Rewind: Home Video Industry Reunion

Veterans of the home video industry, many of whom began their careers back when home entertainment revolved around the VHS rental cassette, gathered at the Valley Inn Steakhouse and Bar in Sherman Oaks, Calif. on the evening of Sept. 12, 2023 for a reunion. The event attracted nearly 100 people, including former WEA chairman and CEO Dave Mount; Marty Jorgensen of Video Products Distributors (VPD); Mitch Perliss of The Wherehouse; Eric Doctorow, the former president of Paramount Home Video; and David Bishop, who served as president of MGM Home Video and, later, what is now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The reunion, and two prior ones, were organized by Jodie Francisco, now a Sherman Oaks realtor whose own home video industry career ran the gamut from distributor (Metro Video) to studio rep. (Media Play News staff photos)

Documentary on Erotic Thriller Home Video Genre Acquired by Yellow Veil Pictures

A documentary on one of the hallmarks of the early home video era — the erotic thriller — has been acquired by Yellow Veil Pictures ahead of its world premiere at the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, which opens March 30.

Anthony Penta

We Kill for Love — written, produced and directed by Anthony Penta — is slated for domestic release later this year, with an international sales launch at the upcoming Marche Du Film in May.

The film also will get a DVD and Blu-ray Disc release later in the year.

We Kill For Love chronicles the birth and development of the erotic thriller genre, which soared to popularity in the early 1990s and revitalized the videocassette rental business prior to the launch of DVD. Erotic thrillers combined bodily pleasure with danger, and while some films, such as 1987’s Fatal Attraction and 1992’s Basic Instinct, were box office successes, most erotic thrillers were produced and released exclusively to the home video market by such companies as Prism Entertainment and Academy Home Entertainment.

We Kill for Love is part film essay, part documentary, and part casefile,” Penta said. “It’s a record of my prolonged investigation into a forgotten but once lucrative film movement — the direct-to-video erotic thriller — as well as a fantasia on its themes. For six years I tracked down the prime suspects of these films and I recorded their stories. I traveled the country to interview the academics and film writers whose books and articles explored its mysteries. I’m very happy to be partnering with Yellow Veil Pictures on the release of this film, and I’m sure it will serve as a permanent monument to not only a lost film subgenre, but a bygone era of American cinema.”

Joe Yanick, co-founder of Yellow Veil Pictures, added, “We Kill For Love is a home run for erotic thriller fans. It’s one of the most in-depth looks at genre cinema and serves as more than just a love letter but pushes the conversation and spotlights films that have often lost out to their more glamorous theatrical counterparts.”

The film stars filmmakers Andrew Stevens, Jim Wynorski, and Fred Olen Ray; film stars Monique Parent, Amy Lindsay, and Kira Reed Lorsch; film scholars Linda Ruth Williams and Abbey Bender; and others. Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold also was interviewed for the film.

Bill O’Brien, Former ‘Video Business’ Publisher and Video Hall of Fame Founder, Dies

Respected by those whose business he engaged, revered by those who learned from him, loved by those whose lives he touched profoundly, iconic home entertainment industry influencer William “Bill” Christopher O’Brien passed away Friday, Nov. 18. He had battled a longterm illness resulting from complications of a brain tumor.

Known for data-driven management discipline, blunt honesty, and inspiring leadership, even in retirement from a distinguished publishing career that spanned 40 years, O’Brien was a fierce and indomitable fighter to the end.

One of the true originals of the home video business, O’Brien was there in the early 1980s at the market’s inception, and through the years proved to be a passionate champion of — and a catalyst in — its ascension as a Hollywood cash cow.

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Bill co-founded two of the industry’s seminal symbols of self-identity — trade periodical Video Business (VB) and the Video Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2007. Notably, he was part of a class that included Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings, as well as Steven Beeks, then head of Lionsgate. Bill called it “one of the highlights of my life.”

If the 27th annual induction ceremony was way too overdue recognition for one of the Hall’s “founding fathers,” it’s only because Bill himself had fended off previous overtures (from this admirer among others) to honor him. He loved to brag — but never about himself. His joy came from the achievements and success of others that redounded to the business units and products under his watch.

A collector of business aphorisms, one of his favorites combines humility with steely resolve: “A good manager gives credit and takes blame.” He practiced what he preached.  It was an honor to be held accountable by Bill because it meant he felt you were worth his investment. It also meant you couldn’t help but up your game by having him on your side.

A Facebook comment by my longtime colleague Bruce Mishkin eloquently sums up how many in Bill’s orbit feel about his generosity of spirit and his singular influence on our careers. “I would not be the person I am today,” wrote Mishkin, “without the mentorship Bill selflessly provided and the pressure he constantly exerted on me to be better. I loved the man.”

The same goes for me. The decade I worked for Bill O’Brien was akin to a master class in best practices — not only in business but in life. It’s been a quarter-century since I reported to the man, and to this day my stories about him invariably start with the richly deserved identifier, “The best boss I ever had …”

As an editor, working for Bill was a rare privilege because he was the rarest of publishers. Thanks to his ramrod backbone and the market stature of Video Business that rested on his shoulders, he would unequivocally support his editorial staff even in the face of irate advertisers, including major Hollywood studios, threatening to cancel their ads.

If a studio executive complained about an “unfair” article, Bill would matter-of-factly ask, “Were any facts wrong?” If they came up empty with evidence, which they almost always did, he would tell the executive that a retraction is not warranted.

That position did not budge an inch, not even as retribution was exacted on us when a studio would petulantly pull its advertising. He was perfectly willing to lose their ad dollars — even six figures a year — in exchange for maintaining the integrity of the product and the respect of his staff. “They’ll be back,” he told us. And he was right. He rarely wasn’t.   

William Christopher O’Brien was born April 4, 1941, in Lowville, New York. He graduated from Clarkson University with a degree in chemical engineering, earned an MBA from Columbia University, and served a stint in the U.S. Army Reserves.

In his own words, Bill “fled a promising career at Union Carbide to join an entrepreneurial publishing venture (a quartet of professional journals for lawyers, doctors, MBAs and engineers) that would teach this survivor the many mistakes not to be repeated — lessons learned that enabled future triumphs.”

The triumphs came soon enough for the fastidious manager and numbers cruncher par excellence who planned far ahead and left nothing to chance.

After the hard knocks of his introduction to publishing, he (again in his words) “got lucky.”

When Bill was asked to spearhead the introduction of both trade monthly Video Business and consumer monthly Video Review, he said, “It was love at first sight, both for the magazines and for the video industry itself.”

Seven years after Video Business made its debut, with Bill having risen to publisher, he teamed with Video Business editor John Gaffney to convert VB to a weekly. He says he was called “nuts” by the Hollywood video cognoscenti. It was a runaway success. He willed it so.

He took great pride, too, in the millions of dollars the Video Hall of Fame raised for Variety — The Children’s Charity under his 15-year stewardship of the fundraiser, during which it honored the likes of Ted Turner, Jane Fonda, James Cameron, Jerry Bruckheimer, and “Father of DVD” Warren Lieberfarb of Warner Home Video.

O’Brien’s legendary mastery of optimizing operational efficiencies led him to run other U.S. business units for publishing giant Reed Elsevier, ultimately becoming chairman of Reed Data Services prior to retiring.

His publishing proficiency knew no bounds, editorial and sales included. “There is an editor inside me screaming to get out,” he said early in his Hall of Fame career. That’s also when Bill’s formidable sales prowess could be gleaned, as he and his partners at one point persuaded Rupert Murdoch to invest in their fledgling venture of magazines for young professionals. 

Bill’s penchant for planning ahead was peerless. With his and my offices connected by a vestibule where his assistant sat, I was privy to his meticulous machinations that were worthy of the engineer in him. There was the time his assistant resigned in a huff, and virtually the next day her successor was in place. Bill told me he had been talking to the person for a long time about “standing by.” He counseled us to always be prepared not only with a backup plan, but with a backup person to fill a slot. He clearly led by example.

“First we’ll be best, then we’ll be first,” was another of Bill’s preferred aphorisms. Indeed, he always brought out the best in those who worked with him because he was (and always will be) the best.

Bill is survived by wife Nancy, daughter Cara, son Liam and wife Amy, and their two children. The eldest of nine siblings, one of whom predeceased him, he also leaves behind five brothers and two sisters, along with many nephews, nieces, and cousins.

 A memorial tribute will be held in early January 2023 at a location on the New Jersey shore.  

 Those who would like details can contact Bill’s wife Nancy Nolan at NANNOL7@yahoo.com.

Editor’s Note: Long before Media Play News became the sole Hollywood trade to focus exclusively on home entertainment, there were five publications battling it out in what was then called the home video business, which revolved around the rental to consumers of videocassettes. The two leading publications were Video Business and Video Store Magazine. Bill O’Brien was publisher of Video Business during its heyday, and Bruce Apar was editor. Apar authored the first regular column on home video in 1976, handled publicity for the U.S. introduction of VHS in 1977, held managerial roles at Video, Home Viewer, Video Business, Video Store Magazine, and Post magazines, co-created the Time Video Man of the Year award, and created Mediaware magazine for the International Recording Media Association. In recent years, he has been publisher of a suburban weekly newspaper in metro New York and has ghostwritten two motivational books for the Forbes Books imprint, with the second, Get a Life by Bob Fisch, available in January 2023. He currently writes a weekly newspaper column and publishes community monthlies in the river towns of New York’s lower Hudson Valley. He is a non-union actor, appearing locally on theater stages and in TV commercials, and reviews theater for BroadwayWorld.com. 

Home Entertainment Giants Walmart, Target to Release Financial Results This Week

Following home entertainment studios’ strong quarterly fiscal results, top retailers Walmart and Target are set to release fiscal results this week that should underscore ongoing consumer demand for both physical and digital movies and TV shows.

Walmart, which reports fiscal results on Aug. 18, is the world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer and top seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, with more than 5,000 outlets in the U.S. and more than 6,000 international stores.

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Long a packaged-media promotional juggernaut, on big releases Walmart will often do a gift set pairing a Blu-ray combo pack with a collectible such as a plush or keychain. The chain also offers exclusive bare-bones DVDs of Warner titles.

Target Corp., which reports results on Aug. 19, markets home video at more than 1,800 stores with point-of-purchase displays and significant shelf space. Like Walmart, Target has long been a big seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Disney in 2019 launched 25 branded sections within select Target stores, with 40 additional locations opening by this October.

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Target’s go-to marketing angle is the behind-the-scenes booklet add-on to packaged-media releases. For instance, for Onward, the latest Pixar release, Target offered a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a gallery booklet and slipcover for $34.99.

Target has seen increased sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a 141% increase in e-commerce revenue for the first quarter (ended March 31) as consumers stocked up on lower-margin products online. CEO Brian Cornell said Target.com saw an increase of 5 million customers in the quarter, while more than 2 million used the drive-up service. The chain said more than 70 million people have downloaded the Target Circle app to access e-commerce.

Best Buy reports fiscal results on Aug. 25.

Universal’s ‘Trolls World Tour’ Tops U.K. Official Film Chart for Third Straight Week

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s Trolls World Tour finished atop the weekly Official Film Chart in United Kingdom for the third consecutive week following its release DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K UHD Blu-ray.

With 76% of its sales on disc for the week ended Aug. 5, Trolls World Tour comfortably held its position against perennial competitors Frozen II (Disney) at No. 2, Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog (No. 4) and eOne’s 1917 (No. 5).

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Best-placed new entry among the Top 10: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. The 1977 sci-fi classic starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford hadn’t previously featured in the Official Film Chart, but finished No. 3 thanks to the release of a limited-edition 4K Blu-ray Steelbook.

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Warner’s Joker claimed the sixth spot for the third week, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s adventure-comedy Jumanji: The Next Level finished seventh for a second week. Dolittle (Universal) dropped three spots to No. 8, as Lionsgate U.K.’s Knives Out finished ninth. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s starring roles in Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys For Life clinched another week in the chart, in 10th.

Finally, further notable Top 20 entries come from sci-fi horror, Deep Blue Sea 3, brand new at No. 12; Bruce Willis and Chad Michael Murray’s latest action thriller, Survive The Night, rising six places to 13th; and a double feature of Trolls and Trolls World Tour at No. 15.

Futuresource: Disney, Netflix, Amazon Added More Than 6 Million SVOD Subs in U.K. Through June

With European adoption of subscription streaming video driving subscriber growth among American platforms such as Disney+, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, new data from Futuresource Consulting suggests the aforementioned services have added more than six million combined subs in the United Kingdom through June 30 — including four million alone for Disney+.

“Disney’s timing was impeccable with Disney+ launching on the first day [March 24] of full lockdown,” analyst David Sidebottom said in a statement. “Our forecasts indicate that the service will account for a significant proportion of the growth in the U.K. SVOD sector in 2020.”

Despite the sub growth, 2020 continues to be a volatile year for the British video and TV entertainment industry, with a lockdown boom that has played to the strengths of content hungry consumers, offset by challenges around consumer retention in the second half of the year, particularly for those reliant on monthly subscriptions, as the U.K. begins to open for business again.

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London-based Futuresource projects 2021 will see a 10% increase in video/TV entertainment consumer spending, topping £10 billion total spend on video for the first time driven by increased consumer choice and continued investment in the industry.

“A strong slate will help the box office recover and in turn provide a major boost to the home video sector,” Sidebottom said.

Beyond content delivery, the U.K. continues to make its mark as a global content production powerhouse. Major investments in studio facilities planned in and rolling out from 2020 to 2023 will further enhance the region’s reputation and feed digital services with a growing range of quality content.

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Futuresource forecasts the overall video and TV entertainment sector will reach £11.3 billion in consumer spend in 2024. This will help drive total sector revenue and U.K. exports, which can be reinvested into the industry.

“The polarization of fortunes in 2020 means overall video and entertainment revenues are set to fall this year, but there is massive potential waiting around the corner,” Sidebottom said.

Study: 1.56 Billion Video Game Consoles Sold All-Time Globally

With video games experiencing a renaissance due in part to homebound gamers in the COVID-19 era, new data from Learnbonds.com finds that more than 1.56 billion game consoles have been sold worldwide through March since the beginning of Sony PlayStation, Atari, Sega, Nintendo and Microsoft Xbox, among other brands.

The gaming resurgence comes following a months-long lull as sales of consoles plummeted as consumers await new-generation PS5 and Xbox Series X systems this fall and winter.

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The NPD Group found PC sales in the first quarter increased 16% to $2.4 billion. Further reinforcing the need for additional hardware as more people telecommuted, landline headset sales grew 50.9% and stereo headphones sales skyrocketed 65.4% compared with the prior year.

Learnbonds said PlayStation 2 remains the top-selling console of all time with 157.68 million units sold since its debut in 2000, followed by Nintendo DS with 154.9 million units and Game Boy (118.69 units). The original PlayStation (102.5 million) and Nintendo Wii (101.64 million) round out the Top 5 consoles.

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Notably, Europe, not North America, is the largest market for PlayStation, with the PS2 selling more units (55.28 million) across the pond than stateside (53.65 million). In Japan, 23.18 million have been sold compared with 25.57 million globally.

The report suggests the enduring popularity of PS2 (which discontinued production after 12 years) was due to the unit’s DVD playing functionality — a strong selling point at the height of the home video market.

“Even with the release of its successor, the PlayStation 3, the PS2 remained popular with Sony continuing with production until 2013,” analyst Justinas Baltrusaitis wrote in the report.

SVOD Driving Danish Home Entertainment Market

Consumer spending in Denmark’s home entertainment market grew 7% in 2018 to DKK 10.21 billion ($1.53 billion) — driven by over-the-top video, transactional VOD and EST growth, according to new data from Futuresource Consulting.

SVOD (i.e. Netflix) spending grew more than 30% and is expected to DKK 2 billion mark by the end of 2019, accounting for more than 20% of total video entertainment consumer spend.

“Subscriptions grew 25% in 2018 to 2.1 million, with three services gaining 100,000 or more subscribers,” analyst Tanzim Rahman said in a statement. “SVOD consumer spend nearly doubl[ed] between 2016 and 2018 … growing by DKK 852 million. SVOD accounts for the majority of total growth in the entertainment market over the same period, which saw revenue rise by DKK 1.2 billion.”

Futuresource said SVOD in Denmark continues to benefit from a competitive landscape, with an attractive range of services from global players Netflix and HBO to local offerings from Viaplay and TV2 Play, with Netflix leading the market with 39% of subscriptions in 2018.

Streaming services are supported by a strong broadband environment, with average speeds of 39 Mbps and household broadband penetration at 83%.

As a result, Denmark saw a total of 1.2 million households subscribing to at least one SVOD service, leading to household penetration of 46% in 2018 — on par with the Nordic region average, which led European penetration rates in 2018.

Futuresource contends the transactional video market across both digital and physical formats is expected to decline by 2% to DKK 554 million, with the physical market declining DKK 57 million. However, from 2019 the transactional segment is expected to see a return to growth, propelled by a progressive EST sector, which will grow 31% to DDK 163 million.

Transactional digital video growth accelerated in 2018 to 16%, with total spend reaching DKK 349 million, although this is just 20% of the SVOD market.

A solid year of EST growth meant that revenue increased 38% to DKK 124 million, doubling since 2016, and accounted for 35% of the 2018 transactional digital market.

“Growth in EST has been driven by Viaplay and Google Play, although iTunes still dominates the market, taking a 57% share of spend,” Rahman said. “Apple have signed agreements with major TV manufacturers and is expected to consolidate its position over the coming years and help further stimulate the market.”

Transactional VOD continues to grow, but at a slower pace than EST, with spend increasing 18% to DKK 96 million in 2019 — and an average of 16% annually through 2023.

Family Video Survival Secret: Diversity & Landlord Smarts

In an over-the-top video market, the traditional video store has all but disappeared. With the exception of (shrinking) mall-based f.y.e. stores, standalone retailers selling and renting movies and TV shows on DVD and Blu-ray Disc are a novelty.

But Glenview, Ill.-based Family Video – which celebrated 40 years of business last October – continues to survive, reportedly generating $450 million in revenue in 2017 operating about 700 stores in rural areas throughout the Midwest, Southwest and Northeast.

“Eventually the video business will have to go away, but people were telling me that back in 2000,” Keith Hoogland, president of Family Video, told RogerEbert.com in a rare interview late last year. “In 2010, Blockbuster and Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video all closed. Now it’s 2018 and we’re still standing.”

Family Video president Keith Hoogland

Hoogland may profess a love for nostalgic movies like Rocky, Top Gun and Caddyshack – which Netflix doesn’t stream – while offering consumers without high-speed Internet an old-school home entertainment option (with late fees!). But that’s just window dressing.

The son of Family Video founder Charlie Hoogland, Keith is not tone deaf to the realities of brick-and-mortal video. The market generated about $317 million in 2018 – down 18.5% from 2017, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Peruse the website of Family Video parent – Highland Ventures Ltd. – and a shrewd business strategy emerges highlighting the chain’s ability to survive when high-profile competitors Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery shut their doors long ago.

Highland owns the property most Family Video stores and more than 500 third-party tenants operate from. And it’s acquiring more beachheads.

“Family Video is essentially a real estate company,” Douglas Green with Philadelphia-based real estate company, MSC Retail, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s pretty brilliant.”

Highland’s Legacy Commercial Property (LCP) unit manages more than 700 properties in 19 states with commercial real estate valued at more than $650 million.

Franchise brands include Marco’s Pizza, Stay Fit 24 (which Family Video launched in 2008), Total Wireless (2018), and kiosk-based Highland Pure Water & Ice (2017).

LCP claims to generate $2 million in accretive revenue just negotiating more than 100 lease transactions a year. It also negotiates construction contracts and manages tenant buildouts.

“The LCP Team is growing and currently seeking to double over the next 12 months,” says the website.

Hoogland says that as the video retail/rental business has slowed, the company downsized floorspace dedicated to packaged media and leased it to businesses that mix well with video – like pizza.

Highland is now the largest Marco’s Pizza franchisee.

“I’ve got static rent. It isn’t moving,” Hoogland said. “Then I realize that I don’t need 7,000 feet. So, I rent out 2,000 to another business, perhaps Jimmy John’s or Subway. My rent just went down 15%, along with my common area maintenance. That’s what we call rightsizing. I control my rent by the size of the building, and the money I make from renting out space becomes part of the profit of the business.”

Hoogland said that as the home video rental market cooled, Blockbuster couldn’t afford to remain open due to escalating leases on store locations it didn’t own. Family Video revenue, Hoogland said, only began to decline over the past two years.

“That’s when we began rightsizing,” he said. “Most of our 700 lessees have another business right next to them.”

Hoogland said the move toward business operator/landlord smoothed over financial lenders (i.e. banks) increasingly uncomfortable with the shrinking video store landscape.

“Banks don’t like lending money to video stores because they lose their value quickly, but they love loaning money to real estate,” he said. “As we kept rolling, we mortgaged buildings to fund our expansion.”

 

 

Trend’s Tricky Retail Slope

NEWS ANALYSIS — GameStop, along with other entertainment retailers, is attempting to sustain its national retail footprint in part by selling popular culture items such as action figures, posters, T-shirts and other collectibles.

It’s a business strategy fraught with risk and reward.

GameStop’s collectibles business increased 24.4% to $142.4 million in its most-recent fiscal period, driven by continued expansion of licensed merchandise offerings and unique product offerings.

Trans World Entertainment Corp.’s f.y.e. chain reported a 3% increase “lifestyle” sales, which partially offset a 17% decline in video, music and video games.  The lifestyle category represented 49.5% of revenue for the quarter, up from 42% a year ago.

“We are focused on efforts to differentiate our entertainment merchandise towards creating a unique specialty retailing experience of choice for families and fans of pop culture,” CEO Mike Feurer said on the company’s May 29 fiscal call.

Feurer said the changing merchandise point-of-view at f.y.e. is based in part on reinforcing the chain’s credibility with customers, while enabling it to better connect “personally with welcomed frequency.”

Maybe, but retail chains Hastings Entertainment and MovieStop tried similar approaches focusing on trend merchandise and failed.

Acquired in 2014 by the company that runs Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate, as well as Prince’s pending Paisely Park in Minneapolis, Hastings and MovieStop turned their focus away from home video to consumables, trend, comics, electronics, hobbies and books. Hastings said it generated $100 million annually in book sales.

“We are hopeful that we are on the right path,” Jim Litwak, president of the combined companies, said at the time.

He wasn’t on the right path. Both chains halted operations in 2016, shuttering a combined 162 stores nationwide.

But Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securites in Los Angeles, contends GameStop can succeed with trend.

“The real difference is that the core customer for GameStop is an almost perfect overlap with the core memorabilia collector,” said Pachter. “The foot traffic provides a cross-selling opportunity.”

The analyst cautioned the trend category is significant for GameStop but not a gamechanger. He said collectibles generated 7% of total sales in 2017, with 9% projected for this year.

“That seems sustainable,” Pachter said.