“When we began rolling out Your Own Private Alamo in select Alamo Drafthouse locations in August, we had no idea what the response would be,” reads the Alamo website. “It was big. Really big. In just the past few weeks we’ve hosted over 700 groups of families and coworkers at just a handful of theaters. And now we’re excited to expand to even more locations and, for the first time, open up the ability to book new release titles like Christopher Nolan’s epic Tenet.”
Director Steven Soderbergh probably never envisioned how his 2011 sci-fi drama Contagion — about the global effects to trace the origins of the MEV-1 pathogen — would foreshadow real world events. The drama, which featured an international cast and myriad cameos, was the most-streamed movie in March and April, according to new data from JustWatch.
The website, which offers content recommendations in more than 45 countries, found that in 36 countries there was huge demand for the movie, with monthly searches on Google spiking upwards 16.6 million. Before the pandemic, around 130,000 people searched for the movie per month.
Outlier countries included Spain, France, the Baltic states and southeast Asian countries where movies such as Oscar winner Parasite, Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter or Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games were streamed more than other content.
Moviegoers are more eager to return to theaters than they were back in May, according to a new Aug. 17 “Return to Moviegoing” survey from ticketing service Atom Tickets.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers said they were ready to return to theaters within one month and 40% said they are ready to return to theaters immediately, up from 59% and 25% respectively, in a May survey. On the flipside, only 0.8% said they never plan to return to theaters and 15% said they would wait until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, down from 21% in May.
The August survey received more than 16,000 U.S. digital moviegoer responses, according to Atom.
When asked to identify the most important safety measure to make them feel confident about going back to a movie theater, having spaced seating in the theater auditorium remained the most critical safety feature with 34% saying this was a key condition. The next most critical safety measure noted by moviegoers was staff and guests wearing masks at 30%, more than doubling in importance from Atom’s May survey (14%) and rising in importance over heightened theater cleaning procedures at 13% (down from 21% in May). Of note, 85% of August moviegoers surveyed said that they plan on wearing a mask even if it is not required by the theater or local government.
The contactless trend that’s surging in the food and retail industries continues to be top-of-mind for moviegoers, with 87% of moviegoers surveyed in August saying that purchasing digital tickets from their own device and eliminating the need to interact with a cashier is an important safety measure, relatively flat with May findings (88%). Concessions may also look different in a post-COVID world, with customers leaning into ordering ahead and picking up their items instead of waiting in lines and being served directly over the counter. Of those who had never pre-ordered movie theater concessions, 68% said they are now likely to try it (up from 61% in May). Among those that had previously preordered their movie snacks, 90% said they would do it again.
“We’re encouraged by this new survey and believe it’s a good sign for the movie industry. Our data also showed that eagerness to return to the movies has more to do with how often you went to the movies before the pandemic rather than by age or region,” Matthew Bakal, chairman and co-founder of Atom Tickets, said in a statement. “I’m pleased to see the heightened interest in safety measures including pre-ordering tickets and concessions. We know people want to enjoy the movies together with friends and family and will do so responsibly.”
The survey also revealed new films will get most moviegoers to return to the big screen, with 49% of those surveyed saying they would rather wait for new movies to be released before returning versus 35% who said they would return to cinemas to see re-releases of classic movies. Also, according to the survey, the 2020 films that moviegoers were most excited to see on the big screen were Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 and the “James Bond” movie No Time to Die. For 2021, moviegoers were eager to see The Eternals from Marvel Studios, The Batman and Jurassic World: Dominion.
Complementing new safety and cleaning guidelines by movie theaters, Atom has launched new buffered seating maps and Safety Guidelines on their app and website.
Cinemark Holdings announced the reopening of its theaters closed due to the pandemic beginning Aug. 14 and continuing through Aug. 28.
All theaters will reopen with enhanced cleaning and safety protocols, according to the company.
Tickets are on sale now for Unhinged and the anniversary re-release of Inception. Tickets will go on sale for The New Mutants on Aug. 18 and The Personal History ofDavid Copperfield on Aug. 19. Tickets for Tenet will go on sale very soon, the company announced.
“Cinemark is thrilled to once again welcome moviegoers across the U.S. to enjoy the unparalleled immersive experience of watching movies on the big screen. Through our very successful test-and-learn theaters, we have heard firsthand from moviegoers that we are truly setting The Cinemark Standard by providing the out-of-home entertainment experience they have been craving in a way that makes them feel protected,” Mark Zoradi, Cinemark CEO, said in a statement. “Furthermore, we have been extremely pleased with the results of our 15 test-and-learn theaters across the U.S., which have consistently been top performers among the 500-plus indoor theaters opened. These strong results, coupled with consumer feedback, underscore that moviegoing is a favorite global pastime, and our teams are trained and prepared to safely welcome guests back to the cinema.”
Additional information on Cinemark’s reopening can be found at www.cinemark.com.
Prior to the newest films hitting the big screen, Cinemark will showcase classics such as The Goonies, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pricing for the Comeback Classics is $5 per adult and $3 for children and seniors. There will also be reduced pricing on popcorn and candy and fountain and bottle drinks.
Employees will undergo safety and sanitization training prior to reopening and will wear face masks and gloves while working. All will complete a wellness check-in prior to every shift. Each theater will also have a designated Chief Clean and Safety Monitoron duty to ensure Cinemark’s standards of safety, physical distancing, cleanliness and sanitization are met.
Each auditorium will be extensively disinfected every morning and again between showtimes using pressurized sprayers with products identified by the EPA to be effective in eliminating COVID-19.
Theaters will have staggered showtimes and limited capacities to maximize physical distancing.
Seat-Buffering Technology will automatically block seats adjacent to a party upon ticket purchase.
Face masks will be mandatory for all guests within the theater and may only be removed for eating and drinking in the auditoriums. Face masks and gloves will be required for all employees.
Cinemark is raising the fresh air rate by adding refresh and replace cycles and utilizing supply fans to increase total volume of fresh, outside air flowing into theaters.
Cinemark vacuums are equipped with HEPA filters.
All public and high-touch spaces will be thoroughly sanitized every 30 minutes.
Seat wipes and hand sanitizer will be available for customer use.
Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online and use contactless payment methods for a more contact-free experience. With that, cash payments options will be limited.
The expiration date of all points for Cinemark Movie Rewards members that expired during the time theaters were closed will be extended to Dec. 31. Members of the Cinemark Movie Club, the exhibitor’s monthly in-theater membership program, will be able to see three Comeback Classics, with a guest, for free and will enjoy their standard 20% concessions discount on top of the welcome back pricing.
Headquartered in Plano, Texas, Cinemark, comprised of various brands that also include Century, Tinseltown and Rave, operates 534 theaters with 5,977 screens globally (332 theaters and 4,522 screens across 41 states domestically; 202 theaters and 1,455 screens in 15 countries throughout South and Central America).
Universal Film Entertainment Group and AMC Theatres July 28 announced a landmark distribution deal for the studio’s new release movies, which includes provisions for early debuts into the home on premium VOD.
The deal allows Universal, which has aggressively launched movies into retail channels via PVOD during the coronavirus pandemic — creating an acrimonious rift with the nation’s largest exhibitor, AMC, and others — to distribute titles on PVOD three weekends (as little as 17 days) after their initial bow in AMC Theatres. The agreement, which also includes new titles from Focus Features, will afford early consumer access via AMC Theatres On Demand. In the coming weeks, the two companies will begin discussions surrounding international distribution agreements in the countries in Europe and the Middle East served by AMC.
The typical theatrical window has been up to three months. AMC will split the $20 PVOD fee with Universal in return for the abridged window. The agreement does not include the typical retail window when titles are rented and sold from $3 to $6 through myriad digital channels such as Redbox, iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play and Movies Anywhere.
Universal’s traditional windows for electronic sellthrough and video on demand (VOD) remain unchanged. The companies said they reached this agreement based on their “shared commitment” to a mutually beneficial long-term partnership that is focused on serving consumers worldwide, while preserving and enhancing the theatrical experience.
As a result, the deal means when the next “Fast & Furious” installment, F9, hits theaters April 2, 2021, Universal could give consumers the choice to either see it in the cineplex or wait a few weeks to buy or rent it.
“The theatrical experience continues to be the cornerstone of our business,” Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, said in a statement. “The partnership we’ve forged with AMC is driven by our collective desire to ensure a thriving future for the film distribution ecosystem and to meet consumer demand with flexibility and optionality.”
Peter Levinsohn, Vice Chairman and Chief Distribution Officer of UFEG, who led negotiations on behalf of the studio, said the studio’s commitment to innovation in how it delivers content to audiences is what artists, partners and shareholders expect of Hollywood.
“We are excited about the opportunity this new structure presents to grow our business,” Levinsohn said. “We are grateful to AMC for their partnership and the leadership they have shown in working with us to reach this historic deal.”
AMC CEO Adam Aron, who said the chain “enthusiastically embraces this new industry model,” said the deal puts a premium on the long-term health of the exhibition industry.
“We would note that just as restaurants have thrived even though every home has a kitchen, AMC is highly confident that moviegoers will come to our theatres in huge numbers in a post-pandemic world,” Aron said. “As people enjoy getting out of their homes, we believe the mystical escape and magical communal experience offered at our theatres will always be a compelling draw, including as it does our big screens, big sound and big seats not to mention the alluring aroma of our perfectly prepared popcorn.”
AMC is planning to reopen about 600 U.S. theaters in August.
When Paramount Home Entertainment on March 9 announced the launch of its “Paramount Presents” line to showcase films from the studio’s extensive library, marketing chief Vincent Marcais had no idea how prophetic the move would prove to be.
Just two days later, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared a global COVID-19 pandemic, and over the ensuing days governments the world over issued stay-at-home mandates and ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.
Movie theaters were among the businesses that suddenly went dark, which meant box office revenues quickly dropped to near zero. On top of that, productions were halted, which meant that not only were there no new movies in theaters, there were no more new movies, period, at least for the foreseeable future.
Home entertainment, thanks to 90-day windows, got a three-month reprieve — as well as an extra crop of high-profile films released digitally to home audiences, at a premium price, due to the closure of theaters. But by mid-June, studio home entertainment divisions were running out of fresh new theatrical product, which had been their lifeblood since the home video business began more than 40 years ago.
So how are the home entertainment divisions of the major studios keeping the lights on?
Mining the Library
At Paramount, says Marcais, EVP of marketing, the studio has been filling the void primarily with catalog product from its rich library of film and TV content, buoyed by the launch of the Paramount Presents line.
“The library is at the core of what we do here at Paramount,” Marcais says, noting that since the end of March weekly catalog sales have been double what they used to be.
“Catalog has always been important, but now it’s more important to us than ever,” adds Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment. “We’re very well positioned to meet demand as new releases continue to dry up.”
With no fresh new theatricals in the pipeline, she says, “we have a very robust release strategy for our library. We continue to explore things like anniversary efforts, or leaning into historical dates or holidays, and we’re also looking at 4K Ultra HD, digging in and looking at opportunities.”
On the digital side, Paramount works in tandem with digital retailers such as FandangoNow, Apple and Vudu to create curated promotions that are marketed primarily through Instagram and other social media channels, such as a collection of family films or series of dancing and singing movies that included Grease and Dreamgirls.
On the physical media side, the emphasis is on finding classic films from the vaults that have never before been released on Blu-ray Disc, such as Roman Holiday, and on the “Paramount Presents” Line — both of which target collectors.
The “Paramount Presents” line of Blu-ray Discs kicked off with the April 21 release of Fatal Attraction; 1958’s acclaimed Elvis Presley drama KingCreole; and director Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller To Catch a Thief, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. Subsequent waves have been released monthly. All films in the “Paramount Presents” line are remastered and sent to Blu-ray in collectible packaging that includes a foldout image of the original movie poster and interior artwork featuring key movie moments.
“This new label is really a labor of love,” Marcais says. “We’re like a publishing company, in that we take a very diverse group of movies from our library and we publish, or republish, them with the mindset of a really small shop where the focus is on quality.”
Like films in the vaunted Criterion Collection, Marcais says, “Paramount Presents” titles get the VIP treatment. “We go back to the filmmakers and find the best master and really work on the quality of the image,” he says. “We improve everything and then make these films available to the most important people for us — the core Blu-ray Disc fans.”
Paramount may have enjoyed the luck of the draw with the launch of its “Paramount Presents” line — as well as the already-scheduled May release of a special 35th anniversary edition of Top Gun — but other studios are reporting similar upticks in catalog sales, both on disc and digitally.
“From the outset of this unprecedented period, we’ve been seeing a broad lift across catalog,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has one of the biggest catalogs of any studio, buoyed by MGM, HBO and Turner product. EVP of sales Mike Takac says that during the first six weeks of the pandemic, when shelter-in-place orders were in place and businesses were closed, sales of theatrical catalog titles doubled.
“The COVID-19 bump was massive,” Takac says. “So now it becomes a matter of trying to predict how much of it will fall off as restrictions ease, and no one knows. But the second quarter was historic — we hadn’t seen such robust catalog sales in years.”
For Lionsgate, home entertainment’s moment in the sun is an ongoing thing. Home entertainment packaged media/digital movies at the studio represented 42.2% of the Motion Picture segment’s $1.67 billion revenue for the fiscal year ended March 31 — twice the percentage of theatrical, according to the company’s 10K fiscal filing, which was released May 27. The tally is up 14.1% from revenue of $1.46 billion in fiscal 2019.
“Home entertainment has always been, and will continue to be, a huge priority for the company,” says Adam Frank, Lionsgate’s SVP of worldwide digital sales and distribution.
He says Lionsgate is in a strong competitive position because of the strength of its theatrical titles and the diversity of its slate, including a longstanding tradition of multi-platform releases. Between box office blockbusters such as the “John Wick,” “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises and original hits such as Knives Out and La La Land, he says, Lionsgate has always filled in the gaps with a diverse portfolio of movies, some of which are released simultaneously across theaters and other platforms. With movie theaters closed, he says, films such as Arkansas and Survive the Night, aimed at home audiences, are posting “amazing results — they’re really outperforming our expectations and ranking in the upper echelon of multi-platform release performance, industry-wide.”
“We were well prepared,” he adds, “and we still have a number of those films that we have not yet released.”
Lionsgate also has a vast 17,000-title film and television catalog that studio marketers routinely mine in partnership with digital retailers, Frank says.
“We have always had an unrivaled dedication to our catalog,” he says. “We are coming off a record $600 million year in library revenue for our company, and we are now seeing weekly run rates up nearly 100% in recent months compared to before shelter-at-home orders.”
Creating a Buzz
As the theatrical pipeline has dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, home entertainment divisions have turned to their marketing gurus to create excitement around the catalog releases filling the void.
Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution, says the studio’s home entertainment marketing team, headed by senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong, has been “getting really creative when it comes to catalog.”
Wong says Sony has been mining its vault for product appropriate for “seasonal events — finding little gems that we can elevate and create a buzz behind.”
“As Easter was the first major holiday in this new period of uncertainty, we worked quickly with our theatrical counterparts to create a Pinterest hub of Easter-themed activities to ensure that families would be able to celebrate the holiday at home with perennial favorite Peter Rabbit,” Wong says. “The activities were seeded to parenting influencer and bloggers to help foster excitement not only for the first “Peter Rabbit” film, but also for the upcoming second installment, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.”
Sony Pictures also has been closely monitoring fan conversation on social media.
“Shortly after quarantine began, we noticed that the 1993 film Groundhog Day had entered the social media zeitgeist in a major way as people settled into the repetition of stay-at-home routines,” Wong says. “To join the conversation and invite those at home to revisit the movie, we created an official Instagram account for the film that encouraged fans to post their own Groundhog Day moments and launched a tongue-in-cheek trailer for a ‘sequel’ …oddly similar to the first film’s trailer.”
Social media watch-alongs featuring classic Sony Pictures films “also proved to be an invaluable tool in allowing movie fans to maintain the communal watching experience that they love, even during a period when we aren’t physically able to be together,” Wong adds. “We worked with editorial partners like Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Nerdist, ComicBook.com and others in collaboration with film talent to help host live viewings of fan-favorite titles while viewers posted reactions in real-time via social media.
“While these watch-alongs initially began with new release titles like Bloodshot and Bad Boys for Life, selections have since delved into catalog favorites like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Hook, Center Stage, War Room, The Mask of Zorro and This Is the End — catering to a wide range of viewer tastes.”
Another initiative at Sony Pictures was the launch of the Sony Pictures Kids Zone YouTube Channel. “The hub was the brainchild of moms and dads on our team who found themselves in a brave new world of juggling work-from-home with parenting duties,” Wong says. “Our content team had hours’ worth of kid-friendly activities, educational content and sing/dance-alongs that had been created for past titles, so they set about curating playlists to help parents who were in a similar position of looking for ways to entertain and educate their kids. The launch saw coverage from dozens of press outlets, exhibitor partners, prominent celebrity moms and social media influencers.”
Universal’s Hoffman notes that “with the current resurgence in catalog interest, we have used this time to create compelling new collections and promotions at retail to keep the space fresh and updated and have sought to further heighten exposure through creative marketing.”
To that end, she says, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment generated millions of impressions by employing a Twitter catalog watch-party series, which spotlighted several library classics and anniversary releases such as Halloween, Apollo 13, Breakfast Club and Jaws. The studio was able to enlist the help of cast members, filmmakers and special celebrity guests such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Howard and Anthony Michael Hall, and partnered with notable filmmaker Kevin Smith to produce a special podcast for the 45th anniversary of Jaws.
Warner Bros. routinely partners with digital retailers and in June has teamed with Apple TV and iTunes to promote top catalog films with new key art that features a travel postcard line look. “It’s a fun, creative way to re-position our titles to evoke the feeling of summer travel at a time when most people are stuck at home,” Takac says.
Looking ahead at the rest of the year, Takac says, “We know our success is going to ride largely on our ability to monetize our catalog. We’re fortunate to have some national promotions. We’re going to drive around DC Fandom, we’ll have a ‘Back to Hogwarts’ push, and of course we’re going to drive Halloween and holiday really hard, with a little more consumer marketing than we’ve done in the past.”
Takac says Warner Bros. also is working on a promotion to encourage consumers to buy and rent movies they’ve always been meaning to watch. “We’re still working on that,” he says. “But we can probably bubble them up in a more meaningful way.”
To boost interest in its DC content, Warner is planning a big promotion called DC FanDome, a company-wide initiative that will take place Aug. 22.
“It’s a free virtual fan experience celebrating all the superheroes and super villains in the DC Multiverse and will include panels featuring past, present and future talent; filmmakers and creators from DC properties; announcements on upcoming projects; exclusive content debuts; cosplay and fan art; and much more,” says Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film, for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “It will be a 24-hour immersive global event designed to appeal to fans, families and kids, and the virtual themed worlds will be full of special presentations and localized content to appeal to a worldwide audience. This is a truly massive undertaking and all of WarnerMedia is coming together as one to produce this special event.”
Let’s Make a Deal
Warner also has been testing “pricing elasticity,” Takac says, for titles “deep in our catalog that we normally don’t promote. We’ve been working on that for many months and may be able to leverage that in the back half of the year.”
The Walt Disney Co., which owns both Disney Media Distribution and Fox Home Entertainment, also is focused on special pricing for its catalog as well as partnerships with retailers, says SVP of marketing David Kite, Disney Media Distribution.
Early on, says Kite, “we partnered closely with all divisions across the Walt Disney Co. to align our strategies and act responsively to the disruptions in the market.”
Initially, he says, “we achieved a great amount of success with the early in-home releases of Onward and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which reaffirms the value and appeal of both our content and the window.”
More recently, Kite says, “our team has created unique monthly in-home promotions in collaboration with our digital and physical retail partners, offering consumers access to the movies they love at special pricing while they’re at home with their families.”
Lionsgate’s Frank attributes a large part of Lionsgate’s success with catalog titles to its close relationships with retailers.
“Retailers have always been the lifeblood of our home entertainment business,” Frank says. “We need them, they need us, and we pride ourselves on win-win relationships. We look for openings, mine titles from our library and identify anniversaries and seasonal opportunities. It’s similar to the strategy we’ve employed for years, but now with even more consumers entering the space for the first time, and these newer consumers building their libraries through impulse purchases.”
One recent partnership was a “Best of Lionsgate” catalog promotion with Microsoft Movies & TV, with more than 25 films, mostly action titles. “We saw a triple-digit lift, week over week, amounting to incremental revenue in the six digits” he says.
Sign of the Times
While pricing and marketing are helping drive catalog, certain titles have experienced a unique lift during the pandemic. Indeed, Sony’s Groundhog Day — about a man stuck reliving the same day over and over (a feeling many homebound consumers can relate to) — wasn’t the only catalog title that captured the zeitgeist. Early on, Warner’s Takac says, Contagion — a film about a worldwide pandemic — saw a huge spike in demand and became the best-selling catalog title in the industry for many weeks, particularly on the digital side — even without a price promotion.
“We didn’t need to,” Takac says. “There was some organic social chatter — people just found it and it started to feed off itself.”
The “Harry Potter” film collection also has been selling great, “at a rate traditionally only seen during theatrical drafting,” Takac says.
One of Warner’s biggest catalog sellers has been Gone With the Wind, which in mid-June soared up the weekly NPD VideoScan chart that tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales. In the wake of the protests over the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer, the Oscar-winning classic was temporarily yanked from the HBO Max streaming service, which cited the film’s romanticizing of slavery and the antebellum South. A backlash ensued on social media, with Sen. Ted Cruz tweeting, “The modern Left: they cancel Gone With the Wind … and then burn Atlanta.” WarnerMedia after two weeks returned the film to its newly launched streaming service with disclaimers and companion videos to provide some historical context for the film, but in the meantime the 1939 Civil War epic was only available on disc.
For the week of June 7-13, Gone With the Wind climbed to No. 2 on the chart and almost hit the top spot, selling 98% as many copies on disc as the week’s top seller, Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog. Many of the disc sales no doubt came from Walmart, which by happenstance had just set up displays of Warner catalog titles with special slipcovers in advance of Father’s Day, Gone With the Wind included. Copies of the film promptly sold out at most stores once the HBO Max news hit.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment enjoyed a banner spring with TV product, says Jeff Brown, EVP and GM, Television. “The second quarter was a panacea for transactional television content, physical as well as digital,” Brown says. “Our business grew over 40%, year on year. And if you exclude
‘Game of Thrones,’ which had an extraordinary performance last year with the final season broadcast and transactional release, our business nearly doubled. This really shows peoples’ appetite for television content, and while obviously stay-at-home behavior contributed to this, there were several other opportunities we were able to capitalize on.”
One was the fact that Warner now distributes TV content from HBO and Turner digitally as well as physically.
Another is a strong slate of product, released just in time for viewers to enjoy while encouraged by state and local governments to stay in their homes. “Our top drivers included ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ as well as the animated original movie titles Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which was probably our best-performing DC animated movie since Batman: The Killing Joke and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge,” Brown says.
The third factor behind Warner’s strong TV quarter is a series of “Entertaining the World” promotions, Brown says, with a menu of promotional actions for digital retailers such as Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and FandangoNow.
“We promoted shows such as ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire,’ and Hanna-Barbera and DC animated classics,” Brown says. “We were able to look at the total Warner-HBO-Turner TV and animation library and come up with compelling retail programs, and we coordinated this on a semi-monthly ‘wave’ basis to provide an abundance of promoted content to retailers in a timely manner.”
Seeing Through Windows
One positive trend that has emerged during the pandemic, home entertainment studio executives say, is that consumers seem to be gaining a better understanding of the difference between transactional and subscription streaming and are realizing that not everything they might want to see is available on Netflix or the other big SVOD services.
“Because consumers are spending so much watching digital video at home, they are acutely aware of which titles are available on the various platforms,” says Sony’s Spivak.
“It has become clear that consumers sheltering at home not only have become increasingly engaged in our catalog offerings to keep entertained, but also have progressively grown to become more savvy in navigating the spectrum of formats,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “As such, we have continued to invest and reward consumers to stay engaged in the category and have been working in lockstep with our digital and physical retail partners to ensure that we remain hyper-focused on delivering the broadest access and best possible in-home experience.”
“Consumers have become much more receptive to different price points,” Sony’s Wong adds. “They realize not everything’s on Netflix, and it’s worth it to them to pay a transactional amount for something they really want to watch. They really have embraced all the ways to consume digital video.”
That includes the physical disc. “We are encouraged by the resilience,” Spivak says. “When you think of the structural impediments, stores being closed, online ordering taking longer to fulfill — consumers who love the physical disc are persevering and that business is holding up quite well.”
Studios were fortunate that two of the biggest retail sellers of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, Walmart and Target, were able to remain open throughout the pandemic because they also sell groceries and thus were deemed “essential” businesses. Paramount’s Powers says studio marketers have already met with Walmart to discuss fourth-quarter plans, with a focus on catalog.
“We went through a whole planning session with the Walmart team,” Powers says.
But the biggest lift to DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales, studio marketers say, comes from e-commerce sellers such as Amazon.
“We’ve seen quite a boom in e-commerce,” Powers says. “Initially we were unsure about the supply chain and how retail would react, but we kept all our new-to-Blu-ray titles on the calendar and saw a very positive response so we’ve continued to fill the slate with additional titles.”
Indeed, in addition to monthly waves of “Paramount Presents” releases, Paramount recently has come out with a 25th anniversary edition of the Alicia Silverstone comedy Clueless and 40th anniversary editions of horror classic Friday the 13th and John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. Clueless and Friday the 13th also are available in limited edition steelbooks.
“We’re really leaning more into the collector’s market,” Powers says. “That’s where e-commerce really shines.”
Maximizing Recent Releases
Deep catalog product isn’t the only part of the studio library fueling home entertainment as theatrical titles are stalled during the pandemic.
Jason Spivak notes that Sony Pictures had a full pipeline of high-profile product when the pandemic hit. “And we’ve been actively promoting those titles to keep them top of mind, as well as releases from the end of last year, like Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” he says.
“Mother’s Day gave us an opportunity to revisit one of our more recent releases, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women,” Wong says. “Our team worked with Hello Sunshine to help launch a brand-new online series called ‘Comedians on Classics’ just in time for the holiday. The content featured rising female comedian Taylor Tomlinson giving a fresh and hilarious take on the beloved Louisa May Alcott story, which resonated with the film’s audience. The video has been viewed over 515,000 times since launch.”
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment is coming up with inventive ways to market films that premiered digitally at premium prices (due to the theaters shutting down) once they become available on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and regular digital channels.
“With captive at-home audiences demonstrating a heightened need for great family entertainment during this time, we recognized a unique opportunity to evolve and elevate our new home entertainment release for Trolls World Tour to fit the tone and tenor of the moment,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “We created a robust Dance Party Edition offering that includes dynamic song and dance elements and all-new character-driven short-form content, we launched TikTok and Zoom-style Trolls music videos, and we adapted other marketing efforts to virtual tactics to remain connected to consumers in real time and further keep Trolls World Tour relevant.”
At Warner Bros., the May release of Scoob! was the studio’s first-ever PVOD and premium digital ownership title. The animated film came to market through “a tremendous joint effort between our theatrical team and home entertainment,” says Warner’s Schell. “When the health crisis hit and the decision was made to release Scoob! in homes, the marketing campaign for the film shifted from theatrical to at-home messaging and we enjoyed a very successful release. International release plans were just announced and it will be a mix of theatrical exhibition in markets where theaters are open, and premium in-home viewing.”
Schell says the film has become Warner Bros.’ No. 1 digital release, ever. “We recently announced our 4K and Blu-ray release dates for Scoob!,” Schell says, “and we are leveraging the extensive at-home messaging and awareness from the May debut and are drafting heavily on the film’s success to continue strong sales through our physical availability.”
Home entertainment’s success in supporting new releases cut off by theater closings is attracting attention from the studio hierarchy. Bob Bakish, CEO of ViacomCBS, Paramount Pictures’ parent company, sang the praises of home entertainment during a presentation during the first Credit Suisse Virtual Communication Confab in mid-June. He said home entertainment has helped Paramount justify capital spending on new movies during a year of uncertainty.
“We sold The Lovebirds [to Netflix] early in the COVID-19 window,” he said. “We also accelerated the EST window with Sonic [the Hedgehog], which performed very well for us.”
The movie, starring Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic, grossed more than $300 million at the global box office before the theatrical shutdown.
The executive said the company is monetizing the Paramount library by releasing more than 100 movies via CBS All Access and through the “Sunday Night Movie” on the Paramount Network.
Theaters Still a Key Partner
While the theatrical pipeline may be stalled for now, home entertainment executives look forward to its robust return.
Ron Schwartz, the longtime president of worldwide home entertainment at Lionsgate, says the entertainment industry is united in helping the theatrical exhibition business return to full strength quickly.
“We, like everybody else, are eager to see our partners in the theater business open again soon,” he says. “We want to see crowds again flock to theaters, to see tentpoles and art-house films, to buy concessions and to enjoy a tremendous community experience that has made our industry so special for so many years. It’s an important part of our ecosystem, and we’re all looking forward to a safe and productive return to the movie-going experience, which we believe is right around the corner.”
Some challenges lie ahead, Schwartz says: “What will exhibition look like when theaters reopen? What’s going to happen with capacity? We can’t rush back, but we have to make sure we give theaters enough great content so they can re-open quickly, successfully, and thrive.”
The home entertainment side of the business, Schwartz says, will remain catalog-driven until theaters have fully re-opened and the supply of theatrical titles has been completely replenished. “We will continue to work with our retail partners to come up with creative ideas, dig deep into our catalogs, and look for repromotes and anniversaries — any opportunities to engage the consumer,” he says.
Schwartz says he is heartened that during the stay-at-home period, the public’s love of movies, TV shows and other filmed content seemed to intensify.
“The one thing we’ve all seen is a love of content,” he says. “We’re seeing it consumed like never before — physical, streaming, transactional, packages — and it is clearly evident that the public’s appetite to consume our product is not only healthy but still growing. That’s why I remain so bullish about our business.”
OTT.X (formerly the Entertainment Merchants Association) is honoring industry “heroes.”
Heroes are team members at digital platforms, channels and retailers; at content companies; and at service and technology companies that facilitate the flow of content to the consumer, “playing an important role in providing the needed entertainment to keep everyone sane during these stay-at-home months,” according to OTT.X.
The individuals are being recognized based on their contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their contributions are being honored at the OTT.X Online Live conference July 22.
Evan Liss, digital media specialist, Maverick Entertainment
Ian Donnelly, manager, ad operations, Cinedigm
Jessica Ruvalcaba, director of content, mitú
Katherine Pond, VP, business development, Vizio
Kelcie Schwab, linear channel programming and digital coordinator, Maverick Entertainment
Lonni Silverman, director, client services, Sony Pictures
Michael Thexton, executive director, technology, BLU
Natalie Martin, VP, client services, Premiere Digital
Sarah Dixon, VP, client services, BLU
Tony Huidor, SVP, products and technology, and GM, networks, Cinedigm
Zack Coffman, CEO and founder, One World Digital
“We are proud to have individuals like this year’s heroes working within our industry,” said OTT.X president and CEO Mark Fisher in a statement. “Their contributions to their companies parlayed into contributions to every stay-at-home’s ability to cope through good quality entertainment delivered into their homes through the Internet.”
Movie ticketing site Fandango has launched a program to help moviegoers go back to theaters as cinemas reopen across the country.
Starting June 23, Fandango.com and Fandango mobile apps will begin rolling out new resources and product functionality, including social distance seating maps, a one-stop guide to safety policies provided by more than 100 theater chains, a special search filter to find reopened theaters by location, instructional videos, and more.
“At Fandango, our mission has always been super-serving fans with their entertainment needs, and we cannot wait to help fans get back to the big screen safely and at the right time,” Fandango president Paul Yanover said in a statement. “It’s a complicated rollout, with various states, cities and counties opening their venues in different phases. We hope Fandango will serve as a helpful one-stop resource for fans to find all the information and services they need for a comfortable return to their local theaters.”
In Fandango’s guide to health and safety policies provided by theaters across the country, moviegoers can find information that theaters have provided about auditorium occupancy and social distance seating, mask and protective equipment policies, enhanced cleaning measures, special concession services, and more.
“We are working closely with our friends in exhibition to help get their ticketing back online and film fans back in seats with peace of mind,” Melissa Heller, Fandango VP of domestic ticketing, said in a statement. “In addition to our new product features, Fandango’s mobile ticketing will be an added benefit, helping moviegoers and cinema employees reduce the number of contact points at the box office and throughout the theater.”
When theaters begin to reopen, Fandango plans to mobilize many of its other digital properties, including Rotten Tomatoes, Movieclips on YouTube, and its media and performance marketing platforms to help moviegoers get the resources and information they need, according to the company. The company is also planning to support the reopening of theaters and new films scheduled to release this summer with original video, editorial and social content, celebrating the moviegoing experience.
For members of Fandango’s free-to-join VIP+ loyalty program, Fandango is extending expired rewards for an additional 60 days so that Fandango customers will have more time to use the rewards they’ve earned. Fandango offers the ability to refund and exchange ticket purchases up to the posted showtime. In addition, Fandango customers can now self-process refunds as a guest user, with no account required.
During the pandemic, consumers are sitting at home looking for more visual entertainment than ever before — and evaluating their options. Happily, the disc has gotten a lift as consumers realize the value of the stalwart format, while digital transactional retailers have gained in part by offering premium VOD titles that bypassed or left theaters early.
But, in addition to theaters, one entertainment option that may suffer from COVID-19 is traditional cable, satellite or telco pay-TV. A study from TDG Research found that as virtual MVPD services re-create the offerings of traditional pay-TV, consumers are increasingly seeing less of a need for it. “Most OTT pay-TV services now provide a full complement of both broadcast and cable channels” said analyst Michael Greeson.
Indeed, I am finding it increasingly annoying to sit through commercials on cable that last longer than ads on any AVOD offering and don’t include that convenient countdown to tell you when the torture will end. After scrolling through the numerous cable channels and finding absolutely nothing I want to watch, I am jumping to smart-TV options more and more. The family wants to cut the cord, and the time may be right.
As TDG noted, vMVPD leaders Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV offer the four major broadcast networks, channels that previously helped tie consumers to traditional pay-TV.
New consumer research from Leichtman Research Group finds that since the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, 53% of adults ages 18 and above in U.S. TV households say they now spend more time watching TV per day, while 16% say they watch less.
There are no significant differences by age, income, or gender of those agreeing that they watch more TV per day, nor is there a significant difference between SVOD and non-SVOD households. However, 56% of pay-TV subs say they now spend more time watching TV per day, compared to 45% of non-subscribers.
This data is based on an online survey of about 1,200 TV households in the U.S. conducted in May.
Other survey findings include that 62% of pay-TV premium subs, 62% of pay-TV DVR subs, and 59% of pay-TV on-demand users say they spend more time watching TV per day. Another 43% of connected TV users say they use connected TV devices more often, while 20% say they use connected devices less often.
The study found that 52% of connected TV users with annual household incomes above $75,000 say they use connected TV devices more often, compared with 42% with household incomes of $30,000 to $75,000, and 28% with household incomes under $30,000.
Another 45% of connected TV users ages 18-54 say they use connected TV devices more often, compared with 31% of ages 55 and older. Still 39% say they are more satisfied with their streaming video services, while 18% say they aren’t more satisfied. Indeed, 33% say they are more satisfied with their pay-TV service, while 16% say they aren’t; 36% say they are more satisfied with their home Internet service, while 19% disagree.
“Reported increases in TV viewing since the coronavirus pandemic began are consistent across demographic categories, while perceived increases in connected TV usage are more prevalent in higher income households and among younger adults,” analyst Bruce Leichtman said in a statement. “Usage growth has played a role in boosting consumers’ positive perceptions of their streaming video, pay-TV and broadband services.”