EMA Event Spotlights Digital Delivery

The over-the-top market is exploding, and the Entertainment Merchants Association this year at its annual Los Angeles conference gave it a starring role.

The OTT_X conference, focusing on the OTT market, ran July 16-17 concurrent with the eighth annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit presented by the EMA. In addition to OTT panels and spotlight presentations, the EMA facilitated OTT business meetings in addition to meetings scheduled for LAES participants. The joint event attracted about 400 attendees.

The new focus is part of a bigger shift for the EMA.

“It was really apparent last year that the event needed to change,” said EMA CEO and president Mark Fisher July 16 in opening remarks, adding “as the industry changes so does the EMA.”

“We’ve intentionally shed our support and income from the video game segment,” he said, to be more focused. The organization has also shed physical retail members and distributors.

“It’s a pivot,” he said, but “we’re not going to leave behind the TVOD space.”

A leader in that transactional VOD market, FandangoNow chief Cameron Douglas, also chair of the EMA board, noted the annual confab “used to be an event with meetings between retailers and studios.”

Now, the EMA, via its Ultimate Movie Weekend promotion, is promoting cooperation between studios and digital retailers.

“Who would have thought there would be a major studio backed campaign — except Fox and Disney — that was focused on rental instead of EST,” Douglas said.

Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks and chair of the OTT_X  conference, explained the name in opening remarks.

“The X in the name really reflects the core mission of why we’re all here today,” he said. “It’s an exchange. First and foremost, it’s an exchange of ideas.”

Such collaboration is crucial in an era of fast digital disruption.

“These changes are happening so frequently and at such a precipitous pace, the only way we can come out of this is by fostering a community,” he said.

Key challenges for OTT video platforms are customer acquisition and retention, monetization and content discovery, according to speakers at OTT_X.

Having original content is one way OTT platforms are meeting these challenges, said presenter Kathi Chandler-Payatt, executive director and entertainment analyst, The NPD Group. Using Netflix Originals as a case study, she noted that while both original movies and episodic shows are a small percentage of content on Netflix, they garner an outsized share of viewing. Originals made up 16% of new seasons vs. licensed in 2019, but those originals garnered a prodigious 24% of minutes watched. The same holds true for original movies, which are 11% of content and 22% of minutes.

Part of the reason for the uptake of originals is preferential marketing, she noted.

“It’s very smart from a platform perspective to push originals,” she said because the platform owns it. Thus, making a show with Netflix may give content producers a leg up in discovery.

“People think content is king, but discovery is king,” she said.

Originals have a short window to prove themselves, she said. She quoted Netflix VP of originals Cindy Holland as saying that the service generally knows within 28 days whether a new show or season meets Netflix’s expectations in terms of audience reach. In addition to viewership during that period, metrics such as season completion also figure in renewal.

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OTT_X event chair Opeka moderated the panel “Monetization Trends in OTT.” Ad-supported VOD streaming services, such as Xumo, whose CEO Colin Petrie-Norris was on the panel, are ascendant, many speakers noted. Xumo has 160 curated channels and 40 million households in the United States, Petrie-Norris said.

AVOD “can generate very high yield per consumer” with advertising, he said.

Tubi chief content officer Adam Lewinson also cited the growth of AVOD in a keynote presentatoin. AVOD aggregator Tubi has 20 million monthly active users, with 100 million minutes streamed in June and well over 15,000 titles or 44,000 hours of content, “more than double the content volume of Netflix,” he said. June yielded its largest revenue month ever, he said.

“AVOD is for real,” he said.

There are challenges, however.

“The biggest challenge in streaming right now … in all VODs, it’s really about customer acquisition, retention and churn,” he said. “A subset to that is content discovery. Once you crack those problems, that’s when you get to scale.”

A seamless experience on the platform is also “incredibly important,” he said, “just having a seamless experience where the tech fades away.”

“You also want to be ubiquitious,” he said. “You do want to be everywhere that people are streaming.”

Tubi has also employed machine learning in its proprietary content personalization engine.

“The more data that we have on our viewers the more we are able to personalize,” he said.

A key advantage to AVOD is the “barrier to entry is so low” because viewers don’t have to pay, he said.

As for Tubi getting into original programming like its paid SVOD counterparts, “we have no intention of going down that road,” he said. “It’s tremendously competitive. You wind up overpaying for content.”

There is already too much content, he noted.

“Original series are just whizzing by at an epic pace,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Tubi isn’t willing to spend on content.

“I have a nine-figure content budget for the year, and we’re spending it,” he said.

On a panel about windowing of content, Paul Colichman, CEO of Here Media, said he was “worried that [AVOD is] the emperor’s new clothes,” a false hope of a monetary savior, noting the amount of revenue that trickles down to content producers who license their titles to such services is small.

Still, competition from increased content is pushing content owners to find new outlets.

“It used to take years for us to put up content on AVOD,” said Cinedigm’s Natasha Pietruschka, adding that now, “Where else can we fill those revenue gaps?”

Transactional digital retailers took the stage during the LAES session. Panelists noted that since consumers are paying directly for content, whether for rental or purchase, the key concern for TVOD platforms is making that experience seamless and easy and the quality top notch.

“The bar is so high because you have paid specifically for that title whether rental or purchase,” said FandangoNow’s Douglas, who was on the transactional panel. “It better play.”

He said FandangoNow has concentrated on making the viewing experience top-quality with extensive 4K offerings and a living room app that rivals any.

While Redbox has made its name on physical disc rentals, Chris Yates, GM of Redbox On Demand, said the new digital sales and rental arm doesn’t cannibalize that core business, it supplements it. It offers a choice when consumers don’t want to go to a kiosk and has resulted in “improved affinity for our brand,” he said.

Speakers at both events discussed the looming launch of new SVOD services, including Walt Disney Co.’s $6.99 Disney+.

Disney is “out in front of the others,” said IHS Markit’s Sarah Henschel during a research presentation. Awareness of the service jumped from 24% in Q1 to 35% in Q2 even before the Disney marketing machine really gets rolling, she said.

The firm expects upcoming services to add 36.7 million paying domestic subs by 2023.

“I think Disney and Apple [with its pending SVOD service Apple TV+] have a leg up because they are already consumer facing brands,” Henschel said. “Disney has the strongest hold in my opinion right now.”

When asked how many in the audience would buy the new service when it launches, the majority of attendees raised their hands.

EMA’s LAES and OTT Conferences Kick Off July 16

The Entertainment Merchants Association will hold its annual Los Angeles Entertainment Summit at the Hilton Universal City starting July 16, along with a concurrent conference OTT_X covering the over-the-top market.

Events begin at 9 a.m. following a network breakfast with an introduction from EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher and OTT_X chair Erick Opeka of Cinedigm.

Erick Opeka

For the OTT_X conference, panels in the morning include “Monetization Trends in OTT” and “Windowing 2.0: Key Strategies for Enhancing Content Value & Revenue.” At 11:30 Tubi CCO Adam Lewison will participate in the fireside chat/keynote “AVOD at Scale.”

The LAES program kicks off after lunch. It includes the panel “Consumer View of Digital Entertainment,” two research sessions and the panel “Retailers and Consumer-Facing Services.”

The evening concludes with a cocktail party at 6 p.m. at the Hilton pool sponsored by FandangoNow.

July 17 includes OTT_X business meetings and presentations, as well as discussions on four tracks: EMA Retailing Council, Digital Supply Chain (retailers track), Digital Supply Chain (specialized track) and OTT_X Workshops. Round robin buyer/seller meetings take place from 3-5 p.m.

Register here.

The complete schedule is here.

‘Ultraman’ Library Licensed to Mill Creek and U.K.’s Indigo for North American Home Entertainment Distribution

Mill Creek Entertainment and the U.K.’s Indigo Entertainment have licensed the “Ultraman” superhero library from Tsuburaya Productions for North American home entertainment distribution.

Under the deal, Indigo, on behalf of Tsuburaya, with Mill Creek has both physical and digital distribution rights for the “Ultraman” catalog, which includes classic TV series newly remastered in high definition, recent theatrical feature films and “almost everything produced” throughout the last 50 years, according to Mill Creek.

Mill Creek Entertainment’s debut releases from this deal will be limited edition SteelBook and standard-packaged complete series releases of “Ultra Q” and “Ultraman” on Blu-ray Oct. 15. Each release will contain high definition video with DTS-HD Master Audio of the original Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles.

Digital redemption will also be available via Mill Creek Entertainment’s streaming service, movieSpree, with a free 10-minute sample of the first episodes of “Ultra Q” and “Ultraman” available to watch now on the service.

The original series “Ultra Q” was one of the most expensive TV series ever produced in Japan.  Originally airing in 1966, it spawned a revolution in “Ultra” content that has seen the creation of many series, movies and merchandising.

The classic “Ultraman” live television series of the 1960s and 1970s, from Tsuburaya Productions, built a worldwide audience for the property. Hailing from the distant Nebula M78, Ultraman is a sleek silvery being who protects Earth and the human race from an endless array of invading aliens and terrifying monsters together with the crew of the Earth-based defense force using advanced high-tech weapons and vehicles. With the ability to extend his height to more than 150 feet, Ultraman melds with a human and only emerges in times of extreme danger to save people and the Earth.

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“These first two series are what kicked off the worldwide phenomenon of Ultraman,” said Jeff Hayne, VP of content acquisitions for Mill Creek, in a statement. “Ultraman’s success paved the way for other popular tokusatsu franchises including ‘Kamen Rider’ and ‘Super Sentai,’ which influenced the spawning of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ and ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.’”

“Ultra Q”

“We are excited to bring the Ultraman catalog to North American audiences through a multi-faceted release model spanning Blu-ray and DVD plus various TVOD, SVOD and AVOD digital outlets,” said Barrett Evans, VP of marketing for Mill Creek, in a statement. “In tandem with the classic series, we will also be releasing the more recent series and films to appease fans of both classic and modern Ultraman.”

“Ultraman is a revolution in television history — a landmark property and record-breaking global phenomenon. The original series heralded a new age of quality adventure and special effects for children’s entertainment.  Now, through Indigo’s unique relationship with Tsuburaya, we are delighted to be partnering with Mill Creek Entertainment in repositioning the legendary Ultraman for both new and old audiences alike,” said David Lawley, MD of Indigo Entertainment, in a statement.

“We are very excited about this partnership and the opportunity to reintroduce the Ultraman series, with over 50 years of history, to the people of North America. We hope that we shall rekindle memories of the fans that enjoyed the series in the 70s and 80s and at the same time nurture a new fan base for the younger generation,” said Kei Minamitani, GM, international business at Tsuburaya Productions, in a statement.

IMDb Announces First Scripted Series ‘You’re Not a Monster’

Online site IMDb has announced its first-ever scripted show, the animated series “You’re Not a Monster” debuting this fall.

Fans at San Diego Comic-Con this month will get a sneak peek of the 10-episode, short-form series when its trailer premieres on the IMDboat.

The show joins other IMDb original series “The IMDb Show,” “IMDbrief” and “Casting Calls.”

In “You’re Not a Monster,” Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”) voices a former psychiatrist-turned-vampire who mentors his great-great grandson Max (Eric Stonestreet), a therapist who has inherited his practice. In each four- to five-minute episode, Max treats classic monsters, including Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and Medusa, as they seek therapeutic help. Rounding out the voice cast is Aparna Nancherla as a demon receptionist, Ellie Kemper as a therapist who thinks Max is imagining everything, and Peter Grosz, Langston Kerman, Joel Kim Booster, Patton Oswalt, Adam Pally, Amber Ruffin, Amy Sedaris and Milana Vayntrub as monsters.

Show creators and cast members, including Grammer and Nancherla, will participate in an exclusive interview with host Kevin Smith on the IMDboat at Comic-Con July 20.

“Monsters are people, too,” said Grammer, who serves as executive producer of the series, in a statement.

The comedy series is created and written by four-time Emmy-winner Frank Lesser (“The Colbert Report”). Lily Stuart Streiff serves as Animation Director.

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“As a movie fan, I’ve always loved IMDb and am excited to work with them to humanize these inhuman creatures,” said Lesser in a statement. “Plus, I figured this would be the easiest way to get another credit on my IMDb page. ‘You’re Not a Monster’ is a show with a lot of heart. And, yes, sometimes that heart is lying in a pool of blood, but it still looks adorable thanks to Lily’s Streiff’s delightful character design.”

“We are thrilled to offer a new original comedy series to our fans as we shine a light on the daily struggles faced by classic movie monsters,” said Steve Bernstein, GM of IMDb Video, in a statement. “’You’re Not a Monster’ is not only the first-ever animated series for IMDb, but also our first scripted program, and introducing the show on the IMDboat at San Diego Comic-Con is the perfect place to share its fun narrative alongside members of the incredible cast.”

“You’re Not a Monster” premieres this fall at www.imdb.com/monster, on the IMDb TV free streaming video channel, and on the IMDb iOS and Android apps.

IMDb, also worldwide source for information on movies, TV shows and celebrities, is an Amazon company.

Research: Amazon Prime, Hulu Users More Likely Than Netflix Users to Discuss Technical Problems, Dissatisfaction

Users of Amazon Prime Video and Hulu are much more likely to discuss technical problems and dissatisfaction with content than Netflix subscribers, according to a new report from Strategy Analytics.

The report “Voice of the Customer: What Are Netflix Subscribers Saying Compared to Competitors?” found that Netflix users were much more likely to spend time discussing characters and storylines in great detail, suggesting high levels of engagement with Netflix shows. By contrast, discussions involving Hulu users focused on resolving problems with the service, while Amazon users focused on negative comments to do with pricing and lack of content choice.

“The report concludes that Hulu and Amazon must address these deficiencies if they are to make inroads into Netflix’s leadership position,” according to the Strategy Analytics press release. “The findings should also serve as a warning to Disney and WarnerMedia as they prepare to launch new streaming services.”

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The research, which is based on “advanced language analytics techniques,” according to the firm, showed that, compared to Hulu and Amazon, Netflix users were much more likely to discuss binge-viewing; characters, scenes and storylines in great detail; evaluating shows, both positively and negatively; what people in general think of shows; and worrying about seeing spoilers before watching shows.

“Netflix’s advantages are numerous, but lie primarily in the fact that its users are much more engaged with the content than those using Amazon Prime Video or Hulu,” said Michael Goodman, director, TV & media strategies, at Strategy Analytics, in a statement. “Neither Amazon nor Hulu have managed to get much beyond technical or pricing issues in order to build that all-important content-viewer relationship which ensures higher retention levels and sustained subscription revenues.”

The research was carried out by Relative Insight in partnership with Strategy Analytics. Relative Insight is a U.K.-based language understanding technology company.

Netflix Orders ‘The Sandman’ Series Based on Neil Gaiman Comics

Netflix has ordered 10 episodes of the Warner Bros. Television series “The Sandman” based on Neil Gaiman’s DC comic book series.

A blend of modern myth and fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are interwoven, “The Sandman” follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic — and human — mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.

The writer/showrunner/executive producer will be Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman, “Grey’s Anatomy”) with Gaiman (Good Omens, Coraline) and David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, “Krypton”) writing and executive producing. Gaiman, Heinberg and Goyer will co-write the first episode.

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“We’re thrilled to partner with the brilliant team that is Neil Gaiman, David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg to finally bring Neil’s iconic comic book series ‘The Sandman ’ to life onscreen,” said Channing Dungey, VP of original series at Netflix, in a statement. “From its rich characters and storylines to its intricately built-out worlds, we’re excited to create an epic original series that dives deep into this multi-layered universe beloved by fans around the world.”

Season Four of “Grantchester,” Season One of “Walter Presents: Killer by the Lake” Coming in July to PBS Masterpiece’s Prime Video Channel

Two murder mystery crime thrillers, Grantchester: Season 4 and Walter Presents: Killer by the Lake — Season 1, will begin streaming in July on the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel.

The fourth season of “Grantchester,” streaming starting July 15, marks the final appearance of James Norton as crime-solving Vicar Sidney Chambers and introduces Tom Brittney (“Outlander,” “Call the Midwife”) as new cast member Reverend Will Davenport.

Walter Presents: Killer by the Lake, Season 1

“Walter Presents: Killer by The Lake” is the follow up to the hit French thriller, “Vanished by the Lake.” The series revisits troubled detective Lise who has started a new life with her husband and baby. The happy, rural idyll is suddenly shattered with the discovery of two dead women. Season one starts streaming July 19.

The subscription rate for the PBS Masterpiece Prime Video Channel is $5.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription.

Study Suggests Legitimate Streaming Is Curbing Piracy

Could the growth of legal streaming be cutting down on consumer piracy?

That’s what is suggested by consumer research by Ampere Analysis, which revealed a steady fall in the proportion of consumers who say that they regularly use pirate sites and services to watch online video.

In the three-year period between the first quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2019, there were particularly sharp declines in video piracy in Spain, the United States, the Netherlands and France, according to the study.

Spain, traditionally a very high piracy market, saw a 47% increase in claimed SVOD and catch-up viewing in the three-year period, and almost the same (45%) decrease in the proportion of internet uses regularly turning to pirate services, according to the study.

Just having access to on-demand services isn’t enough, according to Ampere; consumers must actually use the services for their usage of piracy sites to be impacted. The content on SVOD and catch-up services needs to be appealing for the audience, according to the study.

“On average, in markets where either catch-up or SVOD online video viewing has risen the most, piracy has experienced the biggest drop,” said Richard Broughton, director at Ampere Analysis, in a statement. “With the growth in all-you-can-eat legal services, users no longer need to turn to illegitimate sources to get their viewing fix.”

He cautioned, however, that legitimate OTT providers must keep attracting eyeballs.

“The on-demand market is moving into a period of ‘siloisation,’ where producer and distributor brands go direct to the consumer, at the same time restricting the amount of content they license to third party services,” he said in a statement. “If the mainstream OTT players have less of the content users want to watch, when they want to watch it, there’s a genuine risk that usage of these SVOD and catch-up services could begin to slump, something the pirate operators will be quick to capitalize on.”

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Netflix Announces a Series of Features, Including Lin-Manual Miranda’s Directorial Debut

Netflix June 19 announced several features for its upcoming slate, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut.

Tony, Grammy, Emmy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, lyricist and actor Miranda (Hamilton) will direct Imagine Entertainment’s film adaptation of Tick, Tick … Boom!, to which Netflix has acquired worldwide rights. Tony Award winner Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen, Fosse/Verdon) will adapt the screenplay based on the original stage show by the late Rent (Pulitzer Prize winner for drama in 1996) creator Jonathan Larson.

Set in 1990, Tick, Tick…Boom! tells the story of Jon, an aspiring theater composer who is waiting tables in New York City while writing Superbia — which he hopes will be the next great American musical and finally give him his big break. Jon is also feeling pressure from his girlfriend Susan, who is tired of continuing to put her life on hold for Jon’s career aspirations. Meanwhile, his best friend and roommate Michael, has given up on his creative aspirations for a high-paying advertising job on Madison Avenue and is about to move out. As Jon approaches his 30th birthday, he is overcome with anxiety — wondering if his dream is worth the cost.

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Netflix also announced the live action family movie The Main Event, set to premier on the service in 2020. It’s based on an original screenplay by Larry Postel, directed by Jay Karas and produced by WWE Studios’ Richard Lowell. WWE Studios is WWE’s multi-platform content division that develops and produces scripted and non-scripted series, documentaries and feature films.

The film follows an 11-year-old aspiring wrestler who, after discovering a magical mask, enters a competition to become the next WWE superstar. It stars Seth Carr (Black Panther), Tichina Arnold (The Neighborhood, “Everybody Hates Chris”), Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project”) and Ken Marino (The Other Two, Black Monday, Bad Milo), alongside WWE superstars Kofi Kingston, The Miz and Sheamus, among others.

Netflix will adapt August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom into a feature film starring  Academy Award winner Viola Davis (Widows, Fences), Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up, Black Panther), Emmy Award winner Glynn Turman (“How to Get Away With Murder”), Tony and Olivier Award Nominee Colman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Michael Potts (Show Me a HeroTrue Detective). Academy Award winner Denzel Washington (who starred with Davis in the feature adaptation of Wilson’s Fences), Academy Award Nominee Todd Black and Dany Wolf will produce.

The story follows Ma Rainey, the “Queen of the Blues.” While making a record in a studio in Chicago, 1927, tensions boil between her, her white agent and producer, and bandmates.

Finally, Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (Five Feet Apart and The Curse of La Llorona) are adapting the horror-fantasy children’s book Nightbooks by J.A. White for Netflix. The story follows Alex, a boy obsessed with scary stories, who is trapped by a witch in her modern, magical New York City apartment. His original hair-raising tales are the only thing keeping him safe as he desperately tries to find a way out of the twisted place.

Analyst: Demand for Disney+ Streaming Service Stronger Than Expected

Disney’s branded subscription streaming video service, Disney+, is launching on Nov. 12.

Wall Street investment bank UBS is the latest to jump on the self-serving bandwagon championing the pending Netflix rival.

The research firm said that 43% of respondents in an internal survey said they were interested in subscribing to the $6.99 Disney+ service. That tops UBS’ previous 20% to 30% market penetration prediction by 2030 for Disney+.

“Marketing for the service has yet to hit critical mass,” analyst John Hodulik wrote in a note.

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Morgan Stanley projects the SVOD service could help Disney generate more than 130 million subscribers when combining Disney+ with ESPN+ and Hulu.

Analyst Ben Swinburne contends Disney+ will have upwards of 90 million subs within five years, including 13 million subs by the end of 2020.

“We believe the market has often overstated the risk and underappreciated the reward of the transition to streaming,” Swinburne wrote in a June 13 note. “Investing in Disney shares is a play on the durability of its IP.”