DEG Panel: Transactional Business Strong Despite New-Release Slowdown

The home entertainment pie is getting bigger — and not just on the subscription streaming side, according to an Aug. 10 panel presented by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

“The story on SVOD services I think is really well told, and we’ve seen a lot of consumers come over through those subscriber numbers, but I don’t think there’s been much focus on consumers who’ve been coming into the transactional end of the business,” said Jim Wuthrich, president of home entertainment and content licensing at WarnerMedia.

After a year in 2020 that saw a big jump in at home entertainment viewing due to a pandemic, the transactional business — revenue from consumers who rent or buy titles either digitally or physically — has proven resilient, even though it has dropped from the pandemic highs of last year. Transactional spending was down 28.7% to an estimated $3.4 billion, from $4.8 billion in the first six months of 2020.

“I would say overall these numbers to me are remarkable,” said Michael Bonner, president of worldwide home entertainment at Universal Pictures.

Comparing the numbers to pre-pandemic 2019, transactional has grown its appeal, especially with catalog.

“We have evidence that the consumer adoption and engagement during the pandemic is up overall, and those levels are kind of maintaining,” Bonner said.

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“We had this big spike last year where consumers were looking for any content they could transactionally,” Wuthrich added. “This year we’ve come down, but we’re running against that big spike we had last year.

“The one drag that we’ve got for the first half of this year was really around new-release product because we don’t have a lot of new-release product.”

Still, Bonner noted that on a title-by-title basis, the new releases that have come out are performing well.

“If you look at it at on a title level, that product that is flowing in, it’s performing very well relative to historical,” he noted.

Then there’s premium rentals and sales (PVOD, PEST), which the DEG does not track. That segment of the business, which some industry pundits say helped the transactional market grow for the first time in a decade last year, has continued its appeal.

“Our estimate is there’s $1 billion of consumer spend that’s not captured in the numbers that you’re presenting,” Bonner said. “And those numbers are not insignificant. We’ve seen tremendous engagement from consumers on that product that’s made available early in its window. Again, some of that is to be expected — given where the box office has been over the past year — but the numbers, they’re fantastic.”

Wuthrich sees a strong last half of the year, as new releases flow into the transactional pipeline.

“Going into the back half of year, we’re pretty bullish around it,” he said.

“I think in Q3 and Q4, we’re not quite out of the pandemic yet, so I think there’s still going to be heavy engagement in the home, so I think the numbers should be strong again,” Bonner said.

While moves to put titles on streaming services early — and, in the case of Warner, on HBO Max concurrently with theaters — may shrink demand in the transactional realm, there are customers for every segment of the entertainment marketplace, said panelists.

“When it’s widely available on a streaming service, it does take some of the demand, but it also adds in other ways,” Wuthrich said.

“The reality is studios are all kind of making tradeoffs in terms of how to put product through different consumer offerings earlier than ever,” Bonner added. “We’re all trying to figure that out.”

Each segment of the business is finding an audience, panelists said.

“We see spikes in demand across each of those new offerings,” Bonner said. “There are consumers and there’s an audience out there for each of these.”

Even the physical business is holding its own, Wuthrich said.

“We found there are still over 35 million households in the U.S. that are still transacting in physical,” he said, noting that Warner entered into a joint venture, Studio Distribution Services (SDS), with Universal to serve the continuing physical disc consumer.

“One of the reasons that people continue to buy physical media is it’s a habit. Another reason though is quality. You can’t beat the quality to the television of physical media, particularly around 4K with HDR,” Wuthrich noted. He added that physical consumers span all demos, young and old. Close to 60% is in the age range of 25-44, he said.

And retailers have maintained a lot of that shelf space for physical during the pandemic.

“I think longer term, this is a mature category, and you’ll see continued consolidation,” Wuthrich said. “I think of the retailers that have, particularly the large ones that have exited or shrunk the category, we see stabilization in that space. And that’s where it was particularly encouraging, at least some of our retailers held most of the space, even through COVID, even though there wasn’t a lot of new product that was flowing in. And it was because it was something that was desired by their customer. They were looking for distractions and such. So maybe they were only shopping for diapers and popcorn, but they were still going by and picking up physical.”

Home Entertainment Spending in 2020 Up 21% to Record $30 Billion, DEG Says

Consumer spending on home entertainment in 2020 shot up more than 21% from the prior year to a record $30 billion, spurred by movie theater closures and stay-at-home orders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, according to estimates released Jan. 27 by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

The trade group noted that digital spending accounted for the majority of the gains, led by subscription streaming, which saw spending climb 37.2% to an estimated $21.2 billion.

Transactional video spending also posted significant increases, with digital rentals up 18.3% in 2020 over 2019 and digital sales, or electronic sellthrough (EST), up 16%. According to DEG estimates,  consumers spent more than $2.3 billion renting movies and other filmed content through digital retailers (both cable and Internet) in 2020, compared with just under $2 billion in 2019, and nearly $3 billion on purchases, up from $2.6 billion the prior year.

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Consumers spent an estimated $2.5 billion on buying Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays, down 25.6% from $3.3 billion the prior year. Disc sales had been declining for years but in 2020 sales were further diluted by retail store closures in the months following the World Health Organization’s March 11 declaration of a global pandemic.

In the fourth quarter, the DEG reported, total consumer spending on home entertainment rose nearly 16% from 2019 to an estimated $7.8 billion. Again, streaming led the way, with spending up 33% to an estimated $5.6 billion, or 72% of the total.

The DEG noted that premium video-on-demand (PVOD) figures are not included in the yearly or quarterly consumer spending totals. However, the trade group stated in a press release that “early insights suggest that interest is high, and results are strong. Universal has indicated that with 18 films released on PVOD across the past 10 months, with the addition of PVOD revenues, the company generated over four times what it would have expected to earn in the traditional digital home entertainment window alone. In total, the combined in-home consumer spend on these new Universal releases on a transactional basis represented over $500 million.”

Michael Bonner, the newly appointed president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, said in a statement, “Since the launch of PVOD, we’ve learned a tremendous amount, much of which has validated our belief that PVOD is poised to complement the theatrical business in a way that can meaningfully benefit the ecosystem across consumers, distributors and studios.”

The DEG also released the top 20 films for the year on its “Watched at Home” chart, which combines sales of physical media with digital rentals and sales.

  1. Frozen II (Disney)
  2. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony Pictures)
  3. Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)
  4. Joker (Warner)
  5. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  6. Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
  7. 1917 (Universal)
  8. Scoob! (Warner)
  9. Ford v Ferrari (20th Century)
  10. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  11. Trolls World Tour (DreamWorks/Universal )
  12. Yellowstone: Season 1 (Paramount)
  13. Onward (Disney)
  14. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (Warner)
  15. Yellowstone: Season 2 (Paramount)
  16. Yellowstone: Season 3 (Paramount)
  17. Harry Potter Complete 8-Film Collection (Warner)
  18. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Disney)
  19. Bloodshot (Sony)
  20. Midway (Lionsgate)

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.”