After an accelerated push during the pandemic in 2020, premium VOD is a permanent addition to the home entertainment marketplace, said panelists during a Jan. 27 DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group online presentation.
“We think that PVOD is here to stay, and it really is a big part of our business,” said Fandango SVP Mark Young. Fandango owns transactional VOD services Vudu and FandangoNow.
Microsoft’s Pedro Gutierrez noted that PVOD, debuting in the same window or close to theatrical release, allows for more effective studio marketing. Whereas traditionally a film’s home entertainment marketing would come months after its theatrical push, PVOD has allowed studios to move it up so the title is “fresh in consumers’ minds,” he said.
“You’re able to see the studios able to support the home entertainment releases stronger than previously,” he said, adding “you have that nice consistent message for the title availability.”
For parents like him, family titles are a particular draw during stay-at-home orders, even with a bigger price tag, he said.
“When there is new content that can buy an hour and a half or two hours of silence, we are jumping at the opportunity,” he said.
Aside from first-run films on PVOD, catalog is also getting a boost as folks stay home, Young said, noting that the classic series “The Twilight Zone” has been a strong seller.
“It’s good fodder for cathartic viewing,” he said.
Fandango has also employed TVOD bundling of titles to entice customers.
“We work with the studios’ licensing groups … whether it’s by genre, by actor, by type of movie, whether it’s by demographic,” he said. “We look at our data to be able to bundle things that are interesting for consumers … in some cases across studios.”
Gutierrez agreed that unique marketing is key for TVOD.
“At the end of the day, we all have the same piece of film content, whether it’s from Warner, from Universal, from whichever partner,” he said. “How do we make it unique? We spend a lot of time targeting our customers in a manner that’s appropriate for them [with a title that] shows their interest based on prior search or selections — or we even do a lot of game and movie bundles for our gaming audience on Xbox.”
He said collectors are alive and well in the digital realm, just as with discs.
“We’ve all seen the people who have their wall of DVDs,” he said. “With the digital stuff, people want to show you their library’s bigger than Netflix. They want to buy. [The digital collector] does not want to have to worry about do I need to go to HBO Max, do I need to go to Disney+. Where is my content? My content is right here in my collection.”
“We also see on Vudu in particular a lot of collectors, rabid collectors,” added Fandango’s Young.
FilmRise’s Fisher touted the growth and appeal of his expanding part of the digital business: free, ad-supported streaming or AVOD.
“In the AVOD space, one does not need a credit card, does not need to log in. All they need is an internet device,” he said. “Not all families in the U.S., let alone around the world, can afford 10 subscriptions. Some can’t even afford one subscription.”
FilmRise has found success with catalog as well, including the recently acquired classic show “The Rifleman.”
“It’s a black-and-white TV show, four by three aspect ratio, over six decades old,” he said. “We identified that the consumer demand was really strong.”
FilmRise uses data algorithms and “proprietary analytics” to find such underutilized content, adding AI machine learning in 2020.
“We don’t care what the industry thinks people want to see, we care what people want to see,” he said, adding that such older shows as “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “21 Jump Street,” and “Lost in Space” are doing well on AVOD. “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Forensic Files,” which attract strong demand for FilmRise, have even been rebooted, he noted.
Microsoft says the Xbox Series X features 12 teraflops of GPU power enabling new technologies and features such as framerates up to 120 fps, hardware-accelerated Direct X raytracing, variable rate shading, and Quick Resume, which enables players to resume exactly where they left off. The Xbox Series S offers similar performance at a more affordable price. The Xbox Series X|S are available in 40 markets around the world today.
Microsoft claims the Xbox Series X|S are the only next-generation consoles enabling gamers to play thousands of games across four generations.
“We believe that gamers should be able to play all of their games from the past without needing to purchase them again, and they should play better than ever before,” wrote Will Tuttle, editor in chief of Xbox Wire.
This means that all titles should run at enhanced speed and more clarity than they were originally designed for on their original launch platform. Backward compatible games run natively with the full performance of the Xbox Series X|S for each and every backward compatible game.
“These games will look better than ever thanks to improved texture filtering, higher and more consistent frame rates, faster load times and Auto HDR support,” Tuttle wrote.
Redbox Free Live TV, the ad-supported VOD sister service to kiosk-based disc rentals, has signed an agreement with Microsoft to make its app available on the pending Xbox One X and Xbox One S video game consoles. Free Live TV is also available on the Roku platform, Apple TV and Android TV, in addition to iOS and Android. It is not yet available on Amazon Fire TV.
Redbox also added music video streamer Vevo, Pocket.watch, featuring children’s programming and Johnny Carson, an OTT video platform streaming the late late night comic’s episodes. The additions bring to more than 75 the number of content channels offered free (with ads) to consumers.
“Our Free Live TV service continues to grow at a rapid pace and we’re committed to creating a product that our customers love and we know that includes adding awesome channels such as Vevo that we know our audiences will enjoy,” Chris Yates, GM of Redbox On Demand, said in a statement. “Free Live TV is the home for our customers to find and watch great content from their favorite channels, all free.”
Video game retailer GameStop Oct. 8 announced it has entered into a multiyear strategic partnership agreement with Microsoft to help expand its physical and digital video game offerings in the cloud, as well as enhance the chain’s retail technology infrastructure.
GameStop operates more than 5,000 retail stores worldwide, in addition to an e-commerce platform and the PowerUp Rewards customer loyalty program. Through the partnership, GameStop hopes to standardize its business operations via Microsoft’s cloud solutions and hardware products to deliver enhanced digital “experiences” to customers.
“This is an exciting day at GameStop as we announce the advancement of an important partnership that capitalizes on the power of our operating platform and significant market share in gaming to accelerate our digital transformation; drive incremental revenue streams; and over time, further monetize the digital world of gaming,” CEO George Sherman said in a statement.
Under the agreement, GameStop will standardize its back-end and in-store operations with Microsoft’s portfolio of cloud-based business applications and customer data. This is to enhance store personnel with integrated business operations, including finance, inventory, e-commerce, retail and point-of-purchase sales.
For example, cloud-based in-store software could enable store personnel to access information on a customer’s gaming preferences and purchase history in real time on product availability, subscriptions, pricing, and promotions in order to provide a differentiated and more personalized in-store shopping experience.
GameStop plans to roll out Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams to its stores, empowering more than 30,000 store associates with enhanced productivity and collaboration tools.
“By harnessing the power of Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365, GameStop will be able to modernize its technology infrastructure and support store associates and consumers in new and exciting ways,” said Matt Renner, president of U.S. Enterprise Commercial at Microsoft.
Store associates will be equipped with new Microsoft Surface devices, enabling them to move freely within the store footprint, meeting the needs of customers faster and more efficiently.
GameStop is also expanding its Xbox family of product offerings to include Xbox All Access, which provides an Xbox console and 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to players with no upfront cost. GameStop and Microsoft will both benefit from the customer acquisition and lifetime revenue value of each gamer brought into the Xbox ecosystem.
“GameStop’s extensive store base, focus on digital transformation in an omni-channel environment and expert gamer associates remain an important part of our gaming ecosystem,” added Phil Spencer, EVP of Gaming at Microsoft.
Ahead of a Sept. 16 pricing unveil for the next-generation PlayStation 5 video game console, Sony Interactive Entertainment has reportedly cut production for the year by four million units to 11 million, citing software chip issues.
As first reported by Bloomberg, which cited sources familiar with the situation, production for the new console was being hampered by a 50% reduction in available custom-designed system-on-chips (SOC) that help drive the unit. Coupled with manufacturing delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, production of 11 million PS5 units would still surpass previous first-year PS production runs.
“If Sony can really ship 11 million for this fiscal year, we do not think the shortfall will be critical,” Kazunori Ito, analyst with Morningstar Investment Management Asia, told CNBC.
The news, which saw Sony Corp. shares dip slightly, comes as PS battles Microsoft’s Xbox with new gaming systems in time for the 2020 winter holidays. Microsoft earlier this month announced that the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles would launch Nov. 10, priced at $499 and $299, respectively. In a first, the software giant will market financing options for the consoles, beginning at $24.99 monthly.
After a near two-year slump as gamers awaited the arrival of new consoles and/or migrated to online gaming, the video game market has exploded during the pandemic. Driven by house-bound gamers and consumers, monthly industry sales ballooned more than 70% in April, according to The NPD Group — with accessory sales hitting an all-time high in August.
Nintendo, whose Switch gaming device has dominated the market in the absence of new Xbox and PS units, saw operating profit skyrocket 400% for the fiscal quarter from April to June 2020.
ByteDance, the Chinese owner of social media video app TikTok, has reportedly selected Oracle Corp. to acquire its U.S. operations as a “trusted tech partner.” The deal, which must be approved by U.S. and Chinese regulators, amounts to a high-priced partnership rather than outright asset sale, according to media reports.
Beijing-based ByteDance had previously rejected a joint offer by Microsoft and Walmart, Microsoft disclosed in a Sept. 13 blog post. The amount of the software and retail giants’ bid has not been disclosed. The offer by Oracle reportedly hovers around $20 billion.
“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft,” the software giant wrote. “We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.”
TikTok has emerged into a social media phenomenon during the coronavirus pandemic generating upwards of 100 million users monthly watching both self-generated and third-party videos. It has also come into the crosshairs of the Trump Administration, which considers the app a national security threat, among other concerns. Trump has warned the government would ban the app in the U.S. by Sept. 15 unless it was sold to an American company.
Specifically, the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command claim that Chinese control of TikTok’s computer code could influence distribution of propaganda and politically-motivated content to end-users.
Microsoft said it would have made the required security, privacy and online safety adjustments to appease both federal and Chinese regulators. The Xbox manufacturer said it would have taken steps to prevent the spread of disinformation on the app — something it made clear to ByteDance.
“We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas,” Microsoft wrote.
Whether Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s personal relationship with Trump played a factor in the deal remains to be seen. Ellison has hosted a fundraiser for Trump, and Oracle CEO Safra Catz worked on Trump’s transition team in 2016.
With all eyes in the video game industry awaiting next-generation console launches from Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation this fall, Microsoft has disclosed pricing for the Xbox Series S console at $299 — the smallest-sized Xbox unit ever.
“Looking forward to sharing more! Soon. Promise.” Microsoft wrote on the Xbox Twitter page.
Industry tip sheet Windows Central claims the larger-sized Xbox Series X will launch Nov. 10 and carry a $499 price tag with monthly (“Xbox All Access”) financing options of $25 and $35, respectively, for the Series S and X models. In a first, Microsoft is launching two next-gen consoles targeting separate ends of the market. The Series X console will accommodate discs through an internal 4K Blu-ray Disc drive.
The Series S and X models will also play existing Xbox One S and X model games, with the latter’s headset adaptable as well on the Series S and X units.
Separately, Sony Interactive Entertainment on the PlayStation blog disclosed pending updates for the PS ecosystem, including a VR-based PS Store promotion — but no pricing or release dates. Online scuttlebutt had suggested Sony would announce PS5 details on Sept. 9 — the 25th anniversary of the PlayStation launch in the United States. A company representative said otherwise.
“To manage expectations, there’ll be no PS5-related news,” Gillen McAllister, senior specialist, content communications with Sony Interactive Entertainment, said in a statement.
With the country in the midst of coronavirus pandemic and social unrest, Dametra Johnson-Marletti, GM of Microsoft’s digital store and a female executive of color, has found herself wearing many hats due in part to her unique background.
Growing up in inner-city Los Angeles, Johnson-Marletti used her basketball skills to earn a scholarship to Colorado State University, which followed a short pre-WNBA professional stint in the Australian Professional Women’s Basketball League. At her parent’s urging, Johnson-Marletti transitioned into the business world, as a sale representative with Bristol-Myers Squibb, before joining Microsoft in 2001.
On the Sept. 3 Canon Club Salon webcast, Johnson-Marletti was asked by event host and Media Play News editor in chief Stephanie Prange about the challenges facing women and minorities in the corporate workplace during a pandemic.
The 20-year Microsoft executive said that solving issues such as increased female leadership in the workplace has to include minorities and people of color in the discussion.
“[They’re] all in the same realm of challenges that we’re trying to solve,” Johnson-Marletti said. “Before any of us can build a plan to get [a woman] to the executive suite, I think we need to have a plan to have [minority female] representation across all company levels.”
She said that too often a female of color doesn’t make it to the top tier of management because they haven’t been an active participant in “the journey” to get there compared to others (white men and women) who have built “equity” moving up the corporate ladder.
“If we don’t have those early and career people [of color] represented in middle management, senior local managers all the way up to the executive suite, we have a leaky funnel. And it can never spill the right way.”
She said the focus shouldn’t necessarily be only on reaching the executive suite (“the North Star,” Johnson-Marletti says), but rather on constructing the paths and bridges leading up to that level. The executive said the situation could be broached through support channels (including mentoring) that would help retain and motivate up-and-coming female executives.
“I think that’s where the work has to be done,” Johnson-Marletti said.
Walmart has reportedly joined Microsoft in the ongoing bidding for TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app with more than 100 million monthly users in the United States and 800 million globally.
TikTok, whose CEO Kevin Mayer resigned earlier in the day, has been caught in the crosshairs of the Trump Administration’s growing tech spat with China. Trump issued an executive order that seeks to ban TikTok in the U.S. if its Chinese ownership isn’t removed — citing national security issues.
Walmart confirmed to CNBC it has joined Microsoft in bidding that could fetch upwards of $20 billion for the app. Oracle reportedly is also interested in TikTok.
Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargroves (formerly with Blockbuster) wouldn’t comment how the retailer and Microsoft would split ownership of TikTok, or whether the retail behemoth would incorporate the app (and its user-generated videos) in its pending subscription-based Walmart+ streaming platform.
“We believe a potential relationship with TikTok, in partnership with Microsoft, could provide Walmart with an important way … to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses,” Hargroves said. “We are confident that a Walmart and Microsoft partnership would meet both the expectations of U.S. TikTok users while satisfying the concerns of U.S. government regulators.”
Walmart has dabbled in entertainment tech before, acquiring transactional movie platform Vudu.com for $100 million, and becoming the first retailer to offer digital codes for studio DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies. The retail behemoth recently sold Vudu (which had absorbed the disc-to-digital business) to Fandango.
Daniel Ives, managing director and technology analyst at Wedbush Securities, believes TikTok would be good for for Walmart’s e-commerce business.
“When you think right now about going up against the 800-pound gorilla, Amazon, obviously [Walmart has] been behind the eight ball, Ives told CNBC. “But Walmart could use this as a golden opportunity to partner with Microsoft and monetize the TikTok base, which could start to rival Instagram in the next few years just given its global presence.”
Hollywood, you’re getting better — but we’re still not quite there.
UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report, released in February, found that, overall, there are more acting jobs for women in film. In a look at 145 films released in 2019, women had 44.1% of the lead acting roles and accounted for 40.2% of the total cast.
But if you look behind the scenes, there remains much more of a divide. In 2019, just 15.1% of the directors, and 17.4% of the writers, of top-grossing films were women. The 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report also includes a workplace analysis of the top 11 studios, and found that 82% of ‘C’-level positions, and 80% of all senior executive positions, are held by men.
This is why, for the third year, Media Play News is saluting the top women in home entertainment — with a special focus on the top “captains” who are driving the business — as selected by a panel of studio executives, key retailers, journalists and other industry leaders.
Our list of “captains” this year has expanded from 10 to 12, in recognition of the proliferation of high-profile streaming services. Our Women in Home Entertainment section takes on special significance this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic — which has presented our executives with a whole new series of challenges that are explored, in detail, in the Q&A section with our captains that follows our introductions.
THE CAPTAINS OF HOME ENTERTAINMENT: WHO THEY ARE
Head of Original Content, HBO Max
Aubrey heads up Original Content for HBO Max, presiding over a robust slate of Max Originals that offers programming options for every member of the household from preschool aged children through adults. Max Originals include a wide range of genres and formats, slanted toward Gen Z, millennial and female audiences, including programs such as “Legendary,” “Love Life,” “Expecting Amy,” “On the Trail,” “Raised by Wolves,” “Close Enough,” “Looney Tunes” and more. Previously, Aubrey was EVP of original programming for TNT, where she played an integral role in the network’s evolution into one of the premier destinations for prestige original dramas. Under her leadership, the number of women holding jobs at the highest levels on the average TNT scripted project more than doubled. TNT also jumped an impressive 320% on the annual GLAAD TV report rankings for LGBTQ representation. Prior to joining TNT, Aubrey was a prolific television and film producer, responsible for such projects as “Friday Night Lights” and “The Leftovers” while at Film 44, and films including Bad Santa before that.
Campbell manages Hulu’s suite of on-demand and live streaming businesses within the Walt Disney Co.’s Direct-to-Consumer & International business unit. Campbell previously served as chief marketing officer of Hulu. Her team of marketers was responsible for creating and executing initiatives across brand, creative, subscriber growth, entertainment publicity, consumer research and viewer experience. Campbell has earned several industry accolades, including one of Business Insider’s Most Innovative CMOs, Cynopsis Media’s Top Women in Digital Media, Ad Age’s Women to Watch and FierceCable’s The Fierce 50: Executives Reshaping the Business of Pay-TV. Most recently, she made Forbes’ Most Influential Global CMOs list for embracing transparency in influencer marketing.
Though she is leaving in September to lead publisher Conde Nast’s studio and distribution unit, Chu is being honored as one of the key players behind the successful launch of Disney+. Chu is responsible for identifying and developing series, feature films, short-form content and other entertainment formats for the service. Reporting to Ricky Strauss, president of content and marketing, Chu leads the Disney+ Originals teams for scripted, unscripted and content operations, partnering closely with Disney-owned internal content creators, including The Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Over the course of her career at Disney, Chu has served in a variety of roles. Prior to her current position, she served as executive of story and franchise development at Walt Disney Imagineering. From 2013 to 2016, she worked for Bob Iger as VP, office of the chairman and CEO, leading corporate synergy in the integration of Lucasfilm and the grand opening of Shanghai Disney Resort. While at ABC Entertainment, managing content production for the broadcast network’s digital platforms, Chu garnered an Emmy nomination for “Lost: Mysteries of the Universe,” a pioneering streaming extension of the fan-favorite series “Lost.” Chu began her career at Jigsaw Productions, working on Academy Award documentary nominee Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and “The Blues,” a seven-part series on PBS with directors Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Alex Gibney.
With more than 20 years of experience in the media and entertainment business, Downing has a successful history of leading organizations for growth and profitability in dynamic landscapes. Her vision for PBS Distribution (PBSd) has evolved the focus of the organization to a global distribution company with a diversified portfolio of businesses, including three direct-to-consumer subscription video-on-demand (DTC-SVOD) services at its core. A strategic leader with a strong operational background who embraces change to transform organizations with new business strategies and products, Downing leads the company including strategic, financial, and operational aspects of PBSd.
EVP and Managing Director — North America, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Gallagher leads UPHE’s physical home entertainment business, including sales, operations, finance, customer marketing and distribution partnerships across the United States and Canada. She assumed her present position in March 2018, after serving as SVP of sales, customer marketing and category management for UPHE’s U.S. physical sellthrough and rental businesses. She started at Universal in 2000 as assistant category manager and served in various sales, category management and customer marketing positions. Gallagher began her career in 1999 at Sony Pictures Entertainment (at the time, Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment).
EVP, Global Marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Hoffman oversees strategic marketing and business strategy for Universal and its distributed lines worldwide across new-release, catalog and TV properties for both digital and physical, focusing on the complete product lifecycle. Her responsibilities encompass defining go-to-market strategies and the overall approach for consumer engagement, including developing and leveraging new platforms and technologies as well as direct-to-consumer initiatives to drive profitable growth across all formats. During her tenure at Universal, Hoffman has overseen the campaigns of some of the studio’s biggest, revenue-generating releases and has successfully been a driving force behind Universal’s leading footprint in new industry initiatives.
VP, Original Content, Netflix
Holland, a 17-year Netflix veteran, is responsible for acquiring and launching original series for Netflix members around the globe. Under her purview, Holland and her team have launched award-winning and critically acclaimed projects that span drama, comedy, family/YA, documentaries, unscripted, stand-up specials and docu-series. She was named to the 2018 Time 100 list of the most influential people. According to the magazine, “in less than a decade, Cindy has helped orchestrate one of the biggest entertainment revolutions since the invention of the television.”
GM, Digital Store Category Management, Microsoft Corp.
Johnson-Marletti has responsibility for digital content categories (Gaming, Movies & TV, Entertainment and Consumer Apps) across all Microsoft digital storefronts. She is charged with working with external content creating partners to optimize customer experiences and financial opportunities through creative content marketing programs, and business model innovation. Johnson-Marletti joined Microsoft in 2001 and has since made multiple contributions across a number of different businesses, including nine years in the Xbox Division. Prior to coming to Microsoft, Johnson-Marletti spent almost 10 years with Bristol Myers-Squibb, where she held several positions across dales and dales management in the Southern California area. A former professional women’s basketball player, Johnson-Marletti is a Los Angeles native who currently lives on the East Side of Seattle with her two teen children.
EVP, Consumer Insights and Innovation, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Overall is responsible for identifying and developing the studio’s capabilities to become a more consumer-centric, data-driven organization. Her group utilizes data analytics and consumer insights, enabling SPHE and Sony Pictures Television Distribution to make better-informed decisions to satisfy consumer demand for content. Formerly, Overall was SVP of SPHE’s United Kingdom, Norther Europe and EMEA partnerships. In this role, she was responsible for defining the commercial strategies for the region and supporting the EMEA territories. She joined SPHE in 2008 as the managing director for Australia and New Zealand.
EVP and GM, Film, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Schell joined Warner Bros. in 2014 as EVP and GM of film at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and oversees all aspects of the transactional home entertainment business for Warner Bros. films worldwide. At Warner Bros. she has taken on additional responsibilities managing theatrical lifecycle marketing, cross-enterprise synergy initiatives, and immersive entertainment. Schell spent her early career at the Walt Disney Co. and Allen & Co. and is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. At NBC Universal, she held roles of SVP of digital strategy and business development for NBC Universal, and EVP of business development and digital for Universal Pictures.
Amy Jo Smith
President and CEO, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Smith heads the leading trade group for the home entertainment industry. The DEG promotes entertainment platforms, products and distribution channels that support the movie, television, music, consumer electronics and IT industries. A former White House communications advisor, Smith since 1997 has led the industry-funded organization through the industry’s wholesale evolution from videocassettes to DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and today’s digital age. She joined the DEG as executive director under then-President Emiel Petrone, and was promoted to president in 2013 and CEO in 2017. Before the DEG she was SVP and group director at ad agency Cohn & Wolfe.
Senior EVP, Worldwide Marketing, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Wong leads Sony Pictures Television Distribution’s global home entertainment marketing team and is charged with delivering breakthrough marketing campaigns across a wide range of product from Sony Pictures Entertainment’s studio labels and television series. Specific areas of oversight include consumer and brand strategy, creative advertising, media and digital, PR and strategic partnerships, content development and new product development. Wong’s insights-driven marketing strategy is the foundation for product development and continued marketing innovation around new platforms critical for growth in the industry, such as Movies Anywhere, augmented reality, 4K UHD and other direct-to-consumer digital offerings. With more than 25 years in advertising and consumer marketing, Wong began her career at Young & Rubicam, before joining what would become Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, where she rose to EVP of worldwide marketing in 2001 and her present position in 2006.