Studios, Distributors, EMA Team Up on Massive Digital Movie Rental Promotion

A consortium of studios and key digital retailers, cable companies and satellite providers is sponsoring a digital rental movie sale May 31 through June 3 in which consumers can stream up to 250 different movies at prices as low as $2.99 for recent releases and 99 cents for older, catalog titles.

The “Ultimate Movie Weekend” initiative, led by the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA), is believed to be the first time such a coordinated promotion has been undertaken in the United States.

The goal, according to EMA SVP Sean Bersell, is to “introduce consumers who haven’t rented digitally previously to the value and convenience of digital rental, and to entice consumers who haven’t rented digital recently to re-engage.”

The campaign will offer recent releases and catalog movies from Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Participating digital retailers and cable and satellite companies include Altice USA’s Optimum and Suddenlink TV, Amazon Prime Video, the Apple TV app and iTunes, Atlantic Broadband, Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, FandangoNOW, Frontier Communications, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, PlayStation Store, Redbox On Demand, U-Verse, and Vudu.

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The tagline for the Ultimate Movie Weekend is “Rent the Biggest Movies for Less.” Participating retailers will offer between 50 and 250 movies at discounted prices as low as $2.99 for recent releases and $0.99 for catalog movies. The Ultimate Movie Weekend sale includes some of the latest releases that are not yet available on subscription video services. Among the movies in the promotion are A Star Is Born (2018), Bumblebee, Fifty Shades of Grey, First Man, Forrest Gump, The Hunger Games, Robin Hood (2018), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Step Brothers, and Wonder Woman.

The promotional campaign will be supported by a significant media buy, social media marketing, direct-to-consumer outreach, and a dedicated website, www.ultimatemovieweekend.com. The Ultimate Movie Weekend sale is patterned after similar successful efforts last year in Australia, France and the U.K.

“While the popularity of digital movie rentals continues to grow, there is the opportunity to introduce even more consumers to the value and convenience of digital rental, so the industry has come together to offer a compelling promotion that we hope will attract new customers and remind infrequent digital renters of this option,” said EMA president and CEO Mark Fisher. “Plus, with the start of the summer, which is traditionally a heavy movie-viewing season, it’s a good time to remind consumers of the pleasure of getting together with family and friends for a movie night.”

According to industry statistics, in the first quarter of 2019, digital rental generated $564 million in consumer spending, which accounted for approximately 10% of all home entertainment consumer spending in the quarter.

“This is the first effort of its kind in the U.S., and the breadth of participants demonstrates that the home entertainment industry is making it a priority to communicate the value proposition of digital rentals to consumers,” said Richard Smith, SVP, domestic digital sales, for Paramount Pictures and chair of EMA’s Ultimate Movie Weekend planning committee. “We see significant potential to grow this sector of the industry, and in doing so grow the overall home entertainment market.”

“Our studio partners have assembled a fantastic slate of movies, many unavailable on subscription services, which FandangoNow will offer at compelling prices,” added Cameron Douglas, VP of home entertainment at Fandango and chair of the EMA. “Convenience and value have always been the hallmark of home entertainment, and these great movies at discounted prices draws attention to the ease and affordability of renting digitally.”

Sony, Viacom, CBS, Showtime, NBC Universal, AMC Network Join Growing Studio Sentiment Not to Work in Georgia Should Anti-Abortion Law Go Into Effect

Then the dam broke.

Sony Pictures, Viacom, CBS, Showtime, NBC Universal and AMC Networks, which has produced “The Walking Dead” in Georgia for more than 10 years, May 30 joined a bandwagon of Hollywood studios, producers and actors who have said they would cease doing business should the state’s new anti-abortion law go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation on May 8 making it unlawful for a woman to have an abortion six weeks after pregnancy. Georgia currently bans abortions after 20 weeks.

The issue is unique to Georgia, which has become a prolific location for movie and TV show production, reportedly  accounting for 40 current content production outside of California and New York.

“If this highly restrictive legislation goes into effect, we will re-evaluate our activity in Georgia,” AMC said in a statement.

The network, which was one of the first to produce content in the Peach state with “Walking Dead,” said similar laws passed in other states have been challenged and so would the measure in Georgia.

“This is likely to be a long and complicated fight and we are watching it all very closely,” AMC said.

A spokesperson from Comcast-owned NBC Universal said the media company doesn’t expect the law to go into effect, but is ready to act if required.

“If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future,” said the spokesperson.

A Sony Pictures rep echoed the sentiment saying the Culver City, Calif.-based studio would continue to monitor the situation and “would consider our future production options” if warranted.

Report: Sony PS5 Details Revealed

During a recent Sony investor relations meeting,  a PDF emerged with details on the “next generation” of PlayStation, including Blu-ray capability, according to a report in Dealerscope.

In addition to the new CPU and GPU, support for 8K graphics, 3D audio, SSD storage, ray tracing, disc support, and backwards compatibility with PlayStation 4 details already known, according to Dealerscope, the Sony PDF states, “We will leverage backwards compatibility to transition our community to next gen faster and more seamlessly than ever before.”

The move to next-gen previously required buying all new game titles, but Sony seems to be making the upgrade easier this time, according to the report. The Sony PDF also stated the PS4 “will remain the engine of engagement and profitability for the next three years.”

Sony listed Blu-ray, download and streaming options under the capabilities of the next gen in the “long term.” For the “medium term” Sony is looking to boost its PlayStation Now service.

Sony in the meeting also showed how much more quickly the PS5 was able to load and navigate cities in the Spider-Man game.

Competitors Sony and Microsoft Ink Entertainment Innovation Partnership

Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp. May 16 announced that the two companies will partner on new innovations to enhance customer experiences in their direct-to-consumer entertainment platforms and AI solutions.

Under the memorandum of understanding signed by the parties, the two companies will explore joint development of future cloud solutions in Microsoft Azure to support their respective game and content-streaming services. In addition, the two companies will explore the use of current Microsoft Azure datacenter-based solutions for Sony’s game and content-streaming services.

“By working together, the companies aim to deliver more enhanced entertainment experiences for their worldwide customers,” read a joint press release. “These efforts will also include building better development platforms for the content creator community.”

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As part of the memorandum of understanding, Sony and Microsoft will also explore collaboration in the areas of semiconductors and AI. For semiconductors, this includes potential joint development of new intelligent image sensor solutions. By integrating Sony’s image sensors with Microsoft’s Azure AI technology in a hybrid manner across cloud and edge, as well as solutions that leverage Sony’s semiconductors and Microsoft cloud technology, the companies aim to provide enhanced capabilities for enterprise customers. In terms of AI, the parties will explore incorporation of Microsoft’s advanced AI platform and tools in Sony consumer products, to provide highly intuitive and user-friendly AI experiences.

“Sony is a creative entertainment company with a solid foundation of technology. We collaborate closely with a multitude of content creators that capture the imagination of people around the world, and through our cutting-edge technology, we provide the tools to bring their dreams and vision to reality,” said Kenichiro Yoshida, president and CEO of Sony, in a statement. “PlayStation itself came about through the integration of creativity and technology. Our mission is to seamlessly evolve this platform as one that continues to deliver the best and most immersive entertainment experiences, together with a cloud environment that ensures the best possible experience, anytime, anywhere. For many years, Microsoft has been a key business partner for us, though of course the two companies have also been competing in some areas. I believe that our joint development of future cloud solutions will contribute greatly to the advancement of interactive content. Additionally, I hope that in the areas of semiconductors and AI, leveraging each company’s cutting-edge technology in a mutually complementary way will lead to the creation of new value for society.”

“Sony has always been a leader in both entertainment and technology, and the collaboration we announced today builds on this history of innovation,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a statement. “Our partnership brings the power of Azure and Azure AI to Sony to deliver new gaming and entertainment experiences for customers.”

‘Slaughterhouse Rulez’ to Matriculate to Digital May 17, DVD June 18 From Sony

The dark comedy Slaughterhouse Rulez will graduate to digital May 17 and DVD June 18 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film takes place at an elite boarding school where boys and girls are groomed for power and greatness. Pupils and teachers become embroiled in a battle with a hoard of subterranean monsters, unleashed from a gaping frack site sinkhole, wreaking havoc on the school grounds.

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Asa Butterfield (TV’s “Sex Education,” Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Finn Cole (TV’s“Peaky Blinders”) and Hermione Corfield (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) star alongside Michael Sheen (TV’s “Good Omens,” “The Twilight Saga”). Simon Pegg (the “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek” franchises) and Nick Frost (Fighting With My Family, Shaun of the Dead) appear in the film and serve as executive producers.

‘Stan & Ollie’ Explores Friends’ Love Story

The comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy — who came to fame in the 1920s — helped make Hollywood the dream factory that it is today.

“They are the ones who created the dream,” said Stan Taffel, president of the classic film festival CineCon and member of the Laurel and Hardy fan club Sons of the Desert.

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Born in the silent era, the performing duo is the subject of Stan & Ollie, coming to Blu-ray, DVD and digital March 26 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film follows the team in the later years of their career as they toured and tried to get a new film project off the ground.

“It’s not about two old time comics and the history of their lives; it is about how you get along in life with the people that you know and you make the best of it that you can, and as long as you have friends you have everything,” said Taffel, who calls the film a “love story” about true friends.

Hollywood historian Stan Taffel discussed the legacy of Laurel and Hardy at the Hollywood Heritage Museum in Los Angeles.

It’s a story that hasn’t been fully explored until now, he said at a March 22 presentation at the Hollywood Heritage Museum, appropriately housed in Cecil B. DeMille’s barn, the building that birthed the Hollywood motion picture feature.

“I’m very excited about this film because you really do get to know more of their story,” Taffel said. “Of all of the books and the documents that have been written about these two boys, this film shows an area of their lives that is the least documented of all, the last years of their lives of professional performing. Oliver Hardy was not in good health. Stan Laurel could not secure a contract for them to do more films — the reason, let’s be fair, everybody had their day in the sun and they had their great day in the sun and they still had fans, but Martin and Lewis were the top comedy team at the time that they were touring, and Abbot and Costello were making films, but they weren’t quite as exciting and they had their disagreements. These two gentlemen were the only gentlemen that stayed together.”

As a testament to the affection between the two performers, Taffel noted that Laurel “wrote material for Laurel and Hardy even eight years after Ollie died.”

That connection between the comedy team is the core of Stan & Ollie.

“What this film does, it actually shows two people who really genuinely cared about each other, even at a time when they were not at the top,” Taffel said. “They really showed that Laurel and Hardy were magic.”

Taffel praised the performances in the film, especially John C. Reilly’s transformation into Hardy.

“I actually forgot I was watching John C. Reilly,” he said. Reilly picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Steve Coogan stars as Laurel.

Taffel runs a “tent” for the duo’s fan club, Sons of the Desert, named after a movie that they made in 1933. Members get together and show old films and imbibe, as Stan Laurel directed in the formation of the group in the mid-60s.

“Every tent of the Sons of the Desert is named after one of the films, so you will find a Babes in Toyland tent, you will find an Another Fine Mess tent, you will find a Big  Business tent. I made our tent Hollywood Party since I moved to Hollywood in 1997,” Taffel noted.

In honor of the home entertainment debut of Stan & Ollie, Taffel led a tour around Los Angeles visiting key movie locations from their films, including the famed Music Box Steps.

He also pointed out the various Laurel and Hardy displays at the museum, including the wax figures of the two and letters that Laurel wrote to Hardy.

It’s just a bit of a peek into a relationship that lasted a lifetime and is portrayed in the film — especially in one pivotal scene when Hardy is ill and can’t perform.

“Stan [Laurel] gets into the bed just to keep him warm and hold his hand and that to me is what that movie is about,” Taffel said. “It’s really about a friendship.”

Google Unveils ‘Stadia’ Video Game Service

As expected, Google is entering the $140 billion video game business with hopes its cloud-based Stadia service will rival industry benchmarks Xbox (Microsoft), PlayStation (Sony) and Switch (Nintendo) among consumers.

Google announced the new service March 19 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The search behemoth, which plans to roll out the service and cost details later this year, says Stadia would enable users to play games from major developers on most devices via YouTube.

Google Stadia video game controller

“Our ambition is far beyond a single game,” Phil Harrison, VP and GM at Google, told attendees. “The power of instant access is magical, and it’s already transformed the music and movie industries.”

Harrison, who previously held executive positions at Xbox and PlayStation, said Google tested the service (Project Stream) last fall with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that enabled users to play/stream the triple-A game via Google’s Chrome browser on any applicable device – including smart TV.

“We finally get to share Google’s vision of games,” Harrison said. “Our vision for Stadia is simple. One place for all the games you play.”

In a statement, Yves Guillemot, the co-founder/CEO of Ubisoft, said Google’s global expanse would give “billions” unprecedented opportunities to play video games.

“We are proud to partner with Google on Stadia, building on what we’ve learned with Project Stream via Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,” Guillemot said. “This is only the beginning, and we can’t wait to continue collaborating closely with Google on what’s next for Stadia.”

 

Actioner ‘Miss Bala’ Coming to Digital April 16, Disc April 30 From Sony

The action adventure Miss Bala will shoot to digital April 16 and Blu-ray and DVD April 30 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film earned $15 million in theaters.

Gina Rodriguez (Annihilation,“Jane the Virgin”) plays a young woman caught in the perilous world of a brutal cross-border cartel who finds powers she never knew as she seeks to rescue her friend. Ismael Cruz-Córdova (Mary Queen of Scots) stars alongside Rodriguez as the cartel kingpin, whose growing attraction to his strong-willed female hostage raises the stakes for both as the CIA, DEA and rival cartels close in. The film is directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight).

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More than an hour of bonus material includes eight deleted and extended scenes, wardrobe and rehearsal footage with insights by Hardwicke, and three behind-the-scenes featurettes. In “Gina: The Unstoppable Strength of a Woman,” Rodriguez explains the importance of portraying a strong Latina woman on the big screen. The cast and stunt team explain how they created the action scenes in “The Bigger the Bang: Action on Set.” “The Making of Miss Bala” explains how the story was brought to life from script to screen with a 95 percent Latinx cast and crew. A feature audio commentary includes Hardwicke, executive producer Jamie Marshall, and associate producer Shayda Frost.

Season Four of ‘Better Call Saul’ Coming to Disc May 7 From Sony

Season four of “Better Call Saul” will land on Blu-ray and DVD May 7 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the critically acclaimed show’s fourth season, the death of Jimmy McGill’s brother catalyzes his transformation into the bigger-than-life legal legend Saul Goodman.  Now, Jimmy steps into the criminal world, putting his future as a lawyer — and his relationship with Kim Wexler — in deep jeopardy.

Bob Odenkirk (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) stars as McGill, Jonathan Banks (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) as Mike Ehrmantraut, Rhea Seehorn (TV’s “Franklin & Bash”) as Wexler, Patrick Fabian (The Last Exorcism) as Howard Hamlin, Michael Mando (TV’s “Orphan Black”) as Nacho Varga, and Giancarlo Esposito (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) as Gus Fring.

The disc sets contain all 10 episodes and includes cast and crew audio commentaries on every episode, a gag reel, and the featurette “Slippin’ Kimmy,” which explores the complex character Kim Wexler, whose personal and professional triumphs are threatened by the temptation to cut corners. Also included are ten Madrigal Security Training Videos with Mike Ehrmantraut and the short film “No Picnic” featuring fan-favorite characters The Kettlemans. Blu-ray exclusive content includes seven deleted scenes, three storyboard scene comparisons, a directorial walk-through, and two featurettes: “Flashing Forward, Looking Back,” which highlights the show’s use of non-linear storytelling to explore the many layers of Jimmy’s transformation, and “Constructing the Superlab,” which takes an in-depth look at the process of building Gus Fring’s Superlab both on and off-screen.

‘The Natural’ Swinging to 4K Ultra HD From Sony

For its 35th Anniversary, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing the baseball film classic The Natural on 4K Ultra HD disc and in 4K via participating digital platforms June 4.

In the film, Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, who seemingly comes out of nowhere to become a legendary baseball player with almost divine talent. But on his way to stardom in the big leagues, Hobbs’s dreams are shattered when a mysterious woman and a silver bullet end his career prematurely. Sixteen years later, Hobbs finds himself coming back to baseball, seeking to overcome physical pain — and nefarious forces — to lead his team to the pennant.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, the film also stars Robert Duvall, Glenn Close in an Academy Award-nominated performance, and Kim Basinger.

The 4K Ultra HD disc includes two versions of the film in 4K with HDR: the original theatrical version and the directors’ cut, each restored from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by director of photography Caleb Deschanel and director Barry Levinson. Both versions of the film also include newly remixed Dolby Atmos audio, along with the original stereo and 5.1 tracks for the theatrical version.

Bonus materials on the 4K UHD include Levinson’s intro to the director’s cut and the theatrical trailer. The blu-ray disc includes the theatrical cut and several featurettes.