylaid by the epidemic. CCO Ted Sarandos, in a blog post, said $15 million would go to third parties and nonprofits providing emergency relief to out-of-work crew, cast, electricians, carpenters and drivers  — many of whom are paid hourly wages and work on a project-to-project basis — in the countries where Netflix has large production facilities.

“This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times,” Sarandos wrote.

He said most of the money would go toward support for the hardest-hit workers on its own productions. This was in addition to the two week’s pay Netflix had already committed to the crew and cast on productions forced into suspension.

Netflix also announced the donation of $1 million each to the SAG-AFTRA COVID-19 Disaster Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Actors Fund Emergency Assistance in the U.S., and $1 million split between the AFC and Fondation des Artistes.

NBCUniversal announced the creation of a $150 million fund for employees, production personnel and amusement staff impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement by CEO Jeff Shell included the news he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

WarnerMedia set up a $100 million fund to assist production workers and others idled by the shutdown in Hollywood.

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) pledged $1 million to a fund to assist laid-off theater workers and decried the fast-tracked move to home entertainment. NATO on March 17 issued a statement blasting the practice of early digital release, citing “speculation in the media that the temporary closure of theaters will lead to accelerated or exclusive releases of theatrical titles to home streaming.”

“Such speculation ignores the underlying financial logic of studio investment in theatrical titles,” the NATO statement read. “To avoid catastrophic losses to the studios, these titles must have the fullest possible theatrical release around the world.

“While one or two releases may forgo theatrical release, it is our understanding from discussions with distributors that the vast majority of deferred releases will be rescheduled for theatrical release as life returns to normal.”

Before life returns to normal, though, it’s clear the focus of entertainment will be in the home — and as a result home entertainment may be a bigger part of the industry’s future after the pandemic subsides.

Honoring Eddie — and Hollywood

Eddie Cunningham, in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, speaks softly and carries a big stick.

Honored with Media Play News’ third annual Fast Toward Award, Cunningham is the consummate gentleman, both inside and outside of the workplace. Without exception, his employees say he’s a remarkable boss, even-tempered and empowering, encouraging them to do their best and making them want to do their best.

He’s instilled in them a belief that what they do each day in the office truly matters, that they are an essential cog in the wheel, so to speak. Leading by example, you get the feeling that Eddie Cunningham truly loves our industry as well as his company, and that loyalty and reliability are two of his most important traits.

The last time we met for lunch, at the Grill on the Universal Studios lot, he brought a bag of toys for my year-old granddaughter.

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A while back, at CES, we happened to share an elevator. Eddie Cunningham was the last person out, holding the door for nearly a dozen other people.

Now that he’s been tapped to lead a joint venture between Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. that, pending regulatory approval, will market and distribute Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and 4K Ultra HD discs in the United States and Canada from both studios, beginning in early 2021, Cunningham also is leading the charge to ensure the continued viability, and profitability, of the physical disc.

It’s a big opportunity, and a big challenge, as well. Disc sales have been declining, and with the whole world so enamored with streaming, we as an industry need to do what we can to prop up the transactional business – which despite impressive growth rates on the digital side remains tethered to physical media.

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As Cunningham says in this month’s feature, “Discs, alongside electronic sellthrough, are usually the first opportunity to own a film after its run in theaters, with the movie often not being available on SVOD for years. [And] if you want the highest quality picture and sound, disc is still the best way to get that in the home.”

The physical disc is not only the primary into-the-home distribution mechanism for new movies fresh off their theatrical runs. It also remains the best way to preserve, honor and capitalize on Hollywood’s rich cinematic history.

The proliferating streaming services are so focused on original content that older films are hard to find. The theatrical catalog titles we used to enjoy, and which formed the basis for DVD collecting two decades ago, are pretty much out of everyone’s consciousness.

I know from my own experience that whereas in the past I would regularly watch an old classic or two each week, for the last few years I have been so consumed by Netflix series such as “Ozark,” “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” that I didn’t have time for much more than the latest theatrical hit.

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Only since my holiday from streaming began last December have I been watching old movies again on Blu-ray Disc.

That’s why I applaud Paramount Home Entertainment’s launch of a new “Paramount Presents” label to recognize and celebrate films from the studio’s library. As division president Bob Buchi said, “Paramount’s library represents over a century of filmmaking and includes some of the greatest films in cinematic history. We look forward to opening the vault and sharing some of our most treasured films with fans.”


Black Thursday: Coronavirus Fears Shutter Amusement Parks, TV Productions, ‘March Madness’ as Dow Suffers Biggest Drop Since 1987

In a bad week things got decidedly worse March 12 as the Dow suffered its worst decline since 1987 as investors dumped stocks with growing fears about the escalating coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 125,000 people globally and killed almost 5,000.

In Hollywood, increased numbers of television series productions halted work in an effort to safeguard cast and crew against the potential spread of the virus. Studios pushed back release dates for A Quiet Place II and Fast and Furious 9, among other titles.

TV productions halted included Apple’s “The Morning Show” and “Little America,” Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” The CW’s “Riverdale,” CBS’s “The Amazing Race” and “Survivor,” among others.

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The Walt Disney Co. elected to temporarily close Disneyland and California Adventure, a move it has already done in China, Hong Kong and Japan. Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., remain open. Citing an “abundance of caution,” Universal Studios closed its theme parks as well.

In sports, Major League Soccer and the NHL suspended play nationwide, while Major League Baseball halted spring training. The NCAA decided to terminate the $900 million annual “March Madness” men’s national basketball championship tournament before it even started. The governing body of intercollegiate athletics had initially elected to limit the tournament to participating teams, school officials and families.

It took a further step the day after the NBA suspended play indefinitely after a player on the Utah Jazz test positive for the virus.

“Today, NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors canceled the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships,” the organization said in a statement.

The canceling of March Madness came after conferences such as the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big West and Big 12 announced that their respective tournaments were off.

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“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA said.

Meanwhile, the Dow index lost all gains from 2018 with the S&P 500 dropping 7% after the opening bell, which caused an automatic 15-minute trading halt on Wall Street.


‘Joker,’ ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ ‘1917,’ Netflix’s ‘The Irishman’ Pace Oscar Race

A couple of Netflix originals joined a handful of studio films, a gritty comic book movie and a critically acclaimed competitor from South Korea in the race for Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards, as announced the morning of Jan. 13.

Netflix’s The Irishman and Marriage Story were among the nine films nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Netflix also earned Best Animated Feature nomination for Klaus and I Lost My Body, plus a Best Documentary Feature nom for American Factory from the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions.

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The Irishman earned 10 nominations. In addition to Best Picture, it will contend for Best Director for Martin Scorsese, Best Supporting Actor for Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects and Best Costume Design.

Marriage Story earned a total of six nominations. It is also up for Best Actor for Adam Driver, Best Actress for Scarlett Johansson, Best Supporting Actress for Laura Dern, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score for Randy Newman.

Johansson was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Jojo Rabbit.

Warner’s Joker led all films with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix, Best Director for Todd Phillips, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Costume Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing, Cinematography, and Makeup and Hairstyling. The film is available now on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and digitally.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood also earned 10 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actor for Brad Pitt, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. The film is available now on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and digitally from Sony Pictures.

Universal’s 1917, which was the No. 1 film at the box office the weekend of Jan. 10-12, also earned 10 nominations, including Best Picture, Director for Sam Mendes, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, and Makeup and Hairstyling.

Other Best Picture nominees include Ford v Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, and South Korea’s Parasite.

Ford v Ferrari will be released through digital retailers Jan. 28, and on Blu-ray Disc, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 11 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. It also earned nominations for Film Editing, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

Parasite, which is also up for Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign-Language Film) among its six noms, will be released through digital retailers Jan. 14, and on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 28 from Universal. It is also contending for Best Director for Bong Joon Ho, Original Screenplay, Film Editing and Production Design.

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In addition to Klaus and the French film I Lost My Body, nominees for Best Animated Feature include Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 4, Fox’s Missing Link. The latter three are all available now on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally.

The top-grossing film and top-selling home video of 2019, Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame, distributed by Disney, earned a single nomination, for Best Visual Effects.

Composer John Williams earned his 52nd Oscar nomination, for Best Original Score for Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The film is also up for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing.

The winners will be announced Feb. 9 on ABC. A full list of nominees is available here.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


Sony Pictures;
Box Office $141.06 million;
$30.99 DVD, $38.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Al Pacino, Nicholas Hammond.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t so much a film as it is a time machine that transports the audience back to 1969, allowing the viewer to swim in the atmosphere and flavor of the era.

The movie is Tarantino’s love letter to the movies and TV shows he grew up with, providing a vast canvas for him to relish in his specialties of memorable characters, rich background detail, and an indelible soundtrack of period-specific songs.

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The story is a tale of contrasting Hollywood paths. On one road is former television Western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a borderline has-been looking to hold onto his fame by taking guest spots as the bad guy in the popular shows of the day, when he’s not too drunk to remember his lines.

Dalton is accompanied everywhere by his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s even more down on his luck but gets by on a come-what-may attitude despite a shady past that has led to Rick being the only one willing to employ him.

On the flip side is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the up-and-coming starlet giddy over seeing her name on the movie marquee.

And in between them is the Manson family, which gives the film some historical context, grounding it in both a sense of dread and morbid fascination. Of course, anyone familiar with Tarantino’s previous efforts in historical fiction will understand where the real clash of this story is headed.

But as could be expected with Tarantino at the helm, the film transcends the bounds of story to give viewers the experience of living in the fantasy of 1960s Hollywood. A mix of parody and homage, the film is so beautifully shot and faithful to the styles of the time that it just feels like watching a memory — or at the very least, a dream of how things could have been.

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In typical Tarantino fashion, the overarching story isn’t so much the point as the individual scenes that comprise it, offering unforgettable bits of dialogue and character interactions, from Rick being reduced to tears by his 8-year-old co-star, to Rick and Cliff providing a running commentary watching an episode of “FBI.”

Even more of Tarantino’s Hollywood is offered up in the Blu-ray bonus materials, which feature more than 20 minutes of additional scenes, from expansions of scenes already in the movie to faux commercials for some of the products prominently featured.

Also included are five behind-the-scenes featurettes totaling more than a half-hour that detail the intricate re-creation of the period.


Doc ‘A Classy Broad’ Coming to Digital March 5 From Virgil

The documentary A Classy Broad: Marcia’s Adventures in Hollywood, about trailblazing executive Marcia Nasatir, the first female VP of production at United Artists, comes to digital March 5 from Virgil Films.

The film will also have weeklong theatrical engagement at L.A.’s Laemmle Music Hall — in conjunction with International Women’s Day — starting March 8.

A Classy Broad, as told mainly in Nasatir’s voice, is directed by Anne Goursaud, known for her editing work on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

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Nasatir’s legendary career as an executive began in 1970s when she was recruited by Mike Medavoy at UA as story editor, a position she negotiated into a VP title, paving the way for women to achieve this executive status quo within a male-dominated movie industry.  While there, Nasatir championed Rocky, Carrie, Apocalypse Now and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She later joined Johnny Carson’s production company and fought to produce The Big Chill, which garnered three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close) and Best Screenplay. With Marcia Nasatir Productions, she independently produced the Vietnam drama Hamburger Hill and Ironweed, starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

At 92 years old, Marcia is an active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and serves on the Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee.

‘Not on Netflix’

I’m a little confused about the whole “Direct to Consumer” trend and what it means for home entertainment.

I get the concept — delivering movies, TV shows and other filmed content directly to consumers over the Internet, bypassing third-party distributors — but honestly, what are we selling here?

Consumers aren’t buying individual movies or shows, either to own or just to watch. They are subscribing to a service, where they can still pick and choose what they want to watch, but it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet rather than ordering off the menu. And that’s an enticing proposition for the consumer — a whole month of entertainment for less than it costs to buy a single movie, either on disc or digitally.

And yet the transactional business model remains a critical component of Hollywood’s money stream, and also provides a far better picture of consumer demand. Just like at the box office, movies succeed or fail on their own, and their performance helps studios determine what to make more of — and less of.

And the transactional model will always rely on a third-party distributor — retailer, aggregator, call it what you will — to provide consumers with the broadest possible choice. Except for Disney, the individual studios simply aren’t a brand.

But regardless of how much money Netflix — and Disney+, the new Disney SVOD service set to launch later this year — spends on original content, I can’t fathom consumers not wanting first-run movies, either to own or just to watch. And while Disney will probably throw some new theatrical movies into its SVOD service just to stoke interest, most of the big blockbusters will always be available first through the transactional model. Netflix and other SVOD services will remain focused on television content and catalog movies to give studios a direct revenue stream to compensate for declining disc sales and the loss of fees they get from selling content to cable companies because of cord-cutting.

The transactional business model has certainly endured its share of bumps in recent years. Disc sales continue to decline, and only recently have digital movie sales and rentals begun to climb, with respectable growth rates of 14.4% and 6.2%, respectively, according to year-end 2018 numbers issued by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

The launch in late 2017 of the Movies Anywhere platform certainly helped lift sales, as has the increasing aggressiveness of digital retailers like Apple iTunes, FandangoNow, Redbox On Demand and Google Play, even though the business is largely driven by pay-TV providers like Comcast.

But to really lift the transactional business studios need to do more, as well. An earlier window for digital releases has certainly been effective, but what’s next? Years ago, faced with a slowdown in what was then a physical media-only business, studios banded together with distributors and retailers and introduced a common street date — Tuesdays — as well as a generic awareness campaign that drove home the low cost and convenience of renting a video.

Why not develop and launch a similar industrywide campaign now? Focus on all the great content that’s available exclusively through transactional purchases and rentals, including, of course, fresh new theatrical blockbusters that won’t be on Netflix for years, if ever. I’ve had studio executives tell me this is common knowledge, but I respectfully disagree — I’ve had too many friends and acquaintances tell me otherwise. FandangoNow prominently notes on its website, “New releases not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime subscriptions.” Why can’t this be an industrywide rallying cry, maybe even with the hashtag #NotOnNetflix (which last time I checked had just 684 posts on Instagram)?

And while we’re at it, let’s put a little effort behind the much-maligned physical disc. We have a truly great new product, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, that’s even getting increased attention (in the form of floor space) from big traditional retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

But sometimes it seems that the disc is our industry’s forgotten stepchild. Let’s put existing trade groups like the Blu-ray Disc Association and Ultra HD Alliance to work and start pounding the drums, focusing on the fact that of all the products and platforms out there 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray most closely replicates the theatrical experience. Consider an earlier street date for 4K.

And at the same time, don’t neglect regular Blu-ray and DVD, which continue to dominate sales.  Explore the feasibility of selling a small, curated selection of discs through movie theaters, focusing on titles that somehow tie in with what’s playing on the big screen. There’s a reason theme parks have big gift shops at the exits — you’ve got a captive audience.