Restocking the Shelves, Part Four: Maximizing Recent Releases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Bakish

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Schwartz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restocking the Shelves, Part Three: Seeing Through Windows

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

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

Hilary Hoffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jason Spivak

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

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

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

Lexine Wong

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Takac

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

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

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

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

Jessica Schell

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

Studios have also been designing special deals to entice consumers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Entertainment Execs Predict More Turbulence as the ‘Roaring’ ‘20s Get Underway

Coming off a year of momentous change, home entertainment executives expect more turbulence to hit their business in 2020.

Streaming has clearly become the dominant force, with two more high-profile subscription streaming services scheduled to launch in 2020. Comcast/NBC Universal in April will bow Peacock, with more than 15,000 hours of content and a free, ad-supported service as well. A month later, WarnerMedia will debut HBO Max, with a large library of titles from across the media titan’s family — including a curated list of classic movies.

And then there’s Quibi, a mobile-centric, short-form video platform launching in April, the brainchild of ex-Disney and DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg.

But home entertainment executives, whose proverbial bread-and-butter has always been the transactional model — in which consumers pay a set fee to either buy or rent a movie, TV series or other filmed content, either digitally or on disc — insist there’s enough of an audience for both aspects of the home entertainment (or at-home, or direct-to-consumer) business.

“With an abundance of exceptional content combined with a plethora of platforms, we can expect a ‘roaring’ start to the ’20s as consumers are met with a mass of entertainment options,” says Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment. “It is now the challenge of the industry to focus on marketing and distribution to hone the messaging and delivery to meet the varied needs of consumers across linear, on-demand, subscription and transactional.

“While SVOD has captured the attention of consumers and created an ‘always on’ expectation, the transactional business continues to offer very unique and important consumer propositions: the first post-theatrical home viewing opportunity, the greatest breadth of selection, the highest quality viewing options, and custom bonus content to extend the entertainment experience. The data continues to show that SVOD and transactional can co-exist and thrive. More than half of viewers are involved in both activities, and despite the availability of catalog titles on SVOD platforms, we at Paramount saw record sales numbers for our catalog in 2019.”

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Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is similarly optimistic. “As the business evolves consumers are becoming increasingly aware and comfortable with the ways that various distribution models fit together,” he says. “While SVOD delivers great value for many use occasions and types of content, the benefits of transactional models — recency, collectability and image quality — also continue to be prominent, especially in regard to new release theatrical content, and premier catalog titles.”

“Obviously we have been paying very close attention to growth and adoption of streaming services, and we are constantly evaluating their impact on our physical and digital business,” adds Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment & Games. “With Warner Media’s HBO Max coming in 2020 the industry will continue to grow.  And as the business grows, so does access to an ever-increasing new consumer base who are familiarizing themselves with digital transactions and streaming, so it opens doors for us to bring in new audiences for our products and content.”

Ron Schwartz, president of worldwide home entertainment for Lionsgate, says “the transactional home entertainment space remains a very dynamic and robust business for our many types of content.” He touts the success on both digital and physical platforms of John Wick: Chapter 3 and Angel Has Fallen, calling those two films “great examples of the type of content that home entertainment consumers want to own. Overall, multiple steaming platforms and transactional, physical and digital will all continue to coexist as the marketplace continues to evolve.”

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Digital retailers agree. “In 2020, we think transactional and subscription will both continue to grow because they complement one another,” says Cameron Douglas, head of FandangoNow. “Nowadays, digital entertainment is a mainstream business. Every TV is connected and OTT services have become the norm for audiences looking for content at home. The growth bodes well for the future of our industry.”

Even at Disney, where much of the focus is on the much-hyped Disney+ service, there’s room for transactional, according to David Kite, SVP of marketing for Disney Media Distribution.

“With this year’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, we remain committed to both digital and physical ownership,” Kite says. “We successfully integrated the Fox team into the expansive Disney home entertainment organization and have implemented a unified strategy that includes a more synergistic approach across key lines of business. We’re looking forward to another exciting year across both physical and digital platforms with a wide-range slate of home entertainment releases.”

In the first quarter of 2020, Kite says, “We will be releasing two very promising titles — the critically acclaimed awards contenders Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari.  We’re also excited about the rollouts of Frozen IIStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, Disney-Pixar’s Onward and the live-action Mulan as our customers continue to build their libraries.”

While disc sales will likely continue to decline in 2020, no one’s giving up on DVD, Blu-ray Disc or, in particular, 4K Ultra HD.

“The 4K UHD physical market will continue to experience growth throughout 2020,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “We are encouraged by industry forecasts, which anticipate the sales of that format in North America alone will deliver 25% of Blu-ray Disc dollars in 2020.”

“We will continue to release the majority of our new release titles in the highest possible definition and also mine our vast catalog library for worthy and deserving films to be remastered, as we did this year with The Wizard of Oz,” adds Wuthrich. “The desire for classic titles in the ultimate high-definition format is definitely a factor in the continued momentum of 4K UHD.”

Spivak agrees. “As consumer viewing habits evolve, the disc remains a prominent part of the home entertainment market, particularly given the steady growth for 4K Ultra HD,” he says. “With households nationwide regularly upgrading their TVs to 4K UHD there’s every indication that 4K UHD will evolve beyond a niche audience of format enthusiasts. We will continue to put out most of our new releases and select catalog in UHD, while working with retailers to expand placement and experimenting with features that make the product most attractive to consumers.”

Disney’s Kite is similarly optimistic for the disc business. “Physical ownership remains a robust line of business for us, especially among the collectible consumer,” he says. “There continues to be a healthy appetite for the physical format, particularly with premium, and we already have substantial plans in place for 2020.”

Universal’s Cunningham stresses the importance of retail partnerships in maximizing the transactional model’s potential.

“Given that physical and digital transactional consumption rates are remaining steady year over year and that disc purchases are making up more than half of that consumption, there’s no question that movie buyers continue to be vitally important to retail,” he says. “At no other time in our industry has it been more critical to ensure that we work together to retain the loyalty of movie consumers, creating urgency for our products and delivering the utmost value, quality, accessibility and convenience possible.

“It is important for us to continue supporting our retail partners with creative thought leadership and close collaboration to ensure that we collectively continue to capture shopper attention and deliver key, compelling reasons to transact.”

Sony Pictures’ Spivak agrees. “More than ever we must embrace the fact that our retail partnerships are multi-faceted and cross distribution models — from transactional to SVOD and AVOD,” he says. “Ultimately, our mutual objective is maximizing the consumer value proposition and providing the best potential viewer experience.”

Oh, What a Year — With Transformational Changes, Home Entertainment in 2019 Got Smaller — and Bigger

The phrase “transformational change” has been used so much it’s become a cliché — and yet there really is no better way to describe what happened in not just home entertainment, but also the entertainment industry overall, in 2019.

The completion in March of the Walt Disney Co.’s purchase of 20th Century Fox saw the number of major studios drop to five from six. Some of the home entertainment sector’s most familiar faces were suddenly gone, including Mike Dunn, the longtime leader of Fox’s home entertainment unit, and Danny Kaye, the visionary behind Fox Innovation Labs. Later, in the summer, Janice Marinelli, Disney’s home entertainment chief, also exited in a surprise move, given that she had opened an office on the Fox studio lot and was reportedly screening staffers.

In November, two new streaming giants emerged to take on longtime leader Netflix, Apple TV+ and, most significantly, Disney+.

Meanwhile, a new flavor of streaming gathered momentum: free to consumers, paid for by advertisers. Among the heavyweights jumping into what’s known as “AVOD” are ViacomCBS, with its Pluto TV acquisition, and Comcast Corp., which in December was reported to be in advanced talks to acquire Xumo TV, which boasts more than 140 digital channels of programming across 12 genres, including sports, news, kids and family entertainment.

The overall impact of all these developments on home entertainment: It got smaller — and bigger.

Smaller, because the traditional transactional business model that has defined home entertainment since its birth more than 40 years ago has increasingly come under fire, with subscription streaming, in particular, gobbling up more and more consumer attention — and dollars — that previously would have gone toward buying or renting movies, either on disc or through digital retailers.

But also bigger, because streaming, in its various incarnations, is now widely accepted as being part of home entertainment — which is now broadly defined as people watching what they want, on demand. There’s even a new name for all of this — direct-to-consumer — which was first adopted by Disney and is now used interchangeably with “home entertainment.”

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Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment, says 2019 “was the year of transition.”

“From media mergers and changing consumer viewing habits to the explosion of streaming services, the landscape has shifted dramatically,” he says.

The Nov. 1 launch of Apple TV+ marked the tech giant’s entry into the content business, with nine original series. One of them, “The Morning Show,” picked up several Golden Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a first for a new streaming service.

Less than two weeks later, Disney launched its much-ballyhooed Disney+, with a full menu of in-demand movies and series — including the “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian.” Disney said more than 10 million people signed up for the service in the first 24 hours. By the end of November, the service had 24 million subscribers, according to estimates from Wall Street firm Cowen & Co. (Netflix as of October had more than 60 million domestic subs.)

“It’s an exciting time and we believe we have a unique and significant role to play,” Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing for Disney+, told Media Play News on the eve of the service’s launch. “Disney+ will compete based on the unparalleled strength of our brands, the quality of our intellectual property, and expertise in high-quality video streaming.”

And yet industry insiders insist that despite streaming’s growth, there’s room for transactional — largely because new theatrical films, particularly the blockbusters, aren’t available on SVOD services. This distinction has prompted FandangoNow, one of the big digital retailers, to boldly proclaim on its home page, “New releases not on Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu subscriptions.”

“Because we’re the first point of entry for fans to see movies in theaters, and first at home, we’ve seen a significant growth among consumers who are excited to own movies as soon as they’re available digitally,” says Cameron Douglas, head of FandangoNow. “Fans looking for high-quality content right out of theaters, including 4K HDR movies, don’t have to wait until they arrive later on subscription services, and innovative deals like rental binge bundles and the availability on new platforms keep them coming back to transactional digital services like our own.”

“New movie releases continue to be sought out by consumers during the first window in the home amidst the frenzied buzz around new streaming services,” adds Michael Bonner, EVP of digital distribution for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “While there’s no denying the landscape is becoming more competitive, this business has successfully co-existed with abundant availability of non-transactional content for a long time and we expect it to continue to do so.”

“There is space — and demand — for both transactional content as well as streaming — just as there is consumer interest in both digital and physical,” says Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of trade association DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Beyond new releases, streamers have a limited selection of older films and TV shows, particularly with their increased focus on original content.

“For many consumers, their streaming options are good enough,” says Mark Fisher, president and CEO of home entertainment trade association the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA). “But just like the days when the first video rental stores opened and made it easy for the consumer to watch anything they wanted to watch when they wanted to watch it, online VOD retailers offer that same opportunity to the consumer. I know that every time I see a montage of old movie clips, I’m driven to watch titles that aren’t new releases — and these are titles not readily (or easily) found on the streaming services.”

Sales of digital movies, in particular, were a bright spot, with consumer spending up nearly 7% in the first nine months of 2019, according to trade association DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

“We’ve continued to see growth in EST (electronic sellthrough) — both in our new releases and in our catalog,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution, for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “Certainly the enhanced consumer experience enabled by Movies Anywhere is part of that, as is increasing consumer connectivity in their homes. EST continues to gain prominence in our marketing planning, release data scheduling, and retailer partnerships.”

Ron Schwartz, president of Lionsgate Home Entertainment, says Lionsgate EST revenue grew 30% this year, “four to five times faster than the overall industry. With increased collaboration between studios and retailers, and more offerings such as dynamic bundling, customers are starting to build their lockers up to 10-plus titles. Recent data shows that once a customer gets to between 10 and 12 titles in their locker, their EST purchasing behavior doubles.”

In addition to selling movies, digital retailers also offer them for a la carte streaming, the digital equivalent of a physical movie rental. Redbox remains the only retailer to offer both digital and physical rentals, the former through an e-commerce site and the latter, through a network of more than 40,000 kiosks situated outside (or inside) large retailers like Walmart, convenience and drug stores, and other retailers.

“Redbox owns the transactional space with more transactions across physical and digital formats — for rental and purchase — than any other transactional provider,” says Redbox CEO Galen Smith.

In 2019, he said, Redbox expanded its offering of 4K Ultra HD discs into new markets, and stepped up promotions as well, with its Back to the Movies campaign and a joint Dinner & A Movie offering with meal delivery service DoorDash.

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In addition, Redbox Entertainment, a new content acquisition and production division, has further transformed Redbox into a multi-channel content provider and programmer. Launched in October, the new division is headed by Marc Danon, who spent eights at Lionsgate, most recently as SVP of acquisitions and business development.

Disc sales in 2019 continued to decline in the low double digits, with DEG reporting that in the first nine months of the year, combined 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc, and DVD revenues were down 18.5% to an estimated $2.3 billion — exactly half what they amounted to five years ago, in 2014.

But studios continued to support the disc. And while a trend among smaller titles is to release them only on DVD and digital, bypassing Blu-ray Disc, major new releases are still getting significant marketing campaigns behind them, particularly for the 4K Ultra HD editions. The UHD disc also made headlines last August when the UHD Alliance, along with leaders in consumer electronics, the Hollywood studios and members of the filmmaking community, announced collaboration on a new viewing mode for watching movies called “Filmmaker Mode,” designed to reproduce the content in the way the creator intended. Filmmaker Mode, bowing next year, will allow viewers to enjoy a more cinematic experience on their UHD TVs when watching movies by disabling all post-processing (e.g. motion smoothing, etc.) so the movie or television show is displayed as it was intended by the filmmaker, preserving the correct aspect ratios, colors and frame rates.

“For the time being, 4K UHD is still the gold standard for at-home content,” says Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment & Games. “With hardware costs dropping and television functionality such as Filmmaker Mode being made available next year, there is still a great value proposition in owning content in 4K UHD, both physically and digitally, as is still represents the best home-viewing experience.”

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“As evidenced by the exceptional growth of 4K UHD to date, it is clear that there is a sizable appetite for premium high-definition products, and that format plays a meaningful role in boosting retail traffic,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Retail partnerships are key, Cunningham adds. “Given that physical and digital transactional consumption rates are remaining steady year over year and that disc purchases are making up more than half of that consumption, there’s no question that movie buyers continue to be vitally important to retail,” he says. “At no other time in our industry has it been more critical to ensure that we work together to retain the loyalty of movie consumers, creating urgency for our products and delivering the utmost value, quality, accessibility and convenience possible.”

 

Redbox, Sony Pictures Extended Disc, Digital Distribution Pact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Entertainment’s Mantra in 2017 was ‘Just Keep Swimming’

At this year’s Video Hall of Fame ceremony in Beverly Hills in December, Janice Marinelli, president, Disney/ABC Home Entertainment & Television Distribution, for The Walt Disney Studios, drew solid applause when she advised her fellow home entertainment executives to “just keep swimming.”

The line, from the hit Disney film Finding Nemo, seemed to resonate with the several hundred execs in the room, many of whom have been contending with increasingly choppy seas for the better part of a decade.

In fact, 2017 marked the 10th anniversary of Netflix’s decision to transition its subscription approach from disc rentals by mail to digitally delivering content over the Internet – a truly disruptive moment that shattered the traditional home video model. Year after year, disc sales plummeted as consumers planted themselves on their sofas for a nightly steam of at first studio discards and then an increasingly compelling menu of original programming.

In the first nine months of this year, numbers provided by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group show, more than 40% of the money consumers spent on home entertainment in the first nine months of 2017 was generated by Netflix and other subscription streaming services, up from 34% in 2016 and 29% in 2015.

Sales of Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, meanwhile, accounted for 24% of consumer home entertainment spending in the first nine months of 2017, down from 27% in the comparable period in 2016 and 31% in 2015.

In the first nine months of 2011, by contrast, streaming accounted for just 3.8% of the home entertainment business, with disc sales accounting for 46%, or $5.6 billion – compared to $3.26 billion in the first nine months of 2017.

“The [disc sales] business remains under pressure, due to the growing number of entertainment options,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “Nonetheless, studios and retailers continue to aggressively champion the category, looking to create the most compelling and meaningful opportunities to eventize our disc products and deliver the best, most exciting shopping experience possible.”

“Physical media continues to be an integral component of the product mix, but we need to find ways to remind consumers of the value of owning and renting discs,” adds Mark Fisher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA).

Disney’s Marinelli says “physical consumption continues to be a vibrant, viable and top-performing line of business for us and it is also proving to be a very valuable resource in the transition to digital with e-copy redemption. This year the in-home division broke and set new records with four bestselling physical titles in the top 10 to date including tentpoles Star Wars: Rogue OneMoanaGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Beauty and the Beast.  As viewing habits and consumer consumption rapidly evolve, we continue to evaluate our offerings on a regular basis and what will best meet the needs and demands of our customers.  This year we vigorously expanded into the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray premium format beginning with inaugural title Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which quickly rose to the top of the industry’s 4K physical sales chart.”

Through it all, home entertainment executives have, well, just kept on swimming – and managed to keep their heads afloat through a steady string of technological advances and innovation. This year’s gold star goes to Movies Anywhere, the Walt Disney-owned digital movie service that allows consumers to buy newly released movies electronically (or redeem access codes packaged inside Blu-ray Discs) and watch them whenever they want to, on any screen, from the family room TV to their iPhone.

“Consumer centricity was without a doubt a defining characteristic of 2017, which was most notably addressed by the launch of the multi-studio digital locker Movies Anywhere,” said Disney’s Marinelli. “Movies Anywhere is a huge win for the consumer, providing them with more freedom, flexibility and utility and their digital library can now be viewed through a range of devices and digital retailers, anytime and anywhere. The strength of the studios and digital retailers that have come together at launch is unprecedented.”

Hollywood also claimed a seat at the burgeoning Ultra HD table with Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, which experts agree is the optimum way to view 4K content , with even sharper pictures and more realistic colors than standard high-definition.

“We can expect to see the number of 4K UHD Blu-ray titles to expand considerably in 2018, as content companies  continue to release new and catalog titles in the premium format,” says Universal Pictures’ Eddie Cunningham. “As well, 4K movies, TVs and players are selling units in record numbers.  There is a clear groundswell around consumer demand and the industry is highly optimistic about the format’s future prospects.”

As Netflix and its OTT compadres continue to grab market share, studio executives – who still consider movie sales, either on disc or electronically, as their holy grail – also have had to contend with other challenges. Distribution channels have continued to proliferate, and the concept of content continues to evolve as millennials are as quick to spend an evening watching their favorite YouTuber or anime webisodes as they are the new Spider-Man movie.

“2017 really was the year of ‘more’ – more content, more provides, more devices, more technological enhancements, and more consumer choice,” said the EMA’s Mark Fisher. “Overall, this is a good thing, but it did lead to disruption of traditional business models. And we haven’t seen the end of it.”

Electronic sellthrough – also known as Digital HD – remains the most promising bulwark the studios have against continued double-digit OTT growth, but challenges remain. Consumers accustomed to spending around $10 a month for unlimited Netflix viewing might be reluctant to spend the same amount, or more, for a single piece of entertainment, even if they own it.

EST growth slowed from several years of double-digit gains to 7% in 2016, then rose slightly to 8% in the first nine months of this year. Executives hope Movies Anywhere will be the catalyst to reignite higher growth.

“On the EST front, we continue to see product, marketing and merchandising investments across the industry accelerate,” says Michael Bonner, EVP, Digital Distribution, for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As a result, digital sell-through has been growing year over year and we continue to see increased consumer engagement in the category. Movies Anywhere is just the latest example of studios and distributors working together to provide more value to the consumer and setting a new bar for digital movie ownership.”

“Our focus is always on offering the best consumer experience possible, removing the barriers and offering a high-quality experience that adds value and utility to a digital movie collection,” adds Disney’s Marinelli. “Providing consumers with early digital access has been a successful way to drive consumers to the digital experience.  We continue to work closely with our digital retail partners to build a compelling in-home movie watching experience, including offering quality formats like 4K Ultra HD, as well as expanded and interactive extras – some of which are only offered digitally.”

Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc also is seen as a growth driver, particularly as the number of UHD TVs continues to mushroom.

“2017 was the year 4K UHD really took off,” said Jim Wuthrich, president, The Americas and Global Strategy, at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “With $200 million in global consumer sales, ample physical and digital distribution and accelerating penetration of capable TVs, content sales will continue to soar into 2018.”

“2017 was a year where we saw 4K HDR make huge strides towards becoming a mainstream part of the industry,” adds Jason Spivak, EVP, Worldwide Digital Distribution and North America Sales, for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “ 4K UHD physical discs are selling well, and we are seeing big advancements in 4K HDR digital services and devices.   The format is essential to our commitment to deliver the highest caliber consumer experience, and it is well on its way to mass acceptance.”

“ The number of 4K devices continues to grow, and is forecasted to triple in the next five years to nearly 350 million,” said Bob Buchi, president, Worldwide Home Media Distribution, for Paramount Pictures.  That clearly indicates that consumers have an appetite for the format, but we have to ensure that we don’t have a content gap.  At Paramount, we are committed to releasing the vast majority of new releases in 4K and have greenlit dozens of catalog titles for the format.

“We are seeing 4K UHD with HDR represent up to 10% of physical sales and a quickly growing percentage of digital sales as more platforms embrace the superior technology.  This technology is a huge boon to both consumers and filmmakers who are able to better realize their vision on home viewing platforms.  And the reality is that 4K UHD with HDR and object-based sound looks and sounds great.  It all contributes to the value proposition. “

Driving ownership of content, both physical and digital, is critical as the industry moves forward, executives agree.

“We continue to employ the most innovative and comprehensive tactics to drive ownership across both physical and digital platforms,” said Disney’s Marinelli. “We’ve had tremendous success implementing a number of strategic initiatives including pre-sale promotions, improving retail placement, expanding our social presence, producing live events and creating promotional partnerships. We are also committed to creating a superior in-home viewing experience that extends the consumer experience and deepens engagement.”

“We continually work with our retail partners to present consumers with compelling reasons to own, including superior audio and video presentations, early access, exclusive bonus features, special packaging, and more,” adds Paramount’s Bob Buchi. “Our job is to make our content readily available while maximizing revenue, which means carefully honing the distribution strategy of each title based on projected consumption. The great news is that the proliferation of platforms means consumers are enjoying our content in more ways than ever.”

Transactional video-on-demand (TVOD), which lets consumers “rent” a film or TV show for a limited streaming period, could use a shot in the arm.

“I am concerned that the consumer embrace of TVOD has not been as robust as we would have liked,” says the EMA’s Mark Fisher. “It remains a challenging business. Retailers and content providers are hesitant to invest in the category because it is not getting the desired growth, and we’re not seeing growth because investments are not being made. Delivery costs remain too high, and supply chain efficiencies need to be more widely embraced. EMA is actively working on both of those issues, and we will continue to do so because it is the right thing to do for the industry.”

Looking ahead to 2018, the prognosis among studios is essentially the same as it’s been at the end of the last few years – guarded optimism and a continued belief in the sales model.

Consumers’ appetite for home entertainment content remains remarkably robust,” says Universal Pictures’ Eddie Cunningham. “In fact, our research shows that a vast percentage of households continue to engage in the category whether via disc, digital or both.  Though there are many entertainment choices to distract consumers, offering tangible benefits unique to the format such as exceptional value, accessibility and utility of their favorite movies and TV shows reinforces the distinct advantages of ownership that you can’t get when renting or streaming.”

“I expect change to continue to be a factor in our industry in 2018 and beyond,” adds the EMA’s Mark Fisher.  “Movies Anywhere and Premium VOD, for example, will shake up the basic tenets of distribution and how and when consumers get content. Potential industry consolidations could significantly impact our industry as well. We shouldn’t fear any of this, but managing change will remain a challenge for all of us in the industry.

The home entertainment industry  “remains at the intersection of compelling content and technology, stemming from our consumers’ constant need for new and exciting experiences,” said Keith Feldman, President, Worldwide Home Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox.

“Technology is moving at a rapid pace and we must evolve our content offerings to meet consumer expectations, which means delivering on next-generation technologies including 4K HDR, 5G and mobile content delivery, simple and functional solutions like Movies Anywhere and immersive experiences like virtual and augmented reality that accurately realize and extend the vision of our filmmakers.”

Disney’s Marinelli has high hopes for 2018. “Disney has the most impressive slate in the industry and we’re confident that 2018 will once again be a very successful year for us with the highly-anticipated in-home releases of Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, Pixar’s Coco,Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Walt Disney Signature Collection release of Lady and the Tramp.

“Movies Anywhere makes it easier than ever to build a digital movie collection. So far we’ve seen an incredible consumer response and believe that by offering a one-of-a kind experience, digital movie purchases will grow.  We will continue to work with the other studios and our digital retailer partners on programs to deliver exclusive content and offers that we believe will be important to driving engagement in the apps and website.”

“The choice between digital and physical is no longer an either/or proposition,” notes Paramount’s Bob Buchi. “We recognize that home entertainment has become a dynamic mix of consumption with opportunities across the spectrum.  Consumer behavior increasingly includes combinations of subscribing, transacting, renting, and buying, and greater comfort switching between digital and physical formats.  Our goal for 2018 is to make sure consumers have easy access to our content in the many ways they want to enjoy it.”

(This article previously appeared in Home Media Magazine.)