Paramount held an in-vehicle, drive-through and drive-in screening for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run Feb. 26 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Attendees proceeded through multiple experiential environments with digital interactions and photo moments along the way. In addition to a screening of the new “SpongeBob” movie — available March 4 on the studio’s new streaming service Paramount+ and via premium VOD rental — attendees also got a sneak peek clip of the new Paramount+ series “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years.”
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run debuts March 4 as a premium VOD rental, and for a limited time, fans who rent the movie on Vudu and FandangoNow can get a code for 50% off the purchase of more than 25 select family titles on the two Fandango transactional VOD services.
Titles include the previous “SpongeBob” movies (The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie), Sonic the Hedgehog, Love and Monsters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wonder Park, Sherlock Gnomes, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Bumblebee, The Rugrats Movie, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Harriet the Spy, Hotel for Dogs, Imagine That, Good Burger, Snow Day, Clockstoppers and a number of other family classics.
Fandango is also launching this week a trivia video, “From Top to Bikini Bottom: The History of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.'”
Transactional movie revenue across pay-TV and digital platforms, excluding premium VOD, increased 14% in 2020, exceeding $6 billion for the first time, according to new data from London-based research firm Omdia.
Despite the growth in TVOD revenue due the pandemic, consumer spending was unable to offset declines in box office revenue caused by shuttered theaters. Total spending on movies in theaters, TVOD and packaged media was down 43% compared with 2019, but remained flat with the addition of subscription streaming video, i.e. Netflix & Co.
As a result of the pandemic, many studios have put greater emphasis on their own direct-to-consumer streaming services as well as experimenting with traditional release windows. This approach has meant that some studios with a D2C platform are able to use new release movies to drive SVOD uptake and generate recurring revenue. However, SVOD availability not only breaks the transactional video window but significantly reduces the lifespan of a movie, according to Omdia.
In a survey, more than 57% of U.S. online adults stated that they were willing to pay extra for early access to new movies with the average maximum spend totaling $15.16 — about $1 more than the average cost of a digital retail movie. However, among households with children, 71% are willing to pay no more than $20.07 for PVOD. Among respondents who frequented theaters more than six times annually before the pandemic, most are willing to pay no more than $28 — about the cost of a family movie ticket.
“It is clear that the demand for content is continuing to increase across all consumers and whilst studios are reacting to this demand by providing more new content to SVOD, there is a balancing act that needs to continue,” analyst Fateha Begum said in a statement.
Indeed, about 93% of respondents who sampled PVOD in 2020, nearly 50% said they were willing to repeat the transaction. However, for studios to match the $10.7 billion box office in 2019 through PVOD, each household would have to make at least 5.5 PVOD transactions equating to 700 million transactions within one year. This rises to 17 PVOD transactions per family for households with four children.
“PVOD presents a great opportunity for studios however, it is not a magic cure to recoup lost revenues through the global pandemic,” Begum said. “It should not be viewed as an alternative to the cinema but an accompaniment.”
Increase in Demand for content:
In 2020, consumer demand for online video content increased across all business models. The year saw an influx of new TVOD users, a rise in VOD consumption as well as increased SVOD conversion and uptake. Contrary to popular belief, consumers that engage more with subscription online video services are more likely to visit the cinema than the average consumer, as well as being more likely to purchase or rent via digital video stores.
Omdia found that willingness to pay for premium titles increases with the number of online video subscriptions, in particular among those consumers with 4 or more video services. This highlights the opportunity for studios to use new release movies to generate incremental TVOD revenues while driving subscriptions and retention on D2C services.
“In response to the global pandemic, studios have been able to experiment with theatrical windows and release times, but once things go back to normal, we anticipate that whilst consumer demand remands for new releases, release windows will go back to resemble those pre pandemic,” Begum said.
For a second consecutive week, Sony Pictures’ action-adventure Monster Hunter led the Vudu and FandangoNow charts for the week ended Feb. 28.
Both are transactional VOD services owned by Fandango.
Available for early digital purchase Feb. 16, Monster Hunter, based on the video game franchise, stars Milla Jovovich as Capt. Artemis, whose unit is caught in a sandstorm that transports them to a world ruled by dangerous and powerful monsters. As they fight to survive, they encounter the mysterious Hunter (Tony Jaa), whose unique skills allow him to stay one step ahead of the powerful creatures.
The Universal/DreamWorks animated sequel The Croods: A New Age, newly available to own Feb. 9, again took the silver on the Vudu chart and the bronze on the FandangoNow chart. It’s a followup to 2013’s The Croods that finds the prehistoric family facing a new challenge when they encounter a walled-in paradise created by the sophisticated Betterman family. As they try to coexist, the differences between the two families escalate into a full-blown feud, until a new threat forces them to work together. The voice cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran and Leslie Mann.
Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman 1984, which was released Feb. 12 as a 48-hour PVOD rental after debuting on WarnerMedia’s SVOD service HBO Max, again took the No. 2 spot on the FandangoNow chart (No. 4 on Vudu). A sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, the follow-up reunites director Patty Jenkins with star Gal Gadot and moves the setting from World War I to 1980s America, where the DC Comics heroine confronts the challenges of the Cold War.
New to the charts was Lionsgate’s horror reboot Wrong Turn, available for digital purchase Feb. 23. The film, which was No. 3 on the Vudu chart and No. 4 on the FandangoNow chart, follows a group of friends who set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to stick to the trail, the hikers stray off course — and cross into land inhabited by The Foundation, a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life.
Vudu’s top 10 titles for the week ended Feb. 28, in terms of revenue, were:
- Monster Hunter
- The Croods: A New Age
- Wrong Turn
- Wonder Woman 1984
- Shadow in the Cloud
- Willy’s Wonderland
- News of the World
FandangoNow’s top 10 titles for the week ended Feb. 28, in terms of revenue, were:
DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s D2C Alliance Steering Committee Feb. 25 released a list of industry terminology endorsed by its members to help standardize communication about the various digital streaming models and services and to align the messaging regarding their features and benefits.
The Alliance-adopted terminology spans linear, transactional and subscription businesses:
- AVOD: Ad-Supported Video-on-Demand services are usually free (no subscription fee) or discounted with the inclusion of advertising.
- DTC: Direct-to-Consumer services deliver single- or multi-channel content to consumers directly from a network or provider.
- DTO: Download-to-Own digital content is purchased or licensed from platforms like Amazon Prime and iTunes (similar to EST).
- EST: Electronic Sell-Through enables standard or premium digital content to be streamed or downloaded by consumers for a fixed one-time fee over an extended period of time across multiple delivery points and devices.
- FAST: Free Ad-Supported Television linear channels are delivered over the internet and available from third party platforms (e.g., Pluto, Tubi).
- Linear TV: Linear TV refers to live or prerecorded television programs that are distributed in real time, rather than on-demand, by cable (e.g., Comcast), satellite (e.g., DirecTV), telco (e.g., Verizon Fios) or broadcast OTA (over-the-air) networks, as well as internet-delivered digital program distributors (e.g., Hulu + Live TV, YouTubeTV, SlingTV).
- MVPD: Multichannel Video Program Distributors offer a variety of different linear content channels from multiple providers over cable, satellite or telco services (e.g., Comcast, DISH, DirecTV, Verizon Fios) on a subscription basis. Virtual MVPDS (vMVPDs) offer channels through internet-delivered services (e.g., Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV).
- O&O: An abbreviated way to reference a broadcast station that is “owned-and-operated” by the network or company that it’s affiliated with. NBC 4 Los Angeles, for example, is owned and operated by NBCUniversal.
- OTT: Over-the-Top services bypass traditional cable, broadcast and satellite TV platforms and use the internet to deliver or “stream” video directly to viewers. Netflix, Apple TV, and YouTube are all examples of OTT services.
- PEST: Premium Electronic Sell-Through for a one-time fee offers a specific piece of digital content to be purchased or licensed earlier than its traditional release “window.”
- PVOD: Premium Video-on-Demand services permit limited-time access, for a one-time fee, to a specific piece of content earlier than its traditional release “window.”
- SVOD: Subscription Video-on-Demand services require a periodic fixed fee (most often monthly) for accessing and viewing content an unlimited number of times while a subscriber (e.g., Disney+, Netflix, HBO Max, Peacock).
- TVOD: Transactional Video-on-Demand services charge a one-time fee for viewing a specific piece of content for either a limited rental period (typically 24 or 48 hours), or an extended collection period (EST).
The DEG’s D2C Alliance is focused on identifying the issues pertaining to both SVOD and AVOD services, including (but not limited to) definitions and standards; uniform messaging; activation and adoption; research and data analytics; consumer consumption patterns; improved quality of service; and generating greater overall awareness about the direct-to-consumer experience.
To this end, the Alliance also recently activated two new committees: TV & Connected Devices and DTC Targeted Services.
The members of the TV & Connected Devices committee include Amazon, Google, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony Electronics, TiVo, Verizon and Xfinity. The TV & Connected Devices committee seeks open communication with platforms and services as a way to improve the overall consumer streaming experience.
The DTC Targeted Services committee is comprised of specialized content companies, such as A+E Networks, AMC Networks, BBC Studios, FilmRise, National Geographic, The Great Courses, PBS Distribution and ScreenHits TV. The goal of the DTC Targeted Services committee is to ensure that the perspective of specialized services is represented in the key industry issues outlined above.
DEG’s D2C Alliance is guided by a group of Steering Committee executives, including Matt Strauss, chairman direct-to-consumer and international at NBCUniversal, as chair; Ron Lamprecht, director corporate business development at Amazon Prime, as vice chair; and Jonathan Zepp, M&E global partnerships, Google Platforms & Ecosystems, and Dan Cohen, president, ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group, as board officers. The officers were elected by the full D2C Alliance Steering Committee.
“Establishing accepted industry terminology is an important early step in both industry relations and consumer outreach,” said Amy Jo Smith, DEG president and CEO, in a statement. “This is an important milestone for the D2C Alliance as it moves forward with a strong base of support across platforms and services, device makers and content owners and distributors.”
Also Feb. 25, the DEG is presenting “The Maturing D2C Landscape,” an event to provide more insights about the emerging DTC ecosystem. The virtual event features experts from across the industry speaking about the targeted services landscape and the role connected devices play in consumer experience.
Cathy Valenzuela loves movies.
Before relocating to Pueblo, Colo., where she runs a promotional products company, she worked in Hollywood as a production assistant and then associate producer at Norman Lear’s Tandem Productions.
She grew accustomed to watching new movies at the DGA screening room, and after moving to Colorado continued to regularly frequent movie theaters, as often as three times a week, generally with her husband. “The experience has gotten so much better, with the addition of reclining chairs, cocktails, even food services,” she says.
Since the pandemic, however, she’s begun renting movies digitally through Amazon Prime and other digital retailers. “I’ve gotten used to watching movies at home,” she says. “Lately, I’ve been using lists like ‘Best Journalism Films of All Time’ to rewatch many classics. We watch a movie almost every night, but we never go out of the house to get them.”
She and her husband enjoy streaming services, as well, but their yen for movies — classics as well as new releases not available on a subscription basis — has put a pretty significant dent in her pocketbook.
“Last night we watched The Little Things on HBO Max, but the night before we watched Broadcast News and, the night before that, Network, both of them rented on Amazon Prime,” Valenzuela says. “We rent everything from new releases to older films not available on streaming.”
Yes, the cost adds up, but “anything less than 10 bucks is still way cheaper than going to the theater,” Valenzuela says.
That said, for new movies Valenzuela is willing to up the ante. She’s happy to spend the money she would have spent on movie tickets on premium video-on-demand (PVOD) releases such as the action-thriller The Silencing, about a hunter and police sheriff who track down a murderer who may have kidnapped the hunter’s daughter years ago, which STX Films released on Aug. 14 to movie theaters and, simultaneously, on VOD at $20.
Next up: News of the World, in which Tom Hanks portrays an aging Civil War veteran who is paid to bring a young girl kidnapped by Native Americans back home to her family — and which Universal Pictures released theatrically on Dec. 25, followed by a PVOD release on Jan. 15.
“It does seem to be worth it these days,” she says.
Valenzuela is not alone — not by a long shot.
Pushed by a once-in-a-century pandemic that kept consumers homebound, consumer spending on transactional video-on-demand, or TVOD, appears to be back in growth mode for the first time in more than 10 years.
Observers say the closure of movie theaters left homebound viewers with plenty of time on their hands. And while subscriptions to streaming video services surged, consumers also began renting and buying more films to watch at home, particularly through digital retailers.
Last April, just one month into the pandemic, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment president Jim Wuthrich reported a 38% uptick in home entertainment transactional spending. He called this “one of the few bright spots” in the early days of COVID-19.
Since then, studios began releasing films digitally, at a premium rental or sales price, at the same time as their scheduled theatrical opening. And that, observers say, triggered an even bigger spike in transactional spending.
“From our estimates, if you include PVOD … 2020 was the first year that we’ve seen growth in the transactional home entertainment business in well over a decade, and that’s despite the significant lack of new releases due to theatrical closures,” Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount Pictures, said in January during an online presentation for DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.
In addition to PVOD, which features higher-priced digital rentals and sales of new releases, transactional includes physical disc and digital sales and rentals. With disc sales and rentals declining year after year, the industry had long looked to digital transactions to take it into the future and make up for lost revenue — but with limited success.
Then came the pandemic-fueled PVOD takeoff. With the mid-March 2020 closure of movie theaters due to stay-at-home orders and a ban on public gatherings, studio executives no longer had an avenue for first-run movies. So they turned to a distribution model they had long championed, but were never able to implement due to stiff opposition from theatrical exhibitors. PVOD, in which a movie becomes available for home viewing at the same time as it begins showing in theaters, or shortly thereafter, was the only way for Hollywood to recoup production expenses.
Reviving the Dead
Nearly a decade ago, in 2011, Universal Pictures had tried to jumpstart PVOD by offering actioner Tower Heist early in the home for $59.99. The strategy was quickly shelved when theaters threatened to boycott the movie.
Following the Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film and other 21st Century Fox assets, PVOD lost a big proponent in Fox Film CEO Stacey Snider. Another PVOD backer, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara, left the studio in 2019 following alleged sexual improprieties.
Notably, two years ago, Los Angeles Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter called PVOD “a dead issue.”
It took COVID-19 to resurrect the seemingly moribund concept. With the pandemic making the distribution model for the most part the only game in town for releasing first-run films, Universal made a less-expensive move to PVOD at the lower price of $19.99. On March 16, as governors across the country imposed strict stay-at-home orders, the studio announced it would release its current theatrical slate into home entertainment distribution channels via PVOD. Movies included The Invisible Man, The Hunt and Emma., among others. At the same time, Universal announced plans to release the much-anticipated DreamWorks Animation sequel Trolls World Tour through PVOD on the same day as its scheduled theatrical release, April 10.
Other studios followed. Warner Bros. Pictures debuted Scoob! on May 15, at $19.99 for a 48-hour PVOD rental or $24.99 for a digital purchase. Disney launched the theatrically groomed live-action adaptation Mulan into homes (as well as international theaters) on Labor Day weekend, initially as a $29.99 purchase-only option to Disney+ subscribers. And as the pandemic showed no signs of subsiding, the floodgates opened and PVOD release became standard practice. At first exhibitors balked and even threatened boycotts, but realizing there was really no viable option they grudgingly accepted, particularly after studios sweetened the proposition by allowing them to share in the spoils.
Warner took it a step further with their plan to release their theatrical slate through 2021 concurrently in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service. Movies would be available to HBO Max subscribers for a month. The first film under the strategy, Wonder Woman 1984, was released on Christmas Day and earned $40.3 million domestically. Warner then released WW84 via PVOD Feb. 12, for the first time creating a PVOD window after a streaming release, which will last for about a month until WW84 becomes available for digital sellthrough and on disc in March.
The Results Are In?
While PVOD releases proliferated last year, scant information exists about actual sales to consumers. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests a home run.
In addition to the declaration from Paramount’s Bob Buchi, retailer reports certainly seem to point to PVOD’s overwhelming popularity. Charts at transactional digital retailers — such as FandangoNow, Vudu, Google Play, Apple, Microsoft and Redbox On Demand — regularly showed and continue to show PVOD titles among the top 10 rentals and sellers.
Throughout the year, studios and pundits crowed about results on individual releases. Universal Pictures reported it had generated $100 million in revenue from 5 million transactions in 28 days offering Trolls World Tour via PVOD. “The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD. As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” said NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell.
With TVOD, the results were more tangible. Various reports indicated a revival in the TVOD business, perhaps goosed by PVOD. “The fact that new movies could be bought or rented at home, on day one, made consumers overall more comfortable with a la carte digital transactions,” said one veteran industry observer.
In its annual year-end report, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group estimated that consumers spent $2.3 billion renting movies and other filmed content through digital retailers in 2020 — up a whopping 18.3% from less than $2 billion in 2019. Digital sales, or electronic sellthrough, grew 16% to nearly $3 billion, up from $2.6 billion the prior year. Significantly, neither of these figures included PVOD revenues.
Earlier this year, in January, Universal Pictures reported that with the 18 movies the studio released on PVOD in the past 10 months, it generated four times what it expected to earn in the traditional digital home entertainment window. In total, the combined in-home consumer represented more than $500 million, according to Michael Bonner, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts, speaking on the fiscal call, said the strategy has proved to be “profitable and the right move for us.”
“A year like no other, 2020 proved to be a truly transformative time for the entire industry, including the home entertainment business,” Bonner says. “Consumer demand and engagement in the home across the entire category demonstrated exceptional strength and successfully opened the door to early adoption of PVOD which, in all, drove to unprecedented transactional growth as we saw spending for the year peak to an all-time high.
“Despite its unprecedented challenges, 2020 marked a record-setting year for UPHE, as we identified new ways to serve consumers in a virtual climate and worked with our retail partners to advance our industry and amplify access to our content through PVOD.”
Digital Retail ‘Sleepy’ No More
Further evidence that PVOD has accelerated the surge in the TVOD business came from Roku, which as a digital delivery facilitator has a driver’s seat view of not only the subscription streaming video market, but also of TVOD. Speaking last September at the KeyBanc Future of Technology Conference, Roku CFO Steve Louden said the company had a “banner quarter” for the fiscal period ended June 30, with strong SVOD, premium VOD and transactional VOD revenue shares.
“That basically was precipitated by the theaters being closed [due to the coronavirus pandemic] and studios coming out with direct-to-consumer offerings,” Louden said. “It kind of woke up an otherwise sleepy TVOD segment.”
During a November virtual panel for the American Film Market, Fandango’s Cameron Douglas noted, “All the press is about SVOD and AVOD services, ad-supported or subscription, but transactional sort of quietly had a moment in 2020.”
Fandango, which owns TVOD services Vudu and FandangoNow, experienced a surge in digital rentals and sales in 2020.
“As more and more families hunkered down at home, our transactional video-on-demand business experienced substantial growth year over year,” Douglas says.
“We think that PVOD is here to stay, and it really is a big part of our business,” said Fandango SVP Mark Young during a January DEG online panel.
At the same panel, Microsoft’s Pedro Gutierrez noted that PVOD, debuting in the same window or close to theatrical release, allows for more-effective studio marketing. Whereas traditionally a film’s home entertainment marketing would come months after its theatrical push, PVOD has allowed studios to move it up so the title is “fresh in consumers’ minds,” he said.
“You’re able to see the studios able to support the home entertainment releases stronger than previously,” he said, adding “you have that nice consistent message for the title availability.”
Having first-run titles has also helped TVOD services market its catalog titles.
“We work hard to provide curation around new release titles,” Douglas says. “For instance, a consumer renting Tom Hanks’ News of the World might be interested in renting previous Westerns or other Tom Hanks movies. A comedy fan might watch Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumalo in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and want to check out their movie Bridesmaids on Vudu or FandangoNow again. A family excited to see the new SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run on March 4 might want to view other ‘SpongeBob’ or classic Nickelodeon titles to help prep them for the experience. The goal is to keep fans engaged with endless amounts of entertaining, deep content.”
With the pandemic, consumers focused renewed attention on TVOD.
“We believe that consumers welcomed having flexible options and the opportunity to pay as you go, and that’s a big benefit to TVOD over subscription services,” Douglas says.
Galen Smith, CEO of Redbox, agrees. “As stay at home orders came into play and with theaters closed, we saw exponential growth from our Redbox customers for both physical and digital entertainment on the back of a strong home entertainment slate,” he told Media Play News in early February. “In fact, we saw a 125% increase in our transactional video on demand.
“While the release slate has been more tepid since the summer, the momentum for Redbox On Demand has continued as more and more customers have grown accustomed to the ease of watching digital movies at home.”
Indeed, the avid collectors that used to amass shelves of discs are now doing the same thing digitally, retailers say.
“As fans are spending more time at home, Vudu’s and FandangoNow’s catalog business continues to grow, and we’re seeing consumers amassing sizable libraries,” Douglas said. “Moms and dads are introducing their kids to classics they watched when they were kids. Fans are looking for bundles to binge at home, whether they’re enjoying the nostalgia of beloved movie series like the ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise or TV series like ‘The Office’ or ‘The Twilight Zone.’ To make it even more interesting, there are some classic titles just aren’t available yet for streaming and we are constantly on the hunt for their streaming rights, as we’re completists at Fandango.”
During the DEG panel, Microsoft’s Gutierrez agreed collectors are alive and well in the digital realm, just as with discs.
“We’ve all seen the people who have their wall of DVDs,” he said. “With the digital stuff, people want to show you their library’s bigger than Netflix. They want to buy. [The digital collector] does not want to have to worry about do I need to go to HBO Max, do I need to go to Disney+. Where is my content? My content is right here in my collection.”
While consumer interest and anecdotal evidence indicate PVOD is showing promise as a permanent addition to the transactional business, observers differ on what part it will play in the “new normal” after the pandemic subsides and theaters open more widely.
Theatrical distributor Imax believes PVOD remains a fluke driven by roller coaster consumer behavior during a pandemic.
“To be unequivocal, PVOD is a failed experiment,” CEO Rich Gelfond told a virtual investor confab last September. “The numbers haven’t worked in a pandemic, so how would they work in a non-pandemic? Of the movies that were postponed, very few went into PVOD or streaming, and I should be clear I’m talking about the blockbuster movies — the movies that Imax does.”
Wedbush’s Pachter contends studios largely agree that theatrical releases are key, continuing to postpone major releases into 2021 and later to get them into movie houses.
“The silver lining to 2020 from a theatrical perspective is that studios have had the opportunity to test the feared PVOD window, with the results not as compelling as many had expected, and not as damaging to the exhibitors as feared,” Pachter wrote in a note.
But PVOD seems to be alive and well for now, with many saying it’s here to stay.
“While we look forward to when we can [again] enjoy the theatrical release of many franchise films … we will lean into what has become a successful hybrid distribution model,” Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said in January.
“Event films will still be big theatrically, but there will be a push to accelerate consumers’ abilities to watch at home through PVOD and shorter overall windows — both digitally and on disc,” said Redbox’s Galen Smith. “We don’t believe the theatrical model will return exactly as it existed prior to COVID. The evolution over the last year benefited consumers and content creators through the introduction of new products — and a number of them, like PVOD, are here to stay. PVOD has been a model the studios have wanted to add for many years, and I expect to see more PVOD releases in 2021. It’s another way to provide customers choice, which is good for them as well as for the industry.”
Dametra Johnson-Marletti, corporate VP of Microsoft Digital Stores Category Management, agrees. “I think many consumers will be excited to return to the theaters when the COVID risk is nearer to zero,” she told Media Play News in January. “That said, I also think that PVOD is here to stay, particularly for titles that are not forecasted to be box office blockbusters, and for a certain segment of viewers.”
Additional reporting by Thomas K. Arnold and Erik Gruenwedel
This month’s cover story in the February 2021 issue of Media Play News could’ve been written about me. I love movies. I’m prone to binge-watching episodic series. And I enjoy weird documentaries and concert videos.
Since I tend to be a Type A control freak, I like to be in charge of what I watch and when I watch it. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that I haven’t watched any broadcast TV at all since Election Night last November.
I also enjoy going to the movies, mostly for the thrill of watching something new, something fresh, something most people haven’t seen yet. So when theaters were shuttered — and here in California, they’re still dark — I jumped at the chance to watch new movies in my family room, even if it would set me back $20. Being a man of a certain age, I passed on Trolls World Tour, but the lure of Scoob! and childhood memories of my Saturday morning cartoon marathons made the Warner release my very first PVOD purchase. I wasn’t disappointed, and since then I’ve probably watched at least a half dozen other premium VOD releases – drawn, again, by the thrill of being among the first to see it.
At the same time, I’ve been buying and renting much more frequently, both digitally and on disc. I’m as addicted to Netflix as the next guy, but maybe being in the industry makes me a little more aware than most people about all the great content I’m missing that’s not available on Netflix or the other streamers.
So during the past 11 months (has it really been almost a year?) of this never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve rented and bought dozens of movies, new and old, and at the same time made numerous trips to my DVD/Blu-ray Disc room to pull out favorites from my personal collection.
I just finished watching all six “Rocky” movies on Blu-ray Disc with my middle son. We tried starting the “Rambo” series, but the discs are damaged so I just placed an order for a new set of “Rambo” Blu-rays for $25.
Before that, I had a nostalgic moment and pulled out my Incredible Mr. Limpet DVD, the first movie I saw in the theater.
My youngest son and I watched all six years of “The Sopranos” on Blu-ray Disc — his first time, and my third — and after that we went on a gangster movie binge. We watched the first two “Godfather” movies from my library, bought the new edit of the third film in the series, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, on Blu-ray Disc from Amazon, and rented several other movies, including Goodfellas and Casino, digitally through Redbox On Demand.
My wife, meanwhile, raced through The Queen’s Gambit and “Designated Survivor” on Netflix and, before that, “Outlander” on Hulu.
I’ll join her, eventually, since there is an awful lot of great programming I’d like to get back to — including season 3 of “Ozark,” although by now it’s been so long I’ll probably have to watch the first two seasons again just to figure out what’s going on.
But until movie theaters reopen, I’m going to keep bringing the theater into my home.
The Universal/DreamWorks animated sequel The Croods: A New Age, newly available to own Feb. 9, popped back to the top of the Vudu and FandangoNow charts the week ended Feb. 14.
Both are transactional VOD services owned by Fandango.
A followup to 2013’s The Croods, the sequel finds the prehistoric family facing a new challenge when they encounter a walled-in paradise created by the sophisticated Betterman family. As they try to coexist, the differences between the two families escalate into a full-blown feud, until a new threat forces them to work together. The voice cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran and Leslie Mann.
Wonder Woman 1984, which was released Feb. 12 as a 48-hour PVOD rental after debuting on WarnerMedia’s SVOD service HBO Max, took the No. 2 spot on both charts. A sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, the follow-up reunites director Patty Jenkins with star Gal Gadot and moves the setting from World War I to 1980s America, where the DC Comics heroine confronts a wannabe tycoon who gains the power to grant wishes.
The dystopian disaster film Greenland, which recently became available for digital purchase after a stint as a PVOD rental, fell to No. 3 from No. 1 on both charts. It’s an action thriller that follows a family fighting for survival as a planet-killing comet races to Earth. John Garrity (Gerard Butler), his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and young son Nathan make a perilous journey to their only hope for sanctuary.
Another Feb. 12 new-to-PVOD rental, Lionsgate’s Barb & Star Go to the Vista Del Mar, also debuted on both charts, at No. 4 on FandangoNow and No. 8 on Vudu. From co-stars and co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids), the comedy follows lifelong friends Barb and Star, who embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time ever. The trip includes romance, friendship and a villain’s evil plot.
Also new to PVOD Feb. 12 was the Nicolas Cage starrer Willy’s Wonderland, which came in at No. 4 on the Vudu chart and No. 5 on the FandangoNow chart. Cage plays a quiet loner who agrees to clean an abandoned family fun center in exchange for repairs after his car breaks down. He soon finds himself waging war against possessed animatronic mascots while trapped inside Willy’s Wonderland.
Vudu’s top 10 titles for the week ended Feb. 14, in terms of revenue, were:
- The Croods: A New Age
- Wonder Woman 1984
- Willy’s Wonderland
- Love and Monsters
- Let Him Go
- Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
- News of the World
- Promising Young Woman
FandangoNow’s top 10 titles for the week ended Feb. 14, in terms of revenue, were:
STX Films’ The Mauritanian will debut on premium VOD March 2 at $19.99 for a 48-hour rental period.
The film earned Golden Globe nominations for leads Tahar Rahim and Jodie Foster.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, The Mauritanian is based on the book Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. It’s the true story of Slahi’s fight for freedom after being detained and imprisoned without charge by the U.S. Government for years. Alone and afraid, Slahi (Rahim) finds allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander (Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) who battle the U.S. Government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by a military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), uncovers shocking truths.
The film also stars Zachary Levi and Saamer Usmani.
Universal Pictures/DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age re-emerged atop the pandemic/winter weather challenged Presidents’ Day domestic weekend box office (Feb. 11-14) with an estimated $2.66 million in ticket sales across 1,890 screens. The movie has been a perennial draw during the COVID-19 pandemic, topping the domestic box office five consecutive weekends, beginning with its debut last Thanksgiving (Nov. 25-29, 2020). A New Age, which is also available on PVOD, has tracked $48.9 million in the U.S.; more than $150 million worldwide. The title releases on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on Feb. 23.
Other top weekend draws included Warner Bros. Pictures’ trio The Little Things ($2.4 million), the debut of Judas and the Black Messiah ($2.4 million), and Wonder Woman 1984 ($1.1 million). Black Messiah and Little Things are both available free to subscribers to stream on HBO Max. Open Road Film’s The Marksman, starring Liam Neeson, generated a projected $1.1 million, while Robin Wright’s directorial debut, Land, from Universal/Focus Features, tracked about $1 million.
The total box office tally, which includes Monster Hunter, News of the World, The War with Grandpa, Golden Globe nominated Promising Young Woman and Willy’s Wonderland among the Top 10, ranges from $10.6 million to $11.6 million depending on the length of the extended weekend.