HBO Max Celebrates First Birthday

May 27 marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of HBO Max, and the service is celebrating with a new brand spot dedicated to fans.

In the year since the rollout, the platform has added 11.1 million HBO/HBO Max subscribers to surpass 44 million in the United States (as of end of Q1) and seen up to a 70% increase in audience engagement vs. HBO Go or Now, according to a press release.

The average time it takes a user to click play after logging into the platform is down to 100 seconds, according to the service.

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Netflix to Launch First Geeked Week

Netflix will launch its first “Geeked Week” June 7-11 on social media. 

The free, five-day virtual event will highlight such Netflix series and films as “Stranger Things,” “The Witcher,” “Castlevania,” “The Umbrella Academy” and The Old Guard and will offer fans exclusive news, new trailers, live art, drop-ins from stars and more.

“These fandoms aren’t just about making GIFs, buying merch or theorizing about the next big twist(s),” read the announcement. “They’re about sharing excitement and connecting with people from all over the world who hold the same passion for those characters and stories.”

Info is at GeekedWeek.com, TwitterInstagramTwitch and Facebook.

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The Home Team Scores

The year 2020 will go down in the history books as the year of COVID-19, a once-in-a-century pandemic that shut down the nation – the world – until scientists could figure out exactly what the hell was going on.

It was also the year when all entertainment became home entertainment. With theaters dark, studios pivoted to premium video-on-demand (PVOD) – which in reality is nothing more than a higher-priced home window – to give consumers an alternative venue to watch their first-run movies.

It’s still too soon to talk definitively about lasting changes brought on by the pandemic. But there are certainly some good, solid, educated guesses that can be made.

First and foremost, the hallowed three-month theatrical window is gone. Out the door. Kaput. It’s been outdated for years; even the biggest theatrical blockbusters typically run out of steam after three or four weeks on the big screen, and there’s no reason in the world other windows have been kept shut for such a long period of time.

As a result, PVOD is not going to go away with the virus. When movie theaters fully reopen, which hopefully won’t be too much longer, they’re still going to be sharing the wealth with other platforms with such familiar acronyms as PVOD, PEST (I never did like that one!), and, of course, SVOD. We must remember that in the wake of the World Health Organization’s March 2020 declaration of a global pandemic, all movies did not go the PVOD route. Several big films were sold to Netflix, beginning with Paramount’s romantic comedy The Lovebirds, the first theatrically canceled film to go straight to a third-party streaming service. And then later in the year came the stunning, and disruptive, announcement by WarnerMedia that its entire 2021 theatrical slate would be released simultaneously to its upstart streaming service, HBO Max, which clearly needed (and still needs) a boost.

Regardless, the common denominator for all these acronyms is home viewing. And that means home entertainment – which Media Play News had a big role in redefining several years back as any filmed content available for on-demand viewing by the consumer,  regardless of whether it was bought or rented on disc or digital or streamed over the Internet – will remain the dominant way people will consume entertainment even when the pandemic is just a distant memory.

As our third annual marketing issue shows,  studios during the pandemic year of 2020 epitomized the expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” With theaters out of the picture (literally as well as figuratively), marketing shifted toward home audiences and, invariably, campaigns were either started or completely run by home entertainment marketers.

They were no longer playing second fiddle to their theatrical counterparts; they took the lead and saved what could have been a catastrophic year by eventizing PVOD releases and aggressively mining their catalogs for anniversary and other promotional opportunities.

At several studios, home entertainment marketing teams have been merged with their theatrical and, in some cases, television counterparts to create hybrid marketing organizations geared to the new reality of multi-window, multi-platform releases.

But let’s never forget who got the proverbial ball rolling. When Hollywood was down, it was the home team that stepped up to the plate.

Kaleidescape, Sony Mount Joint Promotion

Kaleidescape, designer and manufacturer of home movie servers and players, has mounted a joint promotion with Sony Electronics offering a $3,000 discount to customers purchasing a Kaleidescape system alongside one of four Sony projectors: VPL-GTZ380, VPL-VW5000ES, VPL-VW995ES or VPL-VW915ES.

“This joint promotion with Kaleidescape underscores our unwavering commitment to provide the finest in 4K HDR entertainment,” Jeff Goldstein, head of custom integrator channel sales at Sony Electronics, said in a statement. “Besides being an incredible deal, this incentive ensures that our customers will get the very best from their premium Sony projector.”

Kaleidescape delivers reference-quality 4K HDR movies at the source, optimizing for the highest resolution, dynamic range and contrast capabilities of Sony’s high-end projectors, according to a company press release. With more than 12,000 movies and shows to choose from within its interface, Kaleidescape employs proprietary metadata to adjust Sony’s projectors to display every movie in native aspect ratio.

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“Sony is synonymous with 4K innovation and shares Kaleidescape’s vision for delivering the finest picture and sound quality,” Kaleidescape CEO Tayloe Stansbury said in a statement. “When you combine Sony’s finest projectors with Kaleidescape’s exceptional products, like the newly released Terra movie server with 48TB storage, the result is a 4K HDR experience you can’t take your eyes off.”

A streaming device cannot maximize a high-end projector’s innovative capabilities and stops short of delivering the best possible viewing experience, according to the press release. In contrast, a Kaleidescape system is designed to play 4K HDR movies with a video bitrate four times higher while reproducing lossless audio at up to 10 times higher than any streaming device.

FandangoNow and Vudu Launch Sale on Family Titles for ‘Sponge on the Run’ Debut

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run debuts March 4 as a premium VOD rental, and for a limited time, fans who rent the movie on Vudu and FandangoNow can get a code for 50% off the purchase of more than 25 select family titles on the two Fandango transactional VOD services.

Titles include the previous “SpongeBob” movies (The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie), Sonic the Hedgehog, Love and Monsters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wonder Park, Sherlock Gnomes, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Bumblebee, The Rugrats Movie, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Harriet the Spy, Hotel for Dogs, Imagine That, Good Burger, Snow Day, Clockstoppers and a number of other family classics.

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Fandango is also launching this week a trivia video, “From Top to Bikini Bottom: The History of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.'”

Fandango Spotlights Jodie Foster Filmography; Its Rotten Tomatoes Celebrates Women

Fandango is spotlighting Jodie Foster fresh off her Golden Globe win for The Mauritanian, and its Rotten Tomatoes site is celebrating women in entertainment for Women’s History Month.

The Mauritanian was released March 2 as a premium VOD rental on Fandango’s transaction VOD sites Vudu and FandangoNow.

Foster, who recently won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for The Mauritanian, is spotlighted in Fandango’s latest video featuring performers and filmmakers breaking down moments from their work. Foster takes a look back at memorable scenes from her filmography, including Taxi Driver, The Silence of the Lambs, Little Man Tate, Contact and The Mauritanian.

Each is available for rent or purchase on FandangoNow and Vudu. Additionally, FandangoNow has a curated list of Foster’s films.

Meanwhile, Fandango-owned Rotten Tomatoes is celebrating Women’s History Month, featuring interviews with female directors Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid), Gina Prince-Blythewood (Love & Basketball) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy), who all share their lists of 10 movies everyone should watch this Women’s History Month.

Rotten Tomatoes is also paying homage to the work of women in Hollywood with its Women’s History Month hub, housing viewing guides including the Best Movies Directed By Women in the 21st Century and Fearless Women Movie Heroes Who Inspire Us. Lists highlighting fearless women on TV and streaming and first-time female directors, among others, are set to publish throughout the month.

The female-led films highlighted are available for rent or purchase on Vudu and FandangoNow. Titles can be found in the Celebrating Women’s History Month section of Vudu, and are presented on FandangoNow in the playlists curated by Rotten Tomatoes.

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Let’s Give Home Entertainment Teams the Respect They Deserve

One of the more disturbing trends in Hollywood is that while home entertainment teams played a key role in keeping the studios afloat during the height of the pandemic, they are now the target of consolidations and restructurings as studios seek to balance the books at a time when the theatrical business is just beginning to come back.

What does it mean when we hear that studios are “merging” their home entertainment and theatrical teams? Invariably, it’s the home entertainment staffers who are shown the door.

Don’t get me wrong — I get that consolidations and restructurings are good business in these challenging times. Hollywood took a huge hit last year when movie theaters were shut down, virtually overnight, and while PVOD has certainly proven itself a lifesaver, the revenue from movies premiering at home are hardly enough to make up for the millions of dollars in lost theatrical revenue. We also have talented theatrical marketers who all of a sudden found themselves with little to do.

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But can’t there be some sort of balance? Why is it that home entertainment teams are taking the biggest, and sometimes the only, hit?

I think part of it is that traditionally, theatrical has been seen as the ‘A’ team. But as loathe as I am to resort to tired clichés, that’s akin to comparing apples with oranges. Home entertainment is a completely different ballgame. It’s not a bunch of minor leaguers, hoping to break into the majors. It’s more like the difference between Broadway and Hollywood, between stage and screen — two very different business models, two very different skill sets.

And I should point out that some of the business world’s top executives have come from the home video sector. Bob Chapek, who ran home video for the Walt Disney Co., is now CEO. Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, used to work at a video chain, Video City. And let’s not forget Mitch Lowe, a co-founder of Netflix and Redbox, who for years ran Video Droid, a video rental store in California’s Bay Area, or Bill Mechanic, another Disney home video vet who later was tapped to lead the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

But then again, home entertainment has never gotten the respect it deserves. Forty years ago, when the business was birthed, studios were hoping to sell their movies to consumers. But when enterprising retailers bought movies on videocassette and began renting them, instead, Hollywood had a cow. Studios began suing retailers, their best customers, and it was only when the high court invoked the First Sale Doctrine, effectively allowing rentals, that grudging acceptance set in.

Studios began hiring dedicated “home video” executives, mostly from the consumer packaged-goods side of the business. One prominent studio home video president had been a refrigerator salesman. As the business grew, the home video business generated more and more money for the studios — as well as incredible ingenuity, such as Disney’s moratorium strategy and the Warner-led push toward revenue-sharing. And yet the segment’s leaders were still looked upon as second-class citizens several rungs down the ladder from the vaunted theatrical executives who ran the studios.

DVD brought a new level of respect to home entertainment. The new format, which shifted consumer habits from renting movies to buying them, brought in so much cash that home entertainment executives were even given a seat at the greenlighting table, particularly after home video revenues in 2001 for the first time ever exceeded theatrical revenues.

But when disc sales leveled off in the middle 2000s and attempts to launch a next-generation successor to DVD were bungled by a format war, home entertainment executives slowly began to be pushed out of the boardroom and into the backroom.

In the meantime, the caliber of home entertainment executives had improved significantly. When disc sales began to decline, home entertainment marketers refused to accept defeat. They jumped on the nascent electronic sellthrough model and came up with all sorts of clever tactics, including early windows, to grow the business. They adopted all the latest technologies, from data analytics to VR and AR, to promote new home entertainment releases. And when streaming began to take off — in part due to an early misstep in which studios sold or licensed their catalogs to Netflix — executives on the transactional side of the home entertainment business rallied. They did what they could to capitalize on their strengths, from forging new distribution deals — such as the Warner-Universal joint venture for physical product, and Lionsgate’s new deal with Sony Pictures — to issuing popular streaming series on disc, riding SVOD awareness much like theatrical awareness.

When the pandemic hit and the theatrical business effectively ended, home entertainment teams swooped in to save the day. They began mining catalogs for anniversary and seasonal reissues. They stepped up 4K Ultra HD release schedules. They were PVOD first responders, pivoting on short notice and essentially launching a brand-new business until their theatrical counterparts could take over. And they perfected the art of out-of-the-box thinking, taking creativity and ingenuity to new heights. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment launched a Twitter catalog watch-party series, which spotlighted several library classics and anniversary releases. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment also held social media watch-alongs, hosted by film talent and encouraging viewers to post reactions in real time on their social media accounts. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment held a virtual fan event celebrating all the superheroes and supervillains in the DC Multiverse and featuring panels with talent and filmmakers, displays of cosplay and fan art, and more. Lionsgate struck a series of promotional partnerships with digital retailers, including a “Best of Lionsgate” catalog promotion with Microsoft Movies & TV that led to a triple-digit lift in sales. And Paramount Home Entertainment marketers worked in tandem with digital retailers such as FandangoNow and Vudu to create curated promotions marketed primarily through Instagram and other social media channels. Home entertainment teams also worked tirelessly to create theatrical-style campaigns for PVOD releases such as Love and Monsters and Spell, including virtual junkets, New York Comic-Con panels and more.

As Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos himself said in a Feb. 26 memo announcing big cuts to the studio’s home entertainment marketing team, “Many of the employees impacted by this restructuring have been part of the home entertainment division for many years. Throughout those years, they have shown enormous resilience and adaptability as the marketplace shifted from physical to digital formats.  Particularly, as we’ve faced the unique challenges of the last 12 months, the home entertainment teams have been absolutely instrumental in the continued success of the company, demonstrating incredible dedication, commitment and agility in the face of enormous and unforeseen hurdles …”

“Absolutely instrumental,” and, yet, ultimately expendable. I’m certainly not trying to tell the studios chiefs how to run their businesses. But somehow, this just doesn’t make any sense.

‘Silence of the Lambs’ on Sale at FandangoNow, Vudu

FandangoNow and Vudu are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the date The Silence of the Lambs debuted on the big screen (Feb. 14) with a sale on the film, a discounted film bundle and a trivia video.

Both FandangoNow and Vudu are transactional VOD services owned by Fandango.

During the sale, The Silence of the Lambs is available for purchase at $7.99 in both 4K UHD and HD (usually $13.99). Lambs is also available as part of a two-film bundle (with Ridley Scott’s Hannibal) at $9.99.

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Fandango has also produced a Movieclips trivia video on the on-screen evolution of Clarice and Hannibal:

CBS this month debuted a series based on the story called “Clarice.”

Universal Celebrates ‘Croods’ Release With Virtual Museum Events

La Brea Tar Pits, part of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have partnered with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on educational virtual “Camp Croods,” based on the DreamWorks Animation family film The Croods: A New Age.

The Croods: A New Age will be available to own on digital Feb. 9 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 23, 2021, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The two separate interactive programs will feature hands-on activities and scientific investigation to explore the Ice Age, human origins and the fate of saber-toothed cats. Families will have the chance to meet real-life paleontologists and archaeologists, participate in DIY art projects, explore virtual tar pits (La Brea Tar Pits camp), take a virtual tour of the Human Origins exhibition (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History camp) and experience drawing demonstrations that bring the prehistoric Croods characters to life.

“Bringing the world of The Croods to life with the help of these two distinguished museums within an exclusive setting is a truly unique opportunity that we are pleased to share virtually with families and kids,” said Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As time-honored brands for research, discovery and exhibition, La Brea Tar Pits and the Smithsonian continue to develop entertaining and engaging programs for kids making them the ideal partners to celebrate the home entertainment release of The Croods: A New Age, the must-own family movie of the year.”

The La Brea Tar Pits camp takes place Feb. 11 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. PT and Feb. 13 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. PT. (Free. Registration required. RSVP at tarpits.org/campcroods).

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History camp takes place Feb. 23 from 6 to 7 p.m. ET (Free. Registration required. RSVP at s.si.edu/croods ).

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“This collaboration is a great opportunity to showcase the ways in which art and science intersect, while at the same time introducing families to La Brea Tar Pits, the world’s only active paleontological research facility in a major urban area,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County. “We are grateful to Universal and DreamWorks for helping us provide campers with a new way to see science in action and encourage them to keep exploring the world around them — be it through paleontology or animation.”

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“We are excited to join with Universal and DreamWorks to take visitors to Camp Croods on a journey back in time to explore the evidence scientists use to understand the lives of early humans,” said Dr. Kirk Johnson, sant director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “Campers will embark on a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Human Origins which examines the lives and environments of our earliest ancestors and considers the notion of what it means to be human.”

HBO Max Launches ‘Superintelligence’ Charity Campaign

HBO Max has kicked off a “20 Days of Kindness” campaign on behalf of its new film Superintelligence, launching Nov. 26 on the service from New Line Cinema.

Star Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone announced the campaign Nov. 10 during their appearance on “The Today Show” while launching the first trailer for the movie. With a “20 for 20 in 20” initiative, HBO Max will highlight and donate $20,000 to a different good cause daily for 20 days while encouraging others to lend their support. In addition, AT&T helped kick off the campaign with a $1 million contribution to Girls Who Code, an international non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does.

On Nov. 13, World Kindness Day, the campaign will celebrate acts of kindness shared across social media. Content can include a post, tagging someone with a kind word, or showing a short video of a random act of kindness.  Talent and influencers will help launch the program, encouraging others to participate using the hashtag #20DaysOfKindness.

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Consumers can go to https://20daysofkindness.com for more information and to follow the different charities daily. As part of the #20DaysofKindness campaign, McCarthy, Falcone and HBO Max are also launching a Prizeo charity sweepstakes, giving away a Tesla, a hangout with McCarthy and Falcone, and chances to attend the premiere with all funds raised benefitting Conservation International, World Central Kitchen, and Make-A-Wish. For more information visit prizeo.com/superintelligence.

In the film, when an all-powerful Superintelligence (James Corden) chooses to study the most average person on Earth, Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), the fate of the world hangs in the balance. As the A.I. decides to enslave, save or destroy humanity, it’s up to Carol to prove that people are worth saving.