‘Honest Thief,’ ‘The Last Shift’ Top Slate of New Releases Available for Home Viewing Dec. 29

Universal Pictures’ Honest Thief and Sony Pictures’ The Last Shift top the slate of new releases available for home viewing on Dec. 29.

Also out are Two Ways Home, from Gravitas Ventures, and, on DVD only, a batch of music videos from Bayview Entertainment, among them The Beatles: Meet the Beatles; Elvis Presley: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Years; and Stevie Nicks: Broadcasting Live.

Honest Thief, a drama starring Liam Neeson as a guilt-conscious bank robber who confronts FBI agents wanting to rob him, arrives on Blu-ray Disc and DVD two weeks after it became available to rent or buy through digital retailers such as FandangoNow, Redbox On Demand, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV and ROW8. Written, directed and produced by Mark Williams, the film stars Neeson as a notorious bank robber who turns himself in after falling in love, only to be double-crossed by a pair of corrupt FBI agents. The merciless agents soon discover there’s nothing more dangerous than an elite criminal mastermind seeking justice. Honest Thief earned $13.5 million at the domestic box office.

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The comic drama The Last Shift makes its debut on Blu-ray Disc and DVD as well as through digital retailers. In the film, aging fast-food worker Stanley (two-time Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins) plans to call it quits after 38 years on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish. He spends his last weekend training his replacement, Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), a talented but stalled young writer whose provocative politics keep landing him in trouble. Stanley, a high school dropout who has watched his life pass by his drive-through window, proudly details the nuances of the job while Jevon, who considers himself too smart to be flipping patties, contends their labor is being exploited. A flicker of comaraderie sparks during the long overnight hours in a quiet kitchen.

Two Ways Home, making its Blu-ray Disc and DVD debut on Dec. 29, is a drama about a troubled young woman living with bipolar disorder who returns to her hometown in rural Iowa to reconnect with her estranged 12-year-old daughter. Her plan to stay with her grandfather is thwarted when she discovers he has suffered a heart attack and is being kept at a nursing home by her parents. Conflict with her family intensifies when her teenage daughter’s reaction to seeing her echoes the feelings shared by the whole family: they were happier when she was out of their lives.

Vizio Unveils Holiday Hub

Vizio has unveiled “Unwrap the Magic of SmartCast,” its holiday hub featuring a collection of special programming for the holiday season.

With more than 200 hours of holiday-themed movies, TV episodes, music and more from app partners, the hub features free and premium holiday streaming options, including 12 days of special offers and discounts on video-on-demand movies throughout December.

Vizio has teamed up with ROW8 and Redbox to present 12 days of SmartCast movie deals with specially priced, video-on-demand holiday titles such as Elf, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Arthur Christmas, as well as new releases such as Fatman, The Stand-in and Greenland.

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“We are pleased to offer Vizio SmartCast consumers the ultimate holiday destination with hundreds of hours of holiday movies and programming to celebrate the season,” Katherine Pond, VP of business development for Vizio, said in a statement. “With our abundant holiday content offering free channels, premium apps, and discounted holiday titles, together with our seasonal discounts on our award-winning TVs and sound bars, Vizio continues to deliver a best-in-class entertainment experience for people of all ages.”

The holiday hub can be found on the SmartCast home screen and includes a combination of premium content and free channel options. SmartCast provides audiences with home screen access to subscription apps such as Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Hulu, Prime Video and Peacock as well as streaming across 130-plus free channels. SmartCast supports streaming from devices with Apple AirPlay and Chromecast Built-in, and smart home connectivity with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Alexa-enabled devices.

TVOD Service ROW8 Seeks to Involve Movie Theaters Through ‘Geo-Locator’ Feature

It may not be possible to build a better mousetrap, but the folks at ROW8 insist they’ve built a better digital movie distribution system.

It’s tailored to current market conditions, with movies increasingly being released to theaters and, with little or no delay, to home viewers through premium video-on-demand (PVOD) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Calkins, CEO of the upstart transactional video-on-demand service, says ROW8’s proprietary technology platform was built with PVOD in mind, “so it has already implemented the studio-required higher level of security.”

And now that PVOD, due to the pandemic and consequent shuttering of movie theaters, has evolved from Hollywood dream into a necessary reality, the ROW8 platform’s ace in the hole is a unique “geo-locator” that allows movie theaters to participate.  It works like this: In areas where a new movie is playing theatrically, digital sales or rentals can be blacked out, but in areas where theaters are dark or a movie is either not showing or has concluded its run, consumers will be able to buy or rent the film digitally through the ROW8 platform. Exhibitors and distributors can negotiate market-specific trade arrangements, based on exhibitor marketing support and the degree to which the home availability potentially is near a playing location.

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“We know how close a customer is to their local theater, and we can choose what movies they can see at home, based on what is playing in that theater in real time,” says George Christoph, who founded ROW8 four years ago. “We can geo-fence the local trade area for certain movies, or share the in-home revenue with the nearest theater — it all depends on the terms of the partnership agreement struck by the distributing studio with the local exhibitor.

“Our technology is already patented and we believe that this business model is particularly valuable for smaller to mid-size films, as those have struggled to find a path to theaters over the last few years, and even more so now, during the pandemic.”

Based in Los Angeles, ROW8 is run by Christoph and Calkins, an entertainment industry veteran who has held key digital distribution posts at Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Bros. The company launched two years ago with exclusive U.S. digital distribution rights to foreign and independent films, but last year veered toward the mainstream through the signing of licensing deals with four major studios: Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.  Disney/Fox licenses were added earlier this year.

ROW8’s core service is digital movie sales and rentals, much like FandangoNow, Redbox On Demand, Google Play and Microsoft Movies & TV. But with windows on shaky ground due to the shuttering of movie theaters during the pandemic, Calkins says, he sees an opportunity to do things a little differently.

“As in many business areas, we continue to see the unfortunate pandemic as an accelerant for digital behaviors,” Calkins says. “Certainly, there is more of a spotlight on digital consumption, and an acceleration of consumer shift to OTT services.  But even more interestingly, we think the market challenges are really forcing the discussion between studios and theaters about how to best create value for films through integrating windowed theatrical releasing, and eliminating any ‘black periods’ for consumer availability, which we think is a relevant question at a local level, not just a national one.

“The inefficiency of having films largely out of theaters in 30 days but, somewhat arbitrarily, not allowed in homes for 90 days, has really come under scrutiny. And having theaters closed has put everything on the table.”

This “inefficiency,” he adds, “is only magnified when we look at the smaller films.”

“There really are two different flavors,” Calkins says. “One is blacking out availability of a wide theatrical release, by market, if it’s in theaters there, or if theaters are open. But the other is for smaller films that aren’t getting a wide theatrical release. We can protect their theatrical platform release, but still open up availability, digitally, in other parts of the country they might not otherwise get to. Take a small, art-house film — there might be no art-house theaters in Montana, so the film will be available digitally there on day one. But in a market like Los Angeles or New York, the film will be blacked out until much later in its run.”

Post-pandemic, Calkins says he expects PVOD to continue to be a viable business model — and the digital distribution of movies, both during and after their theatrical runs, will continue to be a growth business.

“People will still go to theaters on date nights or to see a hot new event movie on the giant screen,” Calkins says. “The theatrical market might shrink a bit in terms of overall size — admissions, after all, have been trending downward for the last 20 years — but there is no reason to believe that all of a sudden everyone will want to stay in their living rooms 24/7 indefinitely, particularly once we have a vaccine. Talent, too, will still want to see their work on the big screen, and having that distribution capability as a major studio will be a key point of differentiation over the large streaming services.

“The only question, then, is how do theatrical windows again create the best economics for films — not just for tentpoles but even more so for the smaller ones that drive frequency and product breadth? That’s where a more dynamic approach to making films available to home audiences could be a key capability for both distributors and exhibitors.”

New In-Home Theatrical VOD Service Launches

A new transactional VOD service offering early home entertainment access to European theatrical releases has launched in the United States.

Dubbed ROW8, the service aims to accelerate home entertainment access to exclusive premieres of foreign theatrical titles in the U.S. market. Users can rent movies for $7.99, watchable on Internet-connected TVs, Roku, Android and Apple devices.

Founded by entrepreneurs George Christoph and Jasmina Christoph, and led by CEO John Calkins (formerly head of digital distribution at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), ROW8 is working with industry advisors Craig Kornblau (former president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, and current advisor to a number of companies in the GV [Google Ventures] portfolio), and Ken Ziffren, co-founding partner of Ziffren Brittenham.

The service features proprietary technology, guided by CTO David Rondan, offering filmmakers the flexibility of tailoring their in-home releases with session-identifiable watermarks.

ROW8 is initially available on Web, iOS, Android and Roku, with other platforms to follow.

Initial titles include Danish box office hit Darkland; The End?, a stylish and imaginative Italian horror film, and Box 27, an emotional family drama from France.

Calkins said ROW8 aims to focus on advances in digital marketing and consumer demand, in addition to creating alternatives to traditional release patterns for “forward-thinking” film distributors.

“We are passionate film lovers who understand the challenges that a rapidly changing landscape has created for theatrically released films the world over,” he said in a statement.

Initial studio partner includes Germany’s Constantin Films, whose titles Adidas vs. Puma, and World War II drama, Friends Forever are available to stream.

“We are excited to be among the first to provide films to the ROW8 service, and believe the time is right in the market for the consumer to have accelerated access to great theatrical films, without compromising the upside to filmmakers or the risk of being lost in a subscription video-on-demand bundle,” said Constantin CEO Martin Moszkowicz.