Longtime Warner Publicity Executive Melissa Hufjay Exits Studio

Melissa Hufjay, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment VP of publicity, TV, animation and originals, is exiting the studio after 18 years as part of the WarnerMedia reorganization.

Her position focused on executive oversight of WBHE’s full-service publicity department for the television business unit, including guiding and executing all public relations initiatives and activities on physical and digital for television, genre, family, animation (Warner Bros. Animation and acquisitions), Blue Ribbon Content (live-action and animation), and WBHE-produced live-action films and special Interest home entertainment initiatives, including brands such as DC Comics, Hanna Barbera, LEGO and Warner Bros. Animation. For the past year, Hufjay has also reported into Warner Bros Television, working to streamline comprehensive campaigns for TV productions through the home entertainment window.

Hufjay is highly respected in the industry. Among her many public relations successes are campaigns launching the home entertainment releases of “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” the “Peanuts” and “Sesame Street” franchises, popular Blue Ribbon Content, and WBHE-produced live-action films (including the Cinderella Story, Deep Blue Sea and Critters franchises), as well as launching and orchestrating publicity and marketing activities for more than 40 films in the ongoing DC Universe movies series over the past 13 years. In addition, she handled publicity efforts for the NFL, NBA and NHL home entertainment releases.

A graduate of George Washington University, Hufjay’s 28-year career has included publicity positions at studios and publicity firms including Paramount Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, DreamWorks, Rogers & Cowan and Warner Bros.

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“While change is not easy, it’s something I’ve always embraced,” Hufjay said. “I’ve had an amazing 17-and-a-half-year run at Warner Bros. and will forever be grateful to my mentors and colleagues. After spending most of my time with superheroes, my immediate plan is to focus on my family over the holidays but I’m so excited to choose the next step in my career.”

CBS Unveils New Brand Identity Across All Divisions and Platforms

With ViacomCBS readying the reboot of SVOD platform CBS All Access to Paramount+ in 2021, CBS Oct. 8 unveiled a new brand identity aimed at simplifying the look and feel of all its divisions across platforms.

In an announcement by chief marketing officer Mike Benson, the updated brand identity for entertainment programming debuted on the CBS Network this week in advance of the upcoming fall TV show season. Viewers can expect to see it rolled out across CBS News leading up to the 2020 election and for CBS Sports for Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021.

Similar iterations are being developed for CBS Television Stations and CBS Television Distribution. For example, CBS Television Studios has been renamed CBS Studios.

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The branding is designed to create stronger “continuity and clarity” from the core CBS brand to subsidiaries, while driving attribution for CBS’s content, whether on the brand’s traditional platforms or others such as live, on-demand or streaming video.

“CBS has long been one of the most unifying brands in media,” Benson said. “We needed to make that clearer and more consistent at every consumer touchpoint.”

Benson, who worked with ad agency Gretel on the rebranding, said the improvements draw upon CBS’s 91-year history, with key visual and audio elements from the past integrated into the new aesthetic. The ubiquitous CBS Eye logo remains central to the new identity in a unique animated way. The voiceover “This is CBS,” which was used for decades on the company’s radio and television broadcasts beginning nearly a century ago, is another example of legacy elements playing a strong role moving forward.

New elements of the CBS brand strategy include:

  • The iconic CBS Eye will be used across the brand identity in a flexible style that elevates it as a standalone logo and leans into the shapes and elements that make it up.
  • Brand attribution will be applied to programming and promotion that drives better connection between the CBS core brand, its sub-brands and our premium content available across CBS-owned and third-party platforms.
  • Content on CBS and CBS-owned platforms will be tagged with “CBS Original,” “CBS News,” “CBS Sports” or “CBS Presents” to reinforce its role as a leading creator and content provider for its platforms and many others. For example: “CBS Presents The 56th Academy of Country Music Awards.”
  • Content produced by CBS Studios will also include “A CBS Studios Production” and CBS Studios branded marks.
  • An audio expression of the updated brand identity comes to life in a five-note mnemonic written by assigning musical notes to the historic “This is CBS” voiceover slogan, creating a new melody and animation that will appear at the top of the hour during primetime programming on CBS.
  • Unified logos and graphics that simplify and closely identify CBS as the core brand across divisions.
  • Updated avatars and watermarks to be used across all CBS social media handles.

Another 2.4 Million People Filed Jobless Claims Last Week; Upping 9-Week Total Past 38 Million

The economy may be reopening slowly around the country, but people being out of work continues. New data from the U.S. Labor Department revealed that more than 2.4 million people filed unemployment claims for the week ended May 16 — bringing the nine week total during the coronavirus pandemic to 38.6 million.

The government said the unemployment rate was 17.2% for the week ended May 9, an increase of 1.7 percentage points from the previous week.

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Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, thinks the unemployment rate in May will reach 20%, compared with 14.7% in April.

“The hemorrhaging has continued,” Slok told The New York Times.

Indeed, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, citing comments from Universal Pictures chairwoman Donna Langley, May 20 disclosed that the vast majority of Hollywood’s 890,000 studio and television employees are not working due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

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“Anyone listening to yesterday’s meeting heard loud and clear that employees and businesses are suffering,” Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors chair Kathryn Barger said in a briefing.

Studios are banking on movie theaters re-opening in Los Angeles and New York in July, driven by Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (Warner Bros.) on July 17 and Disney’s Mulan on July 24.

CBS, Viacom Merger to Close Dec. 4

CBS Corp. and Viacom have announced that their pending merger is expected to close after market hours on Dec. 4.

Immediately following the closing, the combined company will be renamed ViacomCBS Inc., and it is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market on Dec. 5 under the new ticker symbols “VIACA” and “VIAC,” according to the companies.

As part of the listing, ViacomCBS will also become eligible for future inclusion in the Nasdaq 100 index.

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Speaking last August with CNBC, Robert Bakish, current Viacom CEO and future head of ViacomCBS, said the combined media company would offer “unmatched scale” with 140,000 television catalog episodes and 3,600 movies, including content from Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios.

The broadcast network’s early move toward direct-to-consumer content distribution with CBS All Access and Showtime OTT and Viacom’s acquisition of ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV has well-positioned the new media company in the streaming video era, he said.

“[That’s] not something people have talked about a lot [regarding the merger],” he said.  “You unite those two together and you really have a D-to-C ecosystem — very compelling — both with substantial, millions of users.”

More ViacomCBS Execs Announced

CBS and Viacom Nov. 18 announced additional senior appointments to ViacomCBS corporate leadership, effective upon closing of the merger.

Alex Berkett, SVP, corporate development and strategy, Viacom, will become EVP, corporate development and strategy, leading ViacomCBS’ efforts to identify, pursue and execute strategic growth opportunities, including acquisitions, partnerships, investments and joint ventures, across all of ViacomCBS’ businesses and geographies.

Nancy Phillips will serve as EVP, chief people officer, and lead the ViacomCBS global human resources organization. Phillips joins the company from Nielsen, where she served as chief human resources officer.

Marva Smalls, EVP, global head of inclusion strategy, Viacom, will serve as EVP, global head of inclusion of ViacomCBS, driving initiatives and fostering partnerships that promote and advance diversity and inclusion for ViacomCBS enterprise-wide both with internal and external stakeholders globally. In addition, she will retain her public affairs responsibilities for Nickelodeon as EVP, public affairs, kids and family entertainment brands, ViacomCBS Media Networks.

Jose Tolosa, chief transformation officer of Viacom, will expand his responsibilities as EVP, chief transformation officer. In this role, he will continue to oversee integration efforts for the combined company, with a focus on accelerating the evolution of its businesses. Tolosa will also lead ViacomCBS strategic planning, helping to set the company’s strategic priorities and support cross-company projects for senior management. Additionally, he will oversee the Global Business Services and Global Sourcing divisions, which will expand their scope, providing enterprise-wide services and helping drive synergies.

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The leadership announcements follow the previously announced appointments of Christa D’Alimonte as EVP, general counsel and secretary; Anthony DiClemente as EVP, investor relations; DeDe Lea as EVP, global public policy and government relations; Julia Phelps as EVP, chief communications and corporate marketing officer, and Christina Spade as Executive Vice President, CFO.

“We now have in place the entire senior management team for ViacomCBS, ensuring we will hit the ground running when the transaction closes in just a few weeks,” stated Bob Bakish, Viacom president and CEO, who will serve as president and CEO of ViacomCBS upon closing. “Working together, these leaders will help us realize the full potential of our considerable assets and competitive strengths.”

The merger of Viacom and CBS remains subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close by early December.

Disney Names Justin Connolly President of Media Distribution, Combines Units

The Walt Disney Co. will combine all of its media sales and channel distribution into one organization under Justin Connolly, who has been named president of Media Distribution. Based in New York, Connolly will report to Kevin Mayer, chairman of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International segment.

Connolly’s appointment comes just days after the abrupt departure of Disney veteran Janice Marinelli from her position as president of Global Content Sales & Distribution for The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer & International (DTCI) segment, ending a 34-year career at the media giant.

“By combining all of our media, affiliate, content and syndication sales, and distribution efforts into the Direct-to-Consumer and International segment, we continue to transform the ways in which we distribute the great stories and characters created by The Walt Disney Company’s studios and media networks,” said Mayer in a statement. “I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Justin for many years and believe his experience makes him well-suited to drive Disney’s media sales and distribution efforts. He is a consummate professional, a fantastic dealmaker, and a great leader.”

“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead the industry’s best multi-platform sales and distribution teams,” said Connolly in a statement. “Through our combined efforts we will achieve the company’s vision for an even stronger, more agile organization that is better able to pivot and capitalize on the many opportunities present in today’s fast-changing and increasingly complex global marketplace.”

In his new role, Connolly will spearhead global app distribution deals for Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming services — including Disney+, ESPN+ and Movies Anywhere. Connolly will also be responsible for the distribution of film and television programming via home entertainment, broadcasting platforms, digital platforms, SVOD and pay networks.

He will continue to oversee all aspects of North American distribution, affiliate marketing and affiliate-related business operations for all the services provided by Disney and ESPN media networks including, among other services: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPNU, SEC Network, ACC Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, FX, FXX, FXM, National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild, and related WATCH, HDTV, video-on-demand, interactive television and retransmission consent agreements for Disney’s eight-owned ABC stations. He will also continue to have oversight of the ABC Affiliate Relations and Marketing team.

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To ensure alignment between content licensing and direct-to-consumer priorities, a Disney release stated Connolly will work closely with DTCI’s international content sales teams who now report directly into their respective regional leaders. Connolly will have final approval on all content sales agreements for Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox Film, Fox Animation, Disneynature, ABC Studios, ABC Entertainment, National Geographic, FX Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, WABC, Freeform, Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior.

Connolly previously served as EVP, affiliate sales and marketing, Disney and ESPN Media Networks — overseeing all aspects of domestic distribution, ABC affiliate relations, affiliate marketing and affiliate-related business operations for all the services provided by Disney and ESPN media networks. In June 2017, he added oversight of ESPN’s strategy and business development teams to his portfolio.

Prior to that, Connolly served as SVP, college networks, and under his direction, SEC Network was the most successful network launch in cable history. Before working with the college networks, Connolly served as SVP, national accounts for Disney & ESPN Media Networks. He was responsible for all domestic distribution and licensing efforts for Disney’s linear networks, broadband and VOD content within the Media Networks Group.

He joined ESPN in 2003 and served in various capacities including director, ESPN strategy and operations, where he helped ESPN with its long-term affiliate negotiations. In August 2004 he was promoted to VP, distribution strategy. Prior to joining ESPN, Connolly worked in the corporate finance group for Disney’s corporate treasury department in Burbank, Calif.

Connolly, a Boston native, graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in 1998 and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2003.

Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International segment includes Disney’s international media operations stretching from Europe to Asia to Latin America and the company’s direct-to-consumer streaming businesses, including Hulu, Hotstar, ESPN+, and the upcoming Disney+ service set to debut in the United States Nov. 12. DTCI also houses global advertising sales and ad technology for Disney media properties, which include ABC, ESPN, Freeform, FX Networks, National Geographic, and the Disney Channels. The company’s media distribution operations — including global distribution of film and TV content to Disney+, Hulu and other third-party platforms, as well as Movies Anywhere — are also part of the Direct-to-Consumer & International business segment.

BayView Entertainment Acquires Monterey Media

BayView Entertainment, a supplier of independent special interest, fitness, and wellness video releases for more than 15 years, has acquired California-based Monterey Media, a distributor of independent films for all media platforms.

The Monterey library encompasses hundreds of feature films and documentaries and has been awarded numerous Multi-Platinum RIAA and ITA sales awards, according to a BayView press release. The Monterey catalog includes independent films starring such actors as James Franco, Kaley Cuoco, Susan Sarandon, Gabriel Byrne, Dennis Hopper, Shirley Knight, Tom Skerritt, Thandie Newton, Anthony LaPaglia, John Ritter, Tommy Lee Jones, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker, David Strathairn, Brian Dennehy, Robin Williams, Danny Glover, Nathan Lane and Jacqueline Bisset, among many others; sports programming including the Bruce Brown films On Any Sunday and The Endless Summer; an educational library of films adapted from literature’s renowned authors combined starring some of Hollywood’s greatest actors; and children’s programming.

“We are excited to welcome Monterey Media into the BayView Entertainment family,” said Peter Castro, VP of acquisitions at BayView, in a statement. “We share a common passion for the highest quality programming and this acquisition will drive exciting new growth for our wholesale customers as well as our producer partners by offering a complete portfolio of feature films and special interest titles from a single distributor.”

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“As all good things must be nurtured to grow, we are so very pleased to have found a new chapter for our wonderful library and its deserving producers.” said Monterey Media’s Jere and Scott Mansfield in a statement. “We are confident as we transition that unique opportunities lie ahead for our carefully curated library.”

For more than 35 years, Monterey Media has been a leading supplier and distributor of independent feature film programming. Monterey’s films have been nominated or won Independent Spirit Awards, Golden Globe Awards and NAACP Image Awards.

Studios Reportedly Back Private Sector 5G Spectrum Allocation

Next-generation 5G wireless technology continues to get a lot of attention (and hype) — notably as an enhanced distribution channel for mobile video entertainment.

Mobile data traffic worldwide is expected to increase from 28 exabytes monthly this year to 77 exabytes monthly by 2022, according to Statista. 5G is expected to add $2.7 trillion to the U.S. GDP by 2030.

Consumer awareness of the fifth-generation wireless technology successor has reached mainstream, according to The NPD Group. So too has government concern surrounding the security and allocation of increasingly coveted (and finite) spectrum (or megahertz) required to deliver 5G data.

The FCC reportedly is considering offering 5G wireless services through a government-backed network using existing and Department of Defense spectrum, an idea that would include repurposing current commercial bandwidth.

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This isn’t sitting well with some regulators, notably Federal Communications Commission board member Michael O’Reilly, a longtime champion of market-driven initiatives over government intervention/regulation.

“To call this [government 5G network] effort a trial balloon is insulting to balloons, as all the ideas mentioned have far less consistency than balloons, and more closely resemble a child’s bubbles,” O’Reilly wrote in a blog post last month.

Enter the C-Band Alliance (CBA), a lobbying group representing satellite operators it says represent “100%” of the C-band services currently provided in the United States.

The group sent the FCC a proposal it claims would “quickly clear” C-band spectrum and would pave the way toward the United States maintaining equilibrium with China and other countries in 5G wireless services.

The CBA advocates streamlining the allocation process of 200 MHz of C-band downlink spectrum to 18-to-36 months after the FCC finalizes repurposing satellite’s C-band spectrum for 5G service.

Specifically, the group says satellite operators would cover all costs to clear spectrum and to implement operations in the upper 300 MHz of the band.

“Compared to FCC-run spectrum auctions, which historically have taken as long as a decade, the CBA proposal can deliver valuable spectrum to the U.S. market years ahead of any alternative proposal,” the CBA wrote.

Satellite operators would also coordinate with domestic C-band users such as Hollywood studios, content holders and distributors to “repack hundreds of audio and video services” into the remaining 300 MHz.

Representatives from Disney, Viacom, Fox, CBS, Discovery and Univision, among others, reportedly met with the FCC advocating for speedier spectrum allocation.

Indeed, Disney said its ESPN unit last month used 143 C-band feeds in one day to produce its 24/7 sports content.

“No other distribution method matches C-band in ubiquity and reliability,” the studios wrote in a letter to the FCC. “Content companies and other programmers thus rely on the C-band as the principal means of delivering video to the many thousands of earth stations in the United States.”

Shortened Windows Drive South Korean Digital Movie Sales to No. 2 Behind U.S.

Move over Japan. After years of lagging sales, South Korea has emerged as the No. 2 market for digital sales of movies behind the United States, according to new data from Futuresource Consulting.

The London-based research firm said consumer spending on transactional VOD has increased 800% during the past six years largely due to a shortening of the theatrical window.

Dubbed “Super Premium” and introduced in 2013, the campaign afforded consumers with access to theatrical titles four weeks after their box office debut — shortened from 12 to 16 weeks.

Disney and Sony Pictures were the first studios to incorporate the shorter window, followed by other studios in 2014.

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The Super Premium window has become one of the biggest revenue drivers for the Korean market and typically accounts for two-thirds of transactional revenue, a key factor in the renaissance of the South Korean home video market — and diminished piracy, according to Futuresource.

The report found inconclusive evidence whether the shorter theatrical window negatively impacted exhibitors – as is the rallying cry against narrowing the window in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Futuresource found that the South Korean box office remained steady following the “Super Premium” rollout; albeit at a slower growth rate than before the campaign began.

The report found the Super Premium VOD/EST window has jumpstarted a South Korean home video market in decline following ongoing shrinking packaged-media sales.

“We could see this initiative rolled out to further territories, leveraging South Korea as a leading example,” Futuresource said.

It cautioned that shorter theatrical windows must still be analyzed as to their impact on box office.

“Perhaps [box office revenue growth] could have been higher had this not been introduced,” Futuresource reported. “What is clear is that traditional windows are coming under increased pressure, faced with a fast-paced, digital-first landscape.”

‘Not on Netflix’

I’m a little confused about the whole “Direct to Consumer” trend and what it means for home entertainment.

I get the concept — delivering movies, TV shows and other filmed content directly to consumers over the Internet, bypassing third-party distributors — but honestly, what are we selling here?

Consumers aren’t buying individual movies or shows, either to own or just to watch. They are subscribing to a service, where they can still pick and choose what they want to watch, but it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet rather than ordering off the menu. And that’s an enticing proposition for the consumer — a whole month of entertainment for less than it costs to buy a single movie, either on disc or digitally.

And yet the transactional business model remains a critical component of Hollywood’s money stream, and also provides a far better picture of consumer demand. Just like at the box office, movies succeed or fail on their own, and their performance helps studios determine what to make more of — and less of.

And the transactional model will always rely on a third-party distributor — retailer, aggregator, call it what you will — to provide consumers with the broadest possible choice. Except for Disney, the individual studios simply aren’t a brand.

But regardless of how much money Netflix — and Disney+, the new Disney SVOD service set to launch later this year — spends on original content, I can’t fathom consumers not wanting first-run movies, either to own or just to watch. And while Disney will probably throw some new theatrical movies into its SVOD service just to stoke interest, most of the big blockbusters will always be available first through the transactional model. Netflix and other SVOD services will remain focused on television content and catalog movies to give studios a direct revenue stream to compensate for declining disc sales and the loss of fees they get from selling content to cable companies because of cord-cutting.

The transactional business model has certainly endured its share of bumps in recent years. Disc sales continue to decline, and only recently have digital movie sales and rentals begun to climb, with respectable growth rates of 14.4% and 6.2%, respectively, according to year-end 2018 numbers issued by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

The launch in late 2017 of the Movies Anywhere platform certainly helped lift sales, as has the increasing aggressiveness of digital retailers like Apple iTunes, FandangoNow, Redbox On Demand and Google Play, even though the business is largely driven by pay-TV providers like Comcast.

But to really lift the transactional business studios need to do more, as well. An earlier window for digital releases has certainly been effective, but what’s next? Years ago, faced with a slowdown in what was then a physical media-only business, studios banded together with distributors and retailers and introduced a common street date — Tuesdays — as well as a generic awareness campaign that drove home the low cost and convenience of renting a video.

Why not develop and launch a similar industrywide campaign now? Focus on all the great content that’s available exclusively through transactional purchases and rentals, including, of course, fresh new theatrical blockbusters that won’t be on Netflix for years, if ever. I’ve had studio executives tell me this is common knowledge, but I respectfully disagree — I’ve had too many friends and acquaintances tell me otherwise. FandangoNow prominently notes on its website, “New releases not on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime subscriptions.” Why can’t this be an industrywide rallying cry, maybe even with the hashtag #NotOnNetflix (which last time I checked had just 684 posts on Instagram)?

And while we’re at it, let’s put a little effort behind the much-maligned physical disc. We have a truly great new product, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, that’s even getting increased attention (in the form of floor space) from big traditional retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

But sometimes it seems that the disc is our industry’s forgotten stepchild. Let’s put existing trade groups like the Blu-ray Disc Association and Ultra HD Alliance to work and start pounding the drums, focusing on the fact that of all the products and platforms out there 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray most closely replicates the theatrical experience. Consider an earlier street date for 4K.

And at the same time, don’t neglect regular Blu-ray and DVD, which continue to dominate sales.  Explore the feasibility of selling a small, curated selection of discs through movie theaters, focusing on titles that somehow tie in with what’s playing on the big screen. There’s a reason theme parks have big gift shops at the exits — you’ve got a captive audience.