2019: Home Entertainment to Thrive on Change

If there’s any truth to the adage “change or die,” then the home entertainment business has plenty of life left in it as we begin 2019.

The coming year will bring significant changes, as studios and distributors continue to rejigger business models to reflect changing consumer habits domestically and worldwide.

Walt Disney will finalize its merger with 20th Century Fox, leaving Hollywood with five major studios, not six. AT&T will continue the integration process with the former Time Warner, now known as WarnerMedia.

And if you thought subscription streaming had a banner year in 2018, 2019 will likely see even bigger growth, with the emergence of at least two formidable challengers to longtime market leader Netflix.

Walt Disney will finally launch its much-ballyhooed SVOD service, Disney+, with a focus on the same content that rules at the box office: “Star Wars” and all things Marvel. The first “Star Wars” live-action series, “The Mandalorian,” should arrive later this year, and Disney recently announced a prequel series based on Rogue One character Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). Disney also confirmed Disney+ is developing a live-action Marvel series centered around Loki, from the “Avengers” movies.

Not to be outdone, AT&T’s WarnerMedia also plans on launching a direct-to-consumer streaming platform in 2019, with three different services, including a premium one fronted by HBO, home of mega-hit “Game of Thrones.”

The latest numbers from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group show consumer spending on subscription streaming grew 30% in the first nine months of 2018.  If that growth rate held up through the end of 2018, then consumers will have spent nearly $12.3 million on subscription streaming, or SVOD (subscription video-on-demand).

How high consumer spending on SVOD will grow in 2019 remains anyone’s guess, although observers believe continued double-digit gains in line with prior years is the most likely scenario as consumers continue to “cut the chord” with pay-TV services.

Last August, research firm eMarketer said it expected the number of U.S. cord-cutters — adults who have canceled a pay TV service and continue without it — to climb by 32.8% in 2018 to 33 million. The number of subscription OTT video service viewers, meanwhile, was on track to rise to 170.1 million, or 51.7% of the U.S. population.

The “VOD” that the studios are most intent to grow, transactional VOD, posted a surprising growth spurt in the third quarter of 2018 — 18% for electronic sellthrough, or EST, and 10% for digital rentals.

Michael Pachter, a senior media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, doesn’t see SVOD making much of a dent in TVOD in 2019.

“Transactional VOD should be relatively flat, as Netflix has few — if any — programs that people typically rent,” he said. “They have no new movies — once Disney pulls its films — and few current TV shows, although I suppose some TVOD is for older television series.  My sense is that the bulk of TVOD is new movies, with some catchup TV from current season TV shows, neither of which is carried on Netflix to any great extent.”

Jim Wuthrich, president, Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment and Games, agrees that the transactional business and streaming can peacefully co-exist.

“Consumers have more choices for content than ever before, and on demand streaming services are increasingly their go-to option,” he said. “On an aggregate basis, the streaming services have helped transactional services become mainstream, encouraging consumers to connect their devices to on-demand video.

“On a title basis, transactional demand drops when it’s on a major SVOD service, but transactional demand returns when the title rolls off the service. Ultimately we are competing for consumer attention and transactional services generally offer first in-home viewing and always on availability – a distinct and unique proposition.”

Looking ahead, Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, says 2019 will be the most exciting yet for digital media.

“2018 has been a lot about the notion of how transaction and subscription distribution models can co-exist, and content owners have begun to lay foundations for their direct-to-consumer businesses,” Smith said. “In 2019, we will see the world’s biggest content owners actually beginning to deliver very high-profile entertainment directly to consumers, and as they do that they will gain the most detailed view yet of who their customers are and what their fan base craves.

“As a result, content owners will become smarter about how to reach consumers and the content delivery experience will improve. As direct-to-consumer offerings multiply, consumers will continue to sort out what is meaningful for them. They will prioritize the content they find worthy of collection and also decide what provides value for a monthly subscription.”

Accordingly, studio executives agree that in 2019, their No. 1 priority will be to continue to growth the transactional, or on-demand business — both physical and digital.

“We are taking a deep dive into consumer behavior as we continue to navigate the changing home entertainment landscape,” said Bob Buchi, president, worldwide home media distribution, for Paramount Pictures. “We’ll be sharing the results of quantitative and qualitative studies with our retail partners to work with them on crafting innovative strategies for reaching consumers and driving transactional sales.

“There is untapped potential in light and lapsed consumers who may have slowed their entertainment collecting and ongoing opportunity with heavy users who value high quality offerings. We’re going to work with our retail partners to maximize our learnings and strategically target diverse consumer groups.”

“Our focus remains on delivering a product offering and value proposition that enables the best consumer experience to continue the expansion and adoption of digital sell-through (and VOD for that matter),” said Michael Bonner, EVP of digital distribution at NBC Universal. “Improving these experiences through product enhancements like premium formats or interactive extras along with embracing new services like Movies Anywhere are just a few examples of how we’re investing as an industry.”

Warner’s Wuthrich agrees. “We believe there’ll be continued growth in digital transactions in 2019,” he said. “We have great momentum coming out of 2018 and have a number of programs to remind movie and TV fans that their favorite content is a click away. In addition to using performance marketing to help connect consumers with the content they love we’ll be introducing a fresh approach to advertising.”

Ron Schwartz, president of Lionsgate Worldwide Home Entertainment, said the key points on his agenda for 2019 are “continuing to create progressive windowing and focused strategies for our specialty and multi-platforms releases, and continuing to grow the digital business while maximizing results on the physical side.”

“Lifecycle management is more critical than ever, particularly with franchises,” he said. “For example, we’ll be working with our partners on compelling catalog initiatives such as ‘John Wick’, as well as on the third installment, throughout the distribution windows, providing more access and innovative marketing to keep fans engaged.”

As consumer habits continue to evolve, digital movie sales and rentals — electronic sellthrough (EST) and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) — will remain a priority, Schwartz said.

“We saw a significant increase in industry spending in this area in 2018, up 20%, and we will continue to collaborate with our retail partners on fresh ideas to keep consumer interest alive,” he said. “We see a large and growing market with multi-platform and specialty releases and will continue to build our leadership in this area.”

While studio executives agree their focus on 2019 will be to grow the digital side of the business, they aren’t giving up on the physical disc — particularly with the rapid acceptance of 4K Ultra HD.

“4K will continue to gather momentum as more consumers experience the incredible quality of the content on their 4K televisions,” said Paramount’s Bob Buchi. “Paramount will offer most of our theatrical releases on 4K UHD Blu-ray, as well as carefully chosen titles from our vast library.  The response to our catalog 4K releases has been very promising, so we expect to see increased interest in owning treasured classics in the very best format available.”

“Consumers decide how, when and where they want to experience our content, and the physical disc remains a valuable option for them,” adds Chris Oldre, EVP of pay TV, digital and international distribution at Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

“We view the business holistically, with physical and digital ownership as one market. Our continued commitment to including the digital code delivers the added value of streaming, too, and the introduction of Movies Anywhere as a simple, fast method to redeem that code delivers the best of both worlds — physical and digital — in one experience.”

Oldre said he’s particularly excited “about the incredible range of content that will be offered by Disney in 2019, and with our continued commitment to delivering best-in-class experiences, we’re looking forward to another exciting year across both physical and digital platforms.”

“The home entertainment releases of Ralph Breaks the Internet and Mary Poppins Returns will offer the kind of trusted family entertainment that Disney is known for,” he said. “Later in the year we’re introducing a new Marvel character to the home entertainment audience with Captain Marvel, and we will be closing out a truly iconic series with Avengers: Endgame.

“In addition, Disney’s brands and franchises are content that consumers want to own and a significant portion of our revenue comes from our library of classic and timeless titles that continue to entertain generation after generation.”

In the first quarter on 2019, Oldre said, “we’ll be celebrating the eagerly anticipated 30th anniversary of The Little Mermaid.  Those are just a few of the highlights of the year ahead, which will see us continue to roll out releases in 4K UHD, as well as continuing to focus our efforts on growing Movies Anywhere and educating consumers about the ease of building a digital library.”

Independents, meanwhile, are looking for whichever distribution channels and platforms that make the most sense.

“I am really focused on watching three exciting trends that will have enormous impact on the ever-changing entertainment landscape,” said Bill Sondheim, president of the Cinedigm Entertainment Group, who in November 2018 took on additional duties as President of worldwide distribution.

“First is the battle for SVOD dominance that really starts in earnest when Disney launches its direct-to-consumer streaming service to compete head on with Netflix,” said Sondheim, who in his expanded role continues to lead the company’s growing China/North America business pipeline, in addition to managing distribution in the rest of the world.

“This will likely create audience migrations that will have far reaching impact on the mid-tier SVOD players more that the top-tier providers,” Sondheim said. “The second trend to watch is AVOD’s explosive growth, which may be a prime beneficiary of the audience shifts that will occur in the SVOD battles mentioned above. The AVOD segment has long been the held back due to lower quality content or older catalog offerings, but as the cost of SVOD consumption grows, the AVOD alternative is rapidly evolving with higher caliber brands and newer content that will drive audience adoption.

“Finally the arrival of 5G broadband will start to demonstrate the impact of true high speed wireless connections. While it will likely be more than two years before we have a true nationwide network, 5G will start to make an impact in most major cities later this year.”

“Buckle up,” he added. “It is going to be a year of massive growth and further disruptive change.”

2018: Getting Along in a Multi-Platform World

Back in 1989, a State Department official named Francis Fukuyama wrote a controversial essay on the “end of history,” opining that the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc communism, the reform movement in China, and the reunification of Germany signaled a triumph for Western democracy and a very real promise of freedom and liberty for all.

Fukuyama’s vision of a global utopia didn’t last long, but for a brief moment in time cultural and political differences seemed to be set aside in favor of everyone working together to make the world a better place.

Similarly, in 2018 the various factions in home entertainment seemed to set aside their differences and recognize that we’re living in a multi-platform world — and that a peaceful coexistence between disc and digital, subscription and transactional, was, indeed, possible.

“2018 saw the continued integration of technology and content at an even more accelerated pace, and, with that, the opportunity to engage fans with more focused and meaningful experiences that extend the life of our film and television properties,” said Keith Feldman, president of worldwide home entertainment for 20th Century Fox.

Indeed, studios cut back on selling content to Netflix — most notably Disney, which pulled all its movies off the service by the end of the year — in favor of issuing it on their own platforms. They rallied behind Movies Anywhere, a digital movie storage “locker” launched in October 2017, and saw digital movie sales soar, with an 18% gain reported in the third quarter of 2018, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group numbers.

Netflix, meanwhile, vowed to spend $8 billion in 2018 on producing its own shows, with the goal of making its content library 50% original.

Studios that once sued Redbox for renting DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, claiming the kiosk vendor was cannibalizing disc sales, struck distribution deals in which prior holdbacks were either sharply cut back or eliminated. They also rallied behind Redbox On Demand, a digital movie store launched in December 2017.

On the retail front, big-box chains like Best Buy and Walmart put discs back into the spotlight, buoyed by the emergence of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

And digital retailers like FandangoNow and Google Play revved up their promotional muscle and pumped up the message that they had fresh movies for sale or rent. FandangoNow even put up a notice on its home page, touting the fact that it offers “New releases not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime subscriptions.”

It was all part of a bigger picture, in a year dominated by major media mergers — AT&T buying Time Warner, Disney buying 20th Century Fox — suggesting it was high time to come together and restructure existing business models to reflect changing consumer habits.

Content, as always, was king, but the feuding fiefdoms of the past were at last coming to peace with each other — and with themselves.

Subscription streaming continued to dominate the home entertainment business in 2018. Indeed, in the first nine months of this year, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, consumer spending on Netflix and other subscription streaming services rose more than 30% to $9.4 billion, nearly $2 billion more than consumers spent on all other forms of home entertainment combined– disc purchases ($2.79 billion) and rentals ($1.37 billion); digital purchases, or electronic sellthrough (EST, $1.8 billion),  and digital rentals, or transactional video-on-demand (TVOD, $1.57 billion).

But where Hollywood once saw a threat, in 2018 the studios saw an opportunity. As consumers, thanks to streaming, became increasingly accustomed to viewing movies and other content electronically, studios focused on moving them toward on-demand digital purchases or rentals — driving home the message that new releases aren’t typically available through subscriptions.

“Our comprehensive and strategic efforts to drive digital ownership and bolster engagement such as leveraging the early window, offering exclusive extras and emphasizing the best viewing experience possible are proving to be very effective as consumers continue to move toward and embrace the digital experience,” said Chris Oldre, EVP of pay TV, digital and international distribution at Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International.

“Movies Anywhere has had a tremendous impact on transforming digital consumption and is a testament to the strength of the studios and digital retailers that have joined forces on an unprecedented scale. This year Disney once again experienced remarkable growth as our digital sales exceeded expectations in conjunction with the studio’s unrivaled box office success. Disney has the top three bestselling digital titles to date with Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. We’re also incredibly proud of our celebration of Marvel’s 10-year anniversary this year.  We promoted the Marvel Cinematic Universe home entertainment catalog with a special sales promotion across digital, which undoubtedly helped propel Avengers: Infinity War to the No. 1 live-action spot on the all-time digital sales chart in a record-setting period.”

Ron Schwartz, president of Lionsgate Worldwide Home Entertainment, said that as consumer habits evolve, digital movie sales and rentals – electronic sellthrough (EST) and transactional video-on-demand (TVOD) — remain a priority. “We saw a significant increase in industry spending in this area in 2018, up 20%, and we will continue to collaborate with our retail partners on fresh ideas to keep consumer interest alive,” he said. “We see a large and growing market with multi-platform and specialty releases and will continue to build our leadership in this area.”

At the same time, Schwartz notes, “Disc sales remain robust … 4K UHD BD is rapidly gaining in popularity, as spend is on track to double this year versus last. We are committed to serving our audiences across the full spectrum of the digital   and physical business and we will continue to be a first mover in adapting these businesses as they continue to evolve.”

For Bob Buchi, president of worldwide home media distribution at Paramount Pictures, 2018 was the year of 4K.

“More than 42 million homes now have a 4K Ultra HD television and roughly 400 titles are available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc and over 600 on Digital 4K,” Buchi said. “The numbers keep growing and for good reason: 4K brings home entertainment to life like never before, delivering content that better represents filmmakers’ original vision.  We’ve seen this play out with the week one 4K sales of Mission: Impossible — Fallout, which delivered our highest number of UHD discs sold, as well as the highest percentage of our physical sales ever.”

Disney’s Oldre agrees. “4K Ultra HD is a robust line of business for us and we’re experiencing healthy growth,” he said. “We continue to receive solid support from our physical retail partners and are confident it’s a market that our customers will continue to embrace given the format’s premier resolution.”

Catalog sales were another bright spot in 2018, Buchi said. “We’ve seen our digital catalog sales growing in markets around the world, including a 35% increase domestically through October, which indicates that more and more consumers have become comfortable with the format and are returning to the concept of building collections.  In addition, physical catalog sales have exceeded our expectations, as we continue to make concerted efforts to celebrate anniversaries of classic titles and strategically promote films from our library.”

Retailers certainly did their part in pushing the transactional business. At Best Buy and Walmart, the emergence of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray led to bigger disc sections and, in the case of Best Buy, placement back in the center of the store.

Redbox in 2018 relaunched its brand, which included some major ad campaigns and sponsorships, including the Redbox Bowl college football game on New Year’s Eve at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The company also revamped its loyalty program; negotiated more favorable distribution deals with studios; and expanded the availability of previously rented movies and video games at kiosks.

The Redbox On Demand digital service, meanwhile, celebrated its first birthday in December with a new app on Vizio SmartCast TVs. The company also expanded its selection to 12,000 titles, from 7,000 at launch. CEO Galen Smith in December told Media Play News that Redbox On Demand has “surpassed major milestones to become a real player in the competitive digital home entertainment space. We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of customers, including bringing back folks we haven’t seen in a while.”

FandangoNow, a business unit of movie-ticket seller Fandango, struck deals with most major studios that allow it to package movie rentals into “binge bundles” that let consumers watch multiple movies at a lower price. The new offering launched on the Labor Day weekend with more than 100 bundles.

FandangoNow also cross-promotes digital movie sales and rentals with ticket sales. In December, just before the holidays, consumers who spent $20 on FandangoNow received $8 toward a movie ticket.

In the end, studio executives agree, it all comes down to keeping consumers engaged — which requires constant work.

“From a functional solution like Movies Anywhere that allows consumers to build and enjoy a streamlined digital library, to premium viewing with 4K HDR, to story extensions through virtual reality and other emerging formats, keeping consumers invested and engaged requires constant experimentation and innovation,” says Fox’s Keith Feldman. “Our ongoing challenge is to exceed consumer expectations today and simultaneously deliver next-generation offerings that will continue that engagement in the future.”

Lionsgate Taps Kozlowski to Head Home Entertainment, Digital Distribution Marketing

Lionsgate Oct. 10 announced the promotion of marketing executive Amanda Kozlowski to EVP of home entertainment and digital distribution marketing.

Kozlowski, a 10-year veteran of the company, in her new role will oversee Lionsgate’s marketing efforts across traditional and emerging platforms and technologies for the entire home entertainment and digital distribution division.

Amanda Kozlowski

This includes home entertainment distribution of Lionsgate’s feature film slate, titles from one of the largest independent television businesses in the world, Starz’s original programming slate, a 17,000-title film and television library, and third-party titles from such content companies as StudioCanal, Grindstone, A24, Amazon Studios, CBS Films, and sister company Roadside Attractions, among others.

Kozlowski also is charged with managing the department’s media planning, marketing technology platforms and data analytics.

“In this changing environment, it’s crucial to have someone who can bring a fresh and innovative perspective to how we approach the market and there’s no one better qualified than Amanda,” Lionsgate president of worldwide home entertainment Ron Schwartz and president of worldwide television and digital distribution Jim Packer said in a joint statement.

“Her incredible track record, vision and dedication to our prolific home entertainment business makes her the perfect candidate to lead our marketing group.”

Kozlowski previously served as SVP of digital marketing, leading the digital marketing strategy for the department. She also has overseen the execution of Lionsgate’s domestic EST/VOD sales efforts and distribution deals with Roadside Attractions, Miramax Films and StudioCanal.

Prior to joining Lionsgate, Kozlowski oversaw campaigns for marketing agency A.D.D. Marketing + Advertising as well for the nonprofit organization Film Independent.

Kozlowski holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina.