Don’t Dis the Disc

The little boy’s eyes lit up. No more than 5, he was the son of a woman who keeps house for a neighbor. She speaks only Spanish; the little fellow is bilingual. He had brought with him three Blu-ray Discs – Bumblebee, How to Train Your Dragon, and the second LEGO Movie – he planned on watching while his mother was working.

I ran back to my house, grabbed a handful of recent movies and presented them to him. He eagerly grabbed the loot and said, “Thank you, thank you,” as my neighbor told me he had purchased the three other discs and given them to the little boy as a present, as well. The family doesn’t have a car, and their shopping is limited to the Mexican grocery store nearby, with an occasional bus ride to Walmart for clothes and other necessities.

“If I was one of your studio friends,” my neighbor said, “I’d get them to put their DVDs and Blu-rays into every little Latino grocery store they can find. So many people do their weekly grocery shops there – and I’m not talking about Spanish-language movies, although I think those would do well too. I’m talking the big hits, the superhero films, the stuff the kids like to watch.”

He makes an interesting point. In the years just before and after the 1997 launch of DVD, independent video stores were summarily dismissed by Hollywood as more trouble than they’re worth. In the final days of the VHS rental business, it was all about getting as many copies of the hits into stores as was possible, through copy-depth incentives, revenue-sharing and other strategies.

And when DVD came around, the studios gladly handed the business over to the mass merchants and big box stores.

Listening to my neighbor, I wonder if it isn’t time to once again go small? I know everyone’s focused on the digital business right now, strategizing how digital movie sales and rentals – known by that catchy industry term “transactional video-on-demand,” or the roll-off-your-tongue acronym “TVOD”-can compete in market increasingly dominated by subscription streaming.

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But let’s not dismiss the disc. Our industry has a habit of burying a product before its time (remember VHS?) and, in the process, leaving lots of money on the proverbial table. There’s still a huge market for Blu-ray Disc and even DVD, and the emergence of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc has generated a whole new fan base of enthusiasts who realize the optimum way to view content is still on a physical disc.

The big box stores have taken note and spruced up their disc sections over the last year or two – particularly Best Buy, which moved discs from the back of the store to a prominent position near the front. Target has end caps with new movies in the main aisle, and at the Walmart near my house clerks are having a hard time keeping new movies in stock.

Studios should take a long, hard look at expanding distribution channels – grocery stores that serve particular ethnic communities, book stores in college towns, sporting goods stores, music stores, you name it.

At this year’s San Diego County Fair, which just ended its month-long run on July 4, one of the busiest booths in the merchant hall was “Must Have Movies,” devoted exclusively to catalog product and dressed up with posters for movies such as The Goonies, Young Frankenstein, Weird Science and The Karate Kid. Apparently the owners travel the fair circuit and, from the looks of things, have built themselves a nice little business.

Yes, home entertainment is evolving. Yes, streaming is the future. And, yes, selling and renting movies electronically, over the Internet, is so much easier than moving physical product because there’s no inventory, no shipping, no returns.

The only problem is, so many customers still want discs.

Walmart Names Former Amazon and Google Exec CTO

Walmart has appointed Suresh Kumar to a “new elevated” chief technology officer and chief development officer role reporting directly to president and CEO Doug McMillon, according to the company.

“Kumar joins at a time when Walmart is rapidly transforming its customer and associate experiences, and he brings more than 25 years of technology leadership experience coming from Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM,” read the Walmart press release.

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“The technology of today and tomorrow enables us to serve our customers and associates in ways that weren’t previously possible. We want to take full advantage of those opportunities,” said McMillon in a statement. “Suresh has a unique understanding of the intersection of technology and retail, including supply chain, and has deep experience in advertising, cloud and machine learning. And, he has a track record of working in partnership with business teams to drive results.”

“Walmart is one of the great success stories in how a company evolves over time to serve the changing needs of its customers, and today, it is in the midst of a very exciting digital transformation,” said Kumar in a statement. “With more than 11,000 stores, a high-growth eCommerce business and more than 2 million associates worldwide, the potential for technology to help people at scale is unparalleled, and I am excited to be part of this.”

Kumar was most recently at Google, serving as VP and GM of display, video, app ads and analytics. Prior to joining Google, he was the corporate VP of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and operations. Kumar spent 15 years at Amazon in various leadership roles, including VP of technology for retail systems and operations, and he led Amazon’s retail supply chain and inventory management systems. Before joining Amazon, he was a research staff member at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.

Kumar holds a doctorate in Engineering from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

Walmart Teases One-Day Shipping

The shipping delivery war took another turn after Walmart went to social media to hint it would match Amazon’s decision to switch from free two-day shipping for Prime members to one-day deliveries.

“One-day free shipping … without a membership fee. Now THAT would be groundbreaking. Stay tuned,” Walmart tweeted April 26 the day after Amazon disclosed it would spend upwards of $800 million upgrading internal and external shipping capacity for one-day shipments.

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Amazon charges $119 annually for its Prime membership, which includes free access to movies and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video, music on Prime Music and two-hour delivery (for a fee) for Prime Now store deliveries, among other features.

Amazon’s announcement had a ripple effect on retail stocks, sending Walmart and Target shares down 1.9% and 5.7%, respectively, in April 26 trading.

The switch is expected to put added pressure on big box retailers such as Best Buy, Office Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods, among others.

Paramount’s ‘Bumblebee’ Shoots to Top of FandangoNow Chart

Paramount’s Bumblebee fought its way to No. 1 on FandangoNow’s chart of top movies for digital rental and purchase for the week ended March 24.

FandangoNow is movie site Fandango’s transactional VOD service.

The “Transformers” franchise reboot, which earned $127.2 million in theaters, stars Hailee Steinfeld in an origin story about the Autobot warrior Bumblebee. It debuted on digital March 19.

Warner took the second spot on the FandangoNow chart with another new digital release, the Clint Eastwood starrer The Mule, about a broke man in his 80s who unwittingly signs on as a drug courier.

The studio also managed a third-place finish with Aquaman, which sank two spots after two weeks at No. 1. The DC Comics superhero feature earned $334.8 million at the box office.

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Sony’s Best Animated Feature Oscar winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse hung in at No. 4 for another week, while Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns, which stars Emily Blunt, remained in the fifth spot.

The top films to purchase and/or rent on FandangoNow for the week ended March 24 were:

  1. Bumblebee — Paramount
  2. The Mule — Warner
  3. Aquaman — Warner
  4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — Sony
  5. Mary Poppins Returns — Disney
  6. A Star Is Born (2018) — Warner
  7. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — Warner
  8. Green Book — Universal
  9. Instant Family — Paramount
  10. Creed II — Warner

 

Fandango is celebrating the upcoming April 2 digital release of Glass by hosting an exclusive clip featuring scenes from the film and an interview with the film’s star James McAvoy and director M. Night Shyamalan across its various channels.

Comcast Expands Xfinity Store Retail Footprint

Comcast has always had retail service centers. But the cable giant in recent years has rolled out branded Xfinity Stores nationwide to bolster pay-TV consumer awareness in an age of over-the-top video.

Comcast March 11 announced opening of nine new Xfinity Stores planned for the Pittsburgh, Pa., region over the next six months. This investment will expand to 14 the number of Xfinity Stores in the area.

“As technology becomes more and more complex, customers want to see and feel the product before selecting them,” John Giacomazzi, VP of retail merchandising, said in a statement. “We want to bring both existing and potential customers an experience that maximizes product interactions and inspires them to see how these technologies could fit their lifestyle.”

Xfinity Stores range in size up to 4,000 square feet and are located in shopping destinations already familiar to local customers. In addition to receiving product demonstrations, customers can ask about their current services or devices, learn how Xfinity apps make it easy to manage their account, sign up for all Xfinity services, pay bills at kiosks, return or acquire equipment and purchase accessories like Bluetooth speakers, headphones or mobile phone cases.

 

Used Packaged Media Retailer ‘2nd & Charles’ Opening First Kentucky Store

Retailer 2nd & Charles, which specializes in selling previously-owned packaged media, including DVD, Blu-ray Disc movies, books, music CDs, video games and consumer electronics, is opening its first location in the state of Kentucky.

The eclectic retailer, which has locations in 17 states, will officially debut the new store, located at 2520 Calumet Trace in Owensboro on Jan. 19. Festivities are set to begin at 10 a.m. and will include live music, food trucks, face painting, giveaways and more family-friendly activities.

2nd & Charles buys new and used books, CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray DIsc, video games, game systems, vinyl records, comic books, electronics, toys, collectibles and more. Customers wishing to sell their own used items can check them upon arrival and redeem for cash or store credit.

The specialty shop, which draws a diverse audience of gamer fanatics, pop culture junkies, movie buffs, bookworms and much more, offers over 300,000 items in more than three miles of stocked shelf space.

“Our store is chock-full of one-of-a-kind offerings across nearly every genre, including pop culture, books, collectibles and electronics. Our guests always enjoy browsing the aisles and discovering treasures they didn’t know even existed!”Scott Kappler, chief marketing officer at 2nd & Charles, said in a statement.

As part of the grand opening festivities, five lucky guests will receive a $100 2nd & Charles gift card, and one customer will be the winner of a $500 shopping spree at 2nd & Charles. Shoppers who want first dibs on the hidden gems at 2nd & Charles Owensboro are invited to the new store’s soft opening during the weekend of Jan. 12th.

 

 

 

Amazon Touts Record Holiday Retail Season

Amazon Dec. 26 announced a record-breaking holiday season, with more items ordered worldwide than ever before. The e-commerce behemoth said consumers shopped at record levels from a wide selection of products across every department. Best-selling products this season included, all-new Echo Dot home speakers and Bose wireless headphones, among others.

“This season was our best yet. We are thrilled that in the U.S. alone, more than one billion items shipped for free this holiday with Prime,” Jeff Wilke, CEO worldwide consumer, said in a statement.

Among retail highlights:

  • Customers purchased millions more Amazon Devices this holiday season compared to last year – the best-selling Amazon Devices this holiday included all-new Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick 4K with all-new Alexa Voice Remote, and Echo.
  • It was a record holiday season for Amazon’s Kids Edition devices; customers purchased more Echo Dot Kids Edition and Fire Kids Edition tablets than ever before.
  • Customers purchased millions of Amazon Fire TV, Fire Tablet, and Kindle products this holiday season.
  • Ring and Blink sold more devices this holiday season than ever before, as more and more customers are keeping their homes safe.
  • Customers made their homes even smarter this year with a record number of smart home devices sold on com; best-selling smart home devices included Amazon Smart Plug, Ring Video Doorbell 2, TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini Outlet, and the iRobot Roomba 690.
  • Customers used Alexa to listen to hundreds of millions more hours of music this holiday season compared to last holiday season, and on even more services – including Amazon Music, Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, among others.
  • Customers asked Alexa to turn on their holiday lights tens of millions of times this holiday season, with the number one request being “Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree.”
  • Alexa delivered 8x as many reminders this holiday season compared to last.
  • Alexa set more than one hundred million timers this holiday season.
  • Customers requested nearly 3x as many recipes this holiday season compared to last and asked Alexa for cooking-related advice twice as much.
  • Alexa helped mix hundreds of thousands of cocktails this holiday season – with eggnog and Moscow Mule being the most requested drinks.
  • From carolers to delivery drivers and holiday guests, customers received millions of doorbell and motion announcements via Alexa this holiday season.
  • Customers were in to the festive spirit with Alexa Skill Blueprints – popular Blueprints this holiday season were The Holiday Story, Santa’s Letter, and the Hallmark Holiday Greeting.
  • The number one holiday song that customers requested this holiday season was “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey.
  • This holiday season, customers listened to more than one million holiday stories from Amazon Storytime on Alexa – the most popular holiday story was Rapping Paper.
  • Customers around the world asked Alexa how many days or sleeps until Christmas this holiday season – customers in the United Kingdom were the most excited, asking twice as much as customers in any other country.
  • Customers used Alexa nearly twice as much on Fire TV devices this holiday season compared to the same time period last year.
  • The best-selling electronics this holiday season included Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless Headphones, the Samsung Flat 65″ 4K UHD 8 Series Smart LED TV, Apple iPad (Wi-Fi, 32GB) in Space Gray, Wemo Mini Smart Plug, Blue Yeti USB Microphone in Blackout, Wyze Cam 1080p HD Indoor Wireless Smart Home Camera, and HP Sprocket Photo Paper.
  • The best-selling items at Amazon Books this holiday season included Becomingby Michelle Obama, Diary of a Wimpy Kid #13: Meltdown by Jeff Kinney, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, Kindle Paperwhite, all-new Echo Dot, and the L.O.L. Surprise! Bling Series toys.

 

Merchandising: Exclusives Galore for ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Westworld,’ ‘Lion King’

For the new releases of Dec. 4, retailers focused on Paramount’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Warner’s Westworld: Season Two, and Disney’s new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Lion King.

For the latest “Mission: Impossible” sequel, Target offered a $5 gift card with purchase of the 4K UHD Blu-ray version, priced at $26.99.

Target also had a Westworld: Season Two Blu-ray with exclusive box art and an exclusive bonus disc, and a version of the Lion King UHD BD with five collectible cards.

Best Buy offered Steelbook editions for all three, with the Mission: Impossible — Fallout Steelbook Blu-ray at $24.99, the Lion King 4K Steelbook at $34.99, and “Westworld” Steelbooks at $41.99 for the regular Blu-ray and $49.99 for the 4K version.

Best Buy also touted an eight-movie Steelbook edition of the “Harry Potter” movies for $199.99.

Best Buy Extends Holiday Deals With ’20 Days of Doorbusters’

On the heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, Best Buy has unveiled yet another promotion for the holidays starting Dec. 1: “20 Days of Doorbusters.”

Consumers can sign up to receive text alerts for each day’s “doorbuster,” which they can select on the Best Buy website.

Best Buy will offer doorbuster deals for big screen smart 4K TVs on Dec. 4, Dec. 12 and Dec. 18, and for a game console on Dec. 8. The website doesn’t specify brands.

Digital Movie Deals Abound for Thanksgiving Weekend

In addition to all the offers on TVs and physical discs at brick-and-mortar and online stores, retailers are offering digital movie deals this holiday weekend.

Google Play is offering 99 cent rentals on Thanksgiving Day, including such recent releases as Crazy Rich Asians and Incredibles 2, giving consumers something to watch while they enjoy their turkey coma.

It has also slashed prices on digital purchases to as low as $4.99. Among the movies consumers can buy for less than $5 are The Maze Runner, Wrath of the Titans, Now You See Me, Escape Plan 2, A Prayer Before Dawn and Independence Day: Resurgence.

Other “limited time Cyber Week deals” include various recent hit movies for $9.99, including Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (regular price, $14.99), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($21.99) and Deadpool 2 ($19.99).

Google Play also is offering access to Starz for $5 a month for three months (the regular price is $8.99 per month).

Redbox is offering deals on numerous digital purchases, including such recent releases as A Quiet Place (cut to $7.99 from $14.99), Sicario: Day of the Soldado (at $9.99 from $18.99), Rampage (at $9.99 from $19.99) and Uncle Drew (at $9.99 from $14.99). The rental kiosk company is also offering deals on used discs based on location.

FandangoNow, the on-demand service owned by Fandango, is offering special deals on digital purchases as well, with such new releases as Deadpool 2, Rampage, A Quiet Place, Daddy’s Home 2 and Ready Player One at under $10.