UPHE’s Eddie Cunningham to be Honored With Third Annual ‘Fast Forward’ Award

Media Play News on Feb. 28 announced that Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE), will receive the third annual Media Play Fast Forward Award, which honors people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

Cunningham is being honored for his innovative and aggressive promotion of packaged media since he assumed his present position in 2014. Under Cunningham’s leadership, UPHE has scored a steady string of best-selling Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, spanning such global blockbuster franchises as “Jurassic World” and “Fast and Furious” as well as the breakout film sensations Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Us and Downton Abbey.

In an effort to further innovate for the industry, UPHE last June unveiled a completely reimagined bonus content menu for its physical disc offerings that is more easily accessible and navigable — a move the studio introduced to provide viewers with a more visceral and engaging experience for Blu-ray Disc and DVD bonus content, which Cunningham and his team believe is a key selling point for its physical product offerings.

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And when Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures in January 2020 announced plans to merge their domestic disc distribution businesses, Cunningham was chosen to lead the joint venture that pending regulatory approval will begin operation in early 2021.

Last year, the Media Play Fast Forward Award went to digital retailers Cameron Douglas of FandangoNow, Galen Smith of Redbox On Demand, Google Play Movies & TV’s Jonathan Zepp and the team at Apple iTunes.

The previous year, the inaugural Media Play Fast Forward Award was shared by Fox Innovation Lab and Movies Anywhere.

The Media Play Fast Forward awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first Visionary Award winner, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

Cunningham will be profiled in the March issue of Media Play News.

A Message to Our Readers for 2020

As we put a wrap on 2019, I want to send my thanks to all of our loyal readers for your support of Media Play News — and our mission to cover the at-home and direct-to-consumer sector of the entertainment business, from transactional to streaming.

Thanks to you — and, of course, to our team of editors, writers, and designers — our online readership has nearly doubled over the last year. Comparing November 2019 to November 2018, our unique visitor count was up 85%, while our total monthly visits rose 99%, according to our hosting service, Haus Interactive.

Our monthly print and digital magazine, meanwhile, continues to serve as a curated collection of the month’s biggest stories — and an archival record of a business that remains resilient and vibrant more than 40 years after it was birthed by Andre Blay and a collection of 50 leased titles from Fox that he issued on videocassette.

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Two years ago, we set out to redefine the concept of home entertainment, broadening the definition to include any filmed content available for on-demand viewing by the consumer — regardless of whether it was bought or rented on Blu-ray Disc, DVD or digital, or streamed via Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.

Since then, the disc market has been revitalized by 4K Ultra HD. Digital distribution has posted impressive growth numbers as consumers realize the latest theatrical blockbusters simply aren’t available on Netflix. And the subscription streaming market, which Netflix pioneered more than a decade ago, this year saw the launch of two other high-profile services, Disney+ and Apple TV+ — with more on the way in 2020.

Mega-mergers saw AT&T buy Warner Bros. and Disney purchase, and then absorb, the venerable 20th Century Fox film studio.

And original content, made expressly for the small screen that is the focus of Media Play News’ coverage, was the darling of the year, with Apple TV+ earning Golden Globe nominations out of the gate and Redbox launching a new content acquisition and production division to further its transformation into a multi-channel content provider and programmer.

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Here at Media Play News, we scored a number of high points. Our Fast Forward awards honored four key digital retailers at a sold-out luncheon. Our second annual Women in Home Entertainment issue shone the spotlight one some of the brightest minds in our business, from Andrea Downing of PBS to Netflix’s Cindy Holland. Our 40 Under 40 issue, also in its second year, gave well-deserved recognition to the leaders of tomorrow. And at the end of summer we brought onboard a razor-sharp social media marketer and our Instagram posts are now generating hundreds, if not thousands, of likes.

I wish you all a prosperous, healthy and happy new year — and, again, thanks for your support.

Sincerely,

Thomas K. Arnold, Publisher and Editorial Director, Media Play News

Comcast Disputes Media Report It Favors Roku Over Proprietary Streaming App

Comcast Feb. 4 issued a statement disputing an online media report that it plans to scrap development of a proprietary streaming app in favor of using Roku technology.

A report in BestAppleTV.com claimed Comcast Cable would bypass Apple TV as well as the tvOS app platform in development in favor of a Roku-designed smart box – similar to one manufactured by Roku for Sky-owned Now TV in the United Kingdom.

Comcast Corp. acquired Sky last year for $39 billion.

Media Play News reported Jan. 25 that Now TV, which was one of Roku’s first OEM clients for streaming media devices, including USB stick technology, is the third-largest OTT video service in the U.K. behind market leader Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Steve Burke, CEO of NBC Universal, appeared to underscore the move when he said Comcast’s pending AVOD service would incorporate Now TV technology and represented a good alternative for consumers not tethered to pay-TV/SVOD, while posing less of a risk in start-up costs.

“We think this approach has a much better chance to get scale quickly,” Burke said on the fiscal call.

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In a statement, Comcast said the BestAppleTV.com story contained “numerous inaccuracies” and “wrongly conflates” individual business dealings and relationships from Sky, NBC Universal and Comcast Cable.

“To be clear, Comcast Cable is deeply invested in development and innovation of its flagship whole-home platform, Xfinity X1, that is changing the way millions of people watch TV and manage the connected home,” wrote the cabler with 21 million subscribers.

Comcast said Xfinity TV customers can currently access their subscription via the Xfinity Stream app on iOS and Android mobile devices, and on computers and laptops via the Xfinity Stream web portal.

The cabler reiterated that subs can also access their TV subscription via the Xfinity Stream app for Roku devices and Samsung smart TVs (and soon LG and Sony smart TVs as well) or use their Xfinity credentials to authenticate more than 130 networks across more than 20 devices, including Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Xbox One and TiVo, among others.

Comcast said it “actively” remains in talks with other device manufacturers to distribute the Xfinity Stream app, “under terms that are mutually agreeable,” through the Xfinity TV Partner Program.

“[The program] continues to enable us to efficiently and effectively expand the range of devices our customers can utilize to access their Xfinity TV subscription,” wrote Comcast.

 

A Message to Our Readers

As another year comes to an end, I’d like to say thank you to our readers and our advertisers for making us a part of your professional lives. Media Play News is coming off a very successful first year. We began the year with a new company, name, brand, website, newsletter, and production and art staff.

All that we carried over from our previous property were five staffers and the determination to do everything we did before, only more of it, and better.

We also set out to redefine the concept of home entertainment, broadening the definition to include any filmed content brought into the home, on demand — regardless of whether it was bought or rented on Blu-ray Disc, DVD or digital, or streamed via Netflix, Amazon or Hulu.

We went live with our website and daily newsletter on Jan. 2, 2018, and our first monthly magazine was available in print and digital editions on Jan. 29. The website was built from the ground up using a responsive web design. Largely because of this, on Feb. 3 MediaPlayNews.com was OK’d for pickup by Google News. The print magazine, too, was improved, with a heavier paper stock and a higher gloss finish. And our daily newsletter, which used to include three to five stories daily, typically has as many as nine or 10, or even more.

That first month, we had 17,105 unique visitors, about half what Home Media Magazine had in its peak. By April, that number had grown to 62,257, with more than half visiting our site on their phones or other mobile devices. Our peak of 266,061 was in July, when Comic-Con hit.

Social media outreach has certainly helped us increase our readership. From the time we launched Media Play News, we have made it a point to write stories about as many product releases as we can, and then push out these stories on Facebook and on Twitter. On Twitter, we use appropriate hashtags as well as @twittername of key cast members and other creatives as well as fan groups. Since Oct. 1, we also have employed the same approach with Instagram.

We employ the same social media strategy with our various “chart” stories, and we’re starting to get quite a bit of attention from stars and other creatives — including Tyler Perry, who posted a link to one of our stories about the weekly Redbox charts to his Facebook page. That brought us over 119,000 unique visitors in a matter of hours.

In 2019, we plan on doubling down on efforts in the digital space. We intend to enhance our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram efforts and start issuing Instagram stories as well as venture into Snapchat. We also plan on allocating more money toward paid promotions.

We also would like to launch a vibrant and compelling YouTube channel, bringing on talent to film a weekly “new on disc and digital” episode each week, ideally with snippets of trailers and conversations about the biggest or most notable product releases. We would like to do the same with our three chart stories.

We also intend to host trailers on our site and each week will issue “editor’s picks” highlighting the top new releases.

Home entertainment remains a truly remarkable business, and we’re proud to be a part of it.

Digital Hollywood Panelists Ponder Future of Skinny Bundles, Digital Delivery

Skinny bundles and virtual MVPDs are an imperfect solution to the desire of consumers to get the content they want at the price they want, while an a la carte online delivery system that perfectly satisfies consumers’ desires has yet to be fully realized.

That was the consensus of panelists at the “Internet TV Packages” panel at the Digital Hollywood conference Oct. 18 in Los Angeles.

“The consumer cares about two things, value and choice,” noted panelist Thomas K. Arnold, publisher of Media Play News. While choice has expanded over the years from only a few networks to an array of cable channels to videocassettes and discs and digital delivery, finding content is getting more complicated.

“The important thing here is curation. The old manual curation by networks is going away,” said panelist and consultant Robin Wilson, director, RW TV. He said the future is one in which consumers can “self-curate” content or in which curation is automated.

While some pundits say only younger consumers are peeling away from traditional viewing, even Baby Boomers, still working and facing a time crunch, are also moving away from appointment TV, said panelist Josette Bonte, managing director, Digital Content Strategies.

“There is definitely a problem to be solved by the industry,” she said. “I would like to have my own skinny bundle.”

“Current skinny bundles are just a patch up job,” Wilson added.

“It’s the same problem that’s always been the problem,” Arnold noted. “These internet services, they’re great for service, but bad for discovery.”

Consumers who are watching subscription services have a hard time breaking out of that silo, Arnold said.

“Your likely going to stay on Netflix or Amazon after watching a show,” he said.

To truly curate your own content can be difficult, he said, noting that his family had to “piece together our own skinny bundle” from offerings on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to watch an entire series of a show they loved.

He predicted that consumers in the future would be paying more for entertainment but in smaller increments, comparing it to gym memberships that have retained consumers by offering ultra-low prices.

“At $10 a month, people are going to get them all [even niche OTT subscription offerings],” he said. “At $10 a month you’re not going to really notice it.”

Bonte said niche SVOD services “definitely have the chance to complement the bundles.”

Technology — perhaps from Google, Amazon or Roku — will overcome the difficulties of getting to different apps and online services to get content, panelists said.

“The idea of switching from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2 will be as archaic as rewinding the videocassette,” Arnold said.

Device integration with artificial intelligence will also assist in content discovery, Bonte said.

Panelists also pondered the growing competition in the SVOD market led by Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, soon to be joined by Disney and WarnerMedia — and the data from SVOD services that is informing what content consumers are fed.

Netflix is “definitely good at use of data” to determine content, Bonte noted. It’s an advantage for the company, Wilson added.

Netflix knows a lot about what consumers are watching, but “they won’t tell us,” Arnold said, adding that research company Parrot Analytics is using social media and other measurements to try to estimate the popularity of SVOD original programs.

One audience member noted that Netflix’s recommendation engine is less than perfect, causing her frustration as it served up the same type of content over and over.

Data targeting with ads, too, needs improving, Wilson noted. The ads served up should be more efficient, “not bombarding” the consumer.

One audience member noted that Rotten Tomatoes, which calculates content ratings based on human reviewers, is one of the most popular content recommendation sites online.

Newfangled content delivery technologies have a way to go, Arnold noted. “People who talk about artificial intelligence forget that first word, artificial,” he said.

Speaking at Digital Hollywood on Oct. 18 were, from left, moderator Patrick Redmond; Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold; and consultants Josette Bonte and Robin Wilson.