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.
Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new streaming service, will be available on Microsoft’s Xbox One family of devices, including Xbox One S and Xbox One X, when it launches nationally July 15.
Peacock will offer a free tier featuring more than 7,500 hours of movies, shows, and live and on-demand programming across news, sports, reality and late night. Peacock Premium will also be available for $4.99 per month, featuring more than 15,000 hours of content. Viewers may also upgrade Peacock Premium to ad-free for an additional $5 per month.
“We are pleased to make Peacock available to the millions of customers who access content across Xbox platforms,” Maggie McLean Suniewick, president of business development and partnerships for Peacock, said in a statement. “With streaming entertainment and gaming reaching all-time highs, Xbox will be a great ongoing partner for Peacock.”
When it launches in July, Peacock will be available for Xbox users to download through the Microsoft Store. Customers will be able to sign up for Peacock Free or upgrade to Peacock Premium directly within the Peacock app on Xbox devices using in-app purchase.
“We look forward to working with Microsoft, bringing Peacock to the Xbox platform and expanding the growing options people have to access our content at national launch,” Matt Bond, chairman, content distribution, NBCUniversal, said in a statement.
Last month, Peacock’s early preview rolled out to eligible Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex customers at no additional cost. Peacock will also be bundled and included at no additional cost for eligible Cox Contour customers later this year.
With a growing list of media tech companies canceling appearances at the upcoming South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival in Austin, Texas, and other public events due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the decision by Netflix, Apple, Google, Intel and Facebook, among others, was apparently inspired by local government.
The County of Santa Clara’s Public Health Department this week updated its recommendations to “protect residents of the county” from the virus, saying local employers should refrain from exposing staff to “close contact with large numbers of people.”
Santa Clara County includes the cities of Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose — corporate homes to many of the aforementioned companies. Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have offices in the county.
With six new coronavirus cases confirmed in Santa Clara County, bringing to 20 the number of people who have tested positive for the virus in the area, the Public Health Department said it was taking proactive steps to slow the spread of the virus and reduce the number of people infected.
“We understand these recommendations will have a tremendous impact on the lives of people in our community,” the county said in a March 5 statement. “Public Health is making these recommendations in consultation with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on the best information we have at this time, to protect the public’s health. This is a critical moment in the growing outbreak of COVID-19 … when such measures can potentially slow the spread of the disease.”
Specifically, the county said companies should suspend nonessential employee travel; minimize the number of employees working within arm’s length of one another, including minimizing or canceling large in-person meetings and conferences.
It urged employees to stay home when they are sick and maximize flexibility in sick leave benefits, and not require a doctor’s note for employees that are sick as healthcare offices may be busy and unable to provide that documentation right away.
Companies should also consider the use of telecommuting options for appropriate employees, and stagger the start and end times for workers to reduce large numbers of people coming together at the same time.
Earlier this week, Adobe canceled the live portion of the Adobe Summit 2020 confab — originally slated for March 29 to April 2 in Las Vegas — due to the virus. The 2019 event attracted 16,000 attendees and featured presentations by Reese Witherspoon and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, among others. The summit will continue this year as an online only event.
“Over the past few weeks, we have been closely monitoring and evaluating the situation around COVID-19 to ensure we are taking the necessary measures to protect the health and wellbeing of Adobe Summit attendees,” Adobe said in a statement. “As a result, we have made the difficult but important decision to make Adobe Summit 2020 an online event this year and to cancel the live event in Las Vegas.”
Google canceled its Cloud Next event in San Francisco, while Facebook nixed its F8 developers confab in San Jose.
Meanwhile, tickets for the Netflix Is a Joke Festival live stand-up comedy event across 20 venues, April 27 – May 3 in Los Angeles, went on sale March 4.
Microsoft formally unveiled its next-generation Xbox video game console, dubbed Xbox Series X and set to launch at retail for the 2020 winter holidays.
The new gaming console, disclosed at The Game Awards 2019, claims to be eight times faster than Xbox and twice as fast as Xbox One with terabyte of storage and UHD Blu-ray Disc drive. The console will use the Elite Series 2 controller currently included with Xbox One.
Xbox Series X will be our fastest, most powerful console ever and set a new bar for performance, speed and compatibility, allowing you to bring your gaming legacy, thousands of games from three generations and more forward with you. Its industrial design enables us to deliver four times the processing power of Xbox One X in the most quiet and efficient way, something that is critically important in delivering truly immersive gameplay.
“We … designed Xbox Series X to support both vertical and horizontal orientation,” Phil Spencer, EVP of gaming, told GameSpot. “It’s bold and unique, very much like our fans around the world and the team of collaborators and innovators who built it.”
“This generation, we’ve really focused on 4K visuals and how we bring both movies through 4K Blu-ray and video streaming,” Spencer added. “And with Xbox One X allowing games to run at 4K visuals will make really strong visual enhancements next generation.”
Sony Oct. 8 disclosed its next-generation PlayStation video game console will be named PlayStation 5 and debut in time for the winter holidays in 2020.
Sony, which first announced the pending console in April, along with Microsoft’s Xbox, are integral to the success of the video game industry.
The 2020 debut means the gaming industry will likely see continued sluggish sales of hardware and new software as consumers await the updated consoles — both of which will still include disc drives.
Indeed, The NPD Group reported that overall game sales fell 18% in August to $666 million, compared with $812 million in the previous-year period. Through Aug. 31, total game spending for the year is down 6% to $7 billion, from $7.4 billion in 2018.
Regardless, Jim Ryan, CEO, Sony Interactive Entertainment, in a blog post said the PS5 would have several improvements, most notably in the controller.
“We’re adopting haptic feedback to replace the ‘rumble’ technology found in controllers since the 5th generation of consoles,” Ryan wrote. “With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback, so crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field. You can even get a sense for a variety of textures when running through fields of grass or plodding through mud.”
Ryan said the second innovation includes “adaptive triggers,” which he said have been incorporated into the trigger buttons (L2/R2).
Specifically, game developers can program the resistance of the triggers so players feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain.
“In combination with the haptics, this can produce a powerful experience that better simulates various actions,” Ryan wrote. “Game creators have started to receive early versions of the new controller, and we can’t wait to see where their imagination goes with these new features at their disposal.”
In the world of high-profile Wall Street analysts, CNBC’s frenetic “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer has helped define a cottage TV industry of fast-talking personalities targeting consumer and business investors.
On CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street,” Cramer said Netflix should be removed from a basket of top-performing tech stocks, dubbed “FAANG” (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google).
Speaking Oct. 3, Cramer said that with Netflix’s stock down 29% in 2019, compared to a 18% rise for Microsoft, the subscription streaming video pioneer’s status should be re-evaluated.
“We gotta get Netflix the hell out of FAANG,” Cramer said. “I tell you that right now. I don’t know how to do it.”
Cramer contends Microsoft should replace Netflix (and apparently Google too), thus rendering the tech group “FAAM.”
Tough love from an analyst who just five months ago penned an article in high praise of the streamer and co-founder/CEO Reed Hastings.
“Netflix is about something to talk about Monday morning,” he wrote in April. “It’s about not feeling like a stooge when everyone watched Bird Box. You can’t be a stooge! In other words, as ethereal as it sounds, Reed Hastings is right when he says ‘the real metric is can we keep our members happy.'”
Apparently keeping subscribers and investor happy can be mutually exclusive. That’s because investors care not so much about subscriber happiness, but rather subscriber growth, according to Cramer.
And Netflix laid an egg of sorts during the last fiscal period when it failed to meet sub growth projections worldwide — including losing domestic subs for the first time in more than five years.
“I’m not a Netflix fan, here,” Cramer said, alluding to the pending arrival of SVOD competition from Disney, Apple, AT&T and Comcast — the latter parent to NBC Universal’s CNBC network.
“There’s too many competitors,” he said.
Netflix reports third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) financials on Oct. 16.
DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group on Aug. 9 announced its incoming board of directors at the start of its 23rd year as one of the home entertainment industry’s leading trade associations.
DEG’s voting member companies elected the new board to serve for the 2019-20 fiscal year (Aug. 1 – July 31). New board members include Pedro Gutierrez of Microsoft Corp., Cheryl Goodman of Sony Electronics and Erol Kalafat of Amazon Studios.
Amazon Studios is a new member company represented on the
DEG board for the first time.
The DEG also has added two additional companies to its membership: Row8, a transactional digital movie service that allows viewers to stop a movie they don’t like and choose a new one at no additional charge, and Snap Inc., parent company of social networking app Snapchat.
The Officers of the DEG board were elected to a two-year term in 2018 and will continue to serve through July 2020. Officers include Chair Matt Strauss of Comcast Cable; Vice Chair Sofia Chang of WarnerMedia Distribution (HBO); CFO Bob Buchi of Paramount Home Entertainment; Secretary Jim Wuthrich of Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment & Games, and Chair Emeritus Mike Dunn, formerly of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
“At a time when our industry is rapidly changing, the board of directors strives to produce deliverables that meet the needs of the industry at this dynamic time, such as DEG’s D2C Alliance, formed at the start of the year,” said Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of the DEG.