Comcast’s Sky Studios Bowing Production Facilities in the U.S.

With media companies scrambling to create localized content worldwide, Comcast-owned Sky Studios in the United Kingdom reportedly is launching production hubs in New York and Knoxville, Tenn.

Dubbed The Hive, the facilities will cater to Sky Studios and third-party companies offering myriad production services, including casting, gear, wardrobe, set design, transcription, media management and staffing, among other services,” according to Deadline.com, which first reported the move.

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The facilities will be headed by Comcast subsidiary Jupiter Entertainment and its former senior executive Robert Twilley. At Jupiter, Twilley managed production and business for more than 75 series.

Robert Twilley

“Launching The Hive is the next step in our ambition to make Sky Studios a world-leading creative and production force and home to the industry’s best talent,” Jane Millichip, chief commercial officer at Sky Studios, said in a statement.

Jane Millichip

Sky Studios, which produced the acclaimed “Chernobyl” mini-series for HBO, has more than 50 shows in production globally.

Millichip says the expanded production hubs in the U.S. will expedite “great ideas and unique stories” into production sooner.

“Under Robert’s leadership, The Hive will quickly become a vital resource for the industry with ambitious plans for expansion,” she said.

Women in Home Entertainment 2019: A Q&A With BASE CEO Liz Bales

The British Association for Screen Entertainment’s mission statement seeks to champion the growth of screen entertainment across a £2.34 billion U.K. disc and digital video market, while maintaining a business environment with few regulatory burdens.

U.S. studio members include Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Lionsgate U.K., Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures International Entertainment, The Walt Disney Co., and Warner Home Entertainment.

As CEO of BASE and Industry Trust for IP Awareness, Liz Bales has headed the trade group since 2014. A commercial lawyer by trade in the acquisition, exploitation and protection of intellectual property, Bales also leads The Digital Entertainment Group Europe.

Bales is recognized for leadership and creation of partnerships and executing targeted initiatives to grow audience engagement, deliver industrywide behavior change and incubate innovation in established trading environments.

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With a successful track record supporting diverse stakeholders on complex challenges with a focus on measurable results and sustainable solutions as well as delivering efficiencies, Media Play News asked Bales about ongoing cyclical change across the world’s No. 2 home video market.

MPN: At the end of 2018, you cited ongoing “high street retail” challenges in packaged media while attempting to accommodate a “broad variety” of home entertainment content and format options. How have those challenges been met through the first half of 2019?

Bales: The home entertainment category has been effectively managing change for over a decade, and in 2019 we are meeting ongoing challenges head on. BASE is driving physical retail innovation in collaboration with a leading U.K. grocer and alongside industry experts, leading ground-breaking trials with exceptional indicative results at an early stage. Focusing on digital formats, the cross-platform ‘Mega Movie Week’ campaign resulted in the U.K.’s largest week of sales for digital ownership on record, topping 1 millionm units with the highest reported incredibly strong new user activation from a host of the participating platforms.

MPN: The U.S. home entertainment market is now 60% subscription streaming video, led by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. Yet, consumption of packaged media continues (albeit slowly) while increasingly dwarfed by digital. The trend appears similar in the United Kingdom. How are BASE members adjusting their marketing approaches?

Bales: The rapid evolution of technology is a dominant force, and home entertainment is just one of a plethora of categories taking advantage of the benefits. Ultimately this evolution is about the consumer, whose love of and engagement with content in all forms is enduring and still showing huge growth; the home entertainment category value is up 10% in the last year. An established U.K. production base sees the welcome addition of bold new players, which is a huge positive for both our creative industry and U.K. audiences and while format fragmentation is obviously not without its challenges, the industry is proactive in its response, as witnessed by the remodeling being seen across the distribution landscape.

MPN: How does BASE convince consumers to purchase rather than subscribe to media? Can both distribution models co-exist?

Bales: BASE runs a variety of initiatives that focus on informing the consumer on the benefits of the various formats including ownership, rental and subscription. There is a broad range of different needs and spaces in which consumers consume entertainment content, and clear areas where transactional purchase has natural advantages over subscription and vice versa. As long as consumers are made aware of the myriad benefits of ownership across all formats, then both distribution models can continue to co-exist and meet the differing needs of a range of audience types.

MPN: With Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, complete ownership of Hulu and pending launch of a branded subscription streaming service — the latter two likely earmarked for the U.K. — how does traditional home entertainment retail compete?

Bales: Traditional home entertainment retail has already been competing with subscription streaming services for over a decade and Disney is one of a number of entities that will launch direct-to-consumer services in the coming months and years. The response from traditional home entertainment is of course insight led; gaining an understanding of audience behavioral trends and consequent engagement is a high priority. We know that consumers view content from multiple formats, and fans of film and TV have a range of choices; to visit the cinema, buy the latest content digitally or on disc as well as streaming exclusive content from subscription services.

Customers love choice and across the category content owners provide just that. With all of the current and future developments in the home entertainment business, it is imperative that we consider any possible impact on copyright infringement; the category as a whole must work together to ensure that the customer experience comes first, and ensure clarity and simplicity when it comes to accessing content easily and legally even as habits evolve.

The consumer will ultimately vote with their wallet and define the success of new services, but all evidence points to transaction and ownership continuing to be a desired option for many.

MPN: With studios and media companies increasingly focusing on subscription and ad-supported VOD, it would appear BASE has to wear multiple hats to satisfy industry members. Is that true? If so, how has that changed the internal focus at BASE?

Bales: Navigating change has been a constant for many years, the pace of which only escalates. Members have always looked to the organization for a comprehensive category level understanding of current market performance, but now increasingly look to us for a view on future challenges and opportunities.

Ultimately, home entertainment is one part of an expansive and interconnected value chain, and to genuinely add value for members our expertise in home entertainment has to be complemented with a thorough knowledge of surrounding sectors, not only subscription and ad–supported VOD, but extending to theatrical distribution and broadcast.

This is quite a task, but it is one that makes for dynamic and exciting roles within the team and is a challenge the organization has risen to with a passion.

Click here for the 2019 list of Women in Home Entertainment

Disney’s Pending Streaming Video Service Has Broad Consumer Awareness in the U.S. – Less So in the U.K.

Disney’s upcoming Nov. 11 launch of branded subscription streaming video service, Disney+, has been the media company’s primary focus in 2019.

New data from a survey of 2,500 Internet users in the United States by GlobalWebIndex found 35% of respondents cite remakes and sequels of noted Disney film brands for wanting to subscribe to Disney+.

Most coveted sequels include The Lion King (50%), Frozen II (34%) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (29%).

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More than 60% are willing to pay upwards of $20 monthly for the new $6.99 service, with 71% expecting Disney+ will offer family-friendly programming.

Other drivers include Pixar (46%), nostalgic content from childhood (42%), Marvel (38%) and exclusive content exclusive to the platform (38%).

Meanwhile, across the pond in the United Kingdom, consumer awareness of Disney+ is less evident.

The same study found just 35% of respondents in the region were aware of the platform. Of those who knew about it, about 51% said they would be willing to pay £10 monthly ($12.40) — about half what respondents said they currently pay for all combined over-the-top video services.

Indeed, 71% of potential Disney+ subs currently subscribe to Netflix and another 37% use Amazon Prime Video. Of Netflix U.K. subs, 25% said they would try Disney+.

“With Pixar proving most appealing among content that could entice consumers to subscribe to Disney Plus, the recent success of Toy Story 4 in the box office will give Disney a lot of confidence in their ambition to win a strong foothold in the U.K. video streaming market,” Chris Beer, senior trends analyst at GlobalWedIndex, said in a statement. “The most important focus for the new service will be paying close attention to the content demands of its diverse, family-oriented audience.”

Viacom’s Pluto TV Inks Deal with U.K.’s Channel 5

When Viacom acquired ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV for $340 million earlier this year, the corporate parent to Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, BET, MTV and Nickelodeon, had scant over-the-top video distribution.

Now, thanks to aggressive dealmaking, Pluto TV is expanding Viacom’s digital content reach globally.

The Los Angeles-based platform signed a distribution deal with Channel 5, the TV broadcaster in the United Kingdom owned by Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN).

Specifically, three branded channels — Pluto TV Drama, Pluto TV Food and Pluto TV Movies – are headed to Channel 5’s “My5” OTT platform — the latter distributed through Apple TV, YouView, Freeview and related devices.

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“Collaborating with a well-established VOD platform like My5 allows us to pursue our ongoing goal to further enhance Pluto TV’s visibility in the U.K.,”  Olivier Jollet, Pluto’s managing director in Europe, said in a statement. “The three curated Pluto TV channels not only add to My5’s existing line-up, but also enable the My5 audience to experience a small portion of Pluto TV’s diverse programming.”

Pluto has expanded distribution (and Viacom content) through recent deals involving Comcast Cable’s X1 platform, Cox Contour, CNN, Cinedigm and BBC Studios.

“This is a global opportunity,” Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said earlier this year. “It’s going to accelerate our strategy on multiple dimensions. We see a very material opportunity there.”

Indeed, Oli Thomas, VP of digital at VIMN in the U.K., Northern and Eastern Europe, said the MY5 arrangement elevates the U.K. broadcaster’s streamer’s diversity in OTT content.

“The Pluto TV channels further enhance our proposition in the U.K.,” he said. “We know that movies and drama in particular work well in the on-demand space and we’re thrilled to debut such an exciting range of library content on My5.”

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.”

Anime Supplier Funimation Acquires Manga Entertainment

Anime content supplier Funimation, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Television, has acquired Manga Entertainment, the leading distributor of anime in the United Kingdom and Ireland, according to a Funimation press release.

Headquartered in London, Manga is a long-term partner of Funimation and serves anime fans across a wide range of channels, including Blu-ray/DVDs, broadcast, theatrical and digital (EST).

“Following its immediate consolidation of Funimation’s U.K. home entertainment business, Manga will become the largest distributor of anime Blu-rays/DVDs, offering fans more than 900 hours of subtitled and dubbed entertainment — the biggest catalog of titles available anywhere in the U.K. and Ireland,” according to the Funimation press release.

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The acquisition also will allow most of the titles — many for the first time — to become available for streaming to fans throughout the U.K. and Ireland on the SVOD FunimationNow service over the coming months, according to the release.

Titles include such series as “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,” “Naruto Shippuden,” “Ghost in the Shell: Innocence” and “Sword Art Online.”

“With this acquisition, we will create a truly immersive anime experience for fans in the U.K. and Ireland. This begins with providing fans access to Manga’s library of titles to enjoy whenever and wherever they want on FunimationNow,” said Mitchel Berger, VP of sales and distribution for Funimation in a statement. “Together with the Manga team, Funimation will bring its fan-first omnichannel approach to serving anime fans — engaging with them directly through the widest array of touchpoints.”

“On behalf of Manga Entertainment, we’re thrilled to join Funimation and their expanding global business,” said Jerome Mazandarani, managing director of Manga Entertainment, in a statement. “We’re excited for the new opportunities that lie ahead and to serve anime fans in the U.K. and Ireland in a bigger way than ever before.”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Funimation, which today provides streaming, home entertainment, theatrical and broadcast distribution, as well as merchandise licensing in many territories around the world. With a catalog of more than 600 titles encompassing more than 10,000 hours of subtitled and dubbed entertainment, Funimation directly serves consumers in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand through its subscription service FunimationNow. In November 2018, FunimationNow became the first Sony Pictures Television service to launch on Amazon’s Prime Video in the U.K.

Report: SVOD Subs Don’t Want Video Advertising

Maybe there’s a reason Netflix continues to rebuff suggestions it start streaming video ads to its 150 million global subscribers.

SVOD subs don’t want the intrusion.

New data from London-based research group Differentology found that 72% of SVOD subs in a survey of 2,000 respondents in the United Kingdom don’t want ads mixed in with programming.

Outside of ad-supported VOD services, only Hulu (in the U.S.) streams ads on its basic subscription plan.

The report – first reported by Advanced-Television– found that 23% of Netflix subs surveyed said they would upgrade to an ad-free premium model, should Netflix begin to show ads; 39% of the same group said they would either cancel their subscription or switch to another paid service that did not carry ads.

“While advertising on SVOD services is currently not seen as acceptable by the majority of consumers, 43% of those who expressed a preference agreed that they accepted and enjoyed advertising on VOD and catch-up services, such as ITV Hub,” Dan Brilot, head of insight at Differentology, said in a statement.

Separately, the report found that 66% of respondents have never canceled their SVOD service, with 32% that did re-subscribed to the service in less than 90 days.

About 37% of subs said they would probably join a new SVOD service within six months, while 65% said the addition would be in addition to any existing service.

That additional service could be BritBox, the British-centric platform launched in the United States by the BBC and ITV.

About 44% of respondents said would likely try BritBox – a percentage that rises to 60% among respondents under the age of 35. More than 55% said the addition would be on top of any existing SVOD service.

Indeed, Brilot said 53% of respondents between the ages of 16 – 19, opt for SVOD before live TV. Another 17% of the age groups claim the number of paid SVoD subscriptions in their household will increase over the next three years.

“The mix of low-rolling monthly subscriptions, in addition to episodic content, means SVOD has unusually high levels of loyalty as a category, with one in six claiming to always go to an SVOD service first when deciding what to watch,” he said.

 

 

Study: Online TV Is Second-Most-Popular TV Viewing Choice in U.K., Sweden and Germany

A new survey of TV viewers in the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany found that online TV is now the second most popular viewing source behind pay-TV, with usage ranging from just under 40% in Germany to more than 50% in the U.K. and Sweden.

Nielsen company Gracenote and digital media analyst firm nScreenMedia conducted the survey, “TV Universe — U.K., Sweden, Germany: How People Watch Television Today,” in the first quarter of 2019, focusing on pay TV, free-to-air and online TV viewership in the three European countries that account for 31% of the European Union’s total population, according to Statista.

The online TV viewership growth in the three countries “is a remarkable rise as online TV is a relatively new offering,” according to the research firms. In fact, Netflix launched in the United Kingdom in just 2012. Whereas 12 years ago most homes relied on a single-source for TV, today nearly half of viewers in all three of the countries studied are multi-source television households, the researchers noted.

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“Consumer behavior relating to TV viewing is changing rapidly in Europe as it is around the world,” said Simon Adams, chief product officer, Gracenote, in a statement.

Pay TV is currently the most popular television source in the U.K. and Sweden with nearly two in three consumers in each market using it, the survey found, but in Germany the most popular source is free-to-air TV, which accounts for the vast majority of viewers at nearly eight in 10.

In all three European markets surveyed, consumers pointed to on-screen program guides and user interfaces as being critical tools for finding content to watch. Six in 10 viewers indicated visual imagery and TV artwork displayed in guides exert important influence on their viewing choices. Among the 18-to-24-year-old demographic, the number jumped up to around 90%. In addition, respondents indicated TV show and movie descriptions that shed light on content are also factors in their tune-in decision-making, with 70% of U.K. viewers, 65% of Swedes and 57% of Germans saying the program descriptions were at least somewhat important.

The study also found free-to-air TV is gaining traction on mobile with more free-to-air viewers using broadcaster apps to supplement viewing than pay TV viewers use their operator “TV Everywhere” apps. In fact, more than half of free-to-air users in each country use broadcaster apps.

The smart TV is the preferred device to watch video content on in all three countries, according to the study. A significant 70% of total viewing time is on the TV screen in the United Kingdom and Germany, while in Sweden, it is 60%. Samsung is the most popular TV brand in all three countries.

Other insights include:

  • 17% of the U.K. study group use all three TV sources available to them, higher than in Sweden and Germany;
  • While the on-screen guide is the dominant way Swedes and Brits find content to watch, newspaper TV guides and channel flipping are the main ways for Germans; and
  • 31% of Swedes consider online TV to be their primary TV source, the highest of the three countries studied.

 

“The new TV Universe study shows that online TV has become the second most popular source of TV entertainment in a remarkably short period of time,” said Colin Dixon, founder and chief analyst at nScreenMedia in a statement. “Also telling is the fact that, though most online viewing takes place on the television, consumers don’t have the discovery tools they need to efficiently find something to watch there. Features such as voice and cross-service search are thinly used in each country. There is also plenty of room for improvement with content recommendations as a quarter or less think they accurately reflect their interests.”

The consumer research study conducted from February to March 2019 surveyed 1,500 adult TV viewers in the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. The data was weighted to represent the general population of each country. The full report is available for free download now at nScreenMedia.com.

Netflix to Release Viewership Data Going Forward; Top 10 Program Rankings in the U.K.

Netflix announced it will begin revealing more viewership data as the SVOD attempts to woo new subscribers and maintain its market leader status in a crowding over-the-top video ecosystem.

Speaking on the April 16 fiscal webcast, CCO Ted Sarandos said the service would become more transparent with data.

“Over the next several months, we’re going to be rolling out more specific and granular data and reporting,” Sarandos said.“First to our producers, then our members and, of course, to the press over time and be more fully transparent about what people are watching on Netflix around the world.”

Earlier Netflix disclosed it would begin releasing in the United Kingdom the Top 10 most-popular Netflix programs across different genres.

The SVOD pioneer, which has traditionally been reluctant to release viewership data, has been more forthcoming with viewer data for new-release movies, including Bird Box, Triple Frontier and The Highwaymen, among others.

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“For those who want to watch what others are watching, this may make choosing titles even easier,” CEO Reed Hastings and CFO Spence Neumann wrote in the shareholder newsletter. “After a few months we’ll decide whether to end or expand the test.”

The listing, which would not include actual viewership data, underscores increased scrutiny on streaming viewer data as new players such as Apple TV+ and Disney+ prepare to enter the market.

Netflix secretive viewership data has prompted third-party services such as Parrot Analytics and The Binge Report to release weekly Top 10 digital viewership reports — often dominated by Netflix programming.

 

Netflix Partners with British Video Standards Groups for Children’s Content Ratings

Netflix has partnered with the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Video Standards Council Rating Board to help alleviate parental concerns regarding inappropriate content available on subscription streaming video platforms.

The groups — with assistance from the British government’s department for digital, culture, media and sport – have devised “best practices guidelines” to help streaming services apply age-appropriate ratings for streamed content.

The move comes after internal research found 80% of parents are worried about content available online. Specifically, parents want the same ratings that are applied to theatrical movies, video games, DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies applied to online content.

“Our research clearly shows a desire from the public to see the same trusted ratings they expect at the cinema, on DVD and on Blu-ray when they choose to watch material online,” David Austin, CEO of the BBFC, said in a statement. “We know that it’s not just parents who want age ratings, teenagers want them too. We want to work with the industry to ensure that families are able to make the right decisions for them when watching content online.”

Specifically, the BBFC and Netflix are collaborating on a year-long self-ratings pilot, which will see the SVOD giant move towards in-house classification using BBFC age ratings, under license.

Netflix, which has nearly 10 million subscribers in the U.K., will use an algorithm to apply BBFC standards to its own content, with the BBFC setting those standards and auditing ratings to ensure consistency. The goal is to work towards full coverage of BBFC age ratings across the platform.

“The BBFC is a trusted resource in the U.K. for providing classification information to parents and consumers and we are excited to expand our partnership with them,” said Mike Hastings, director of editorial creative at Netflix. “Our work with the BBFC allows us to ensure our members always press play on content that is right for them and their families.”

Netflix, like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, currently offers separate streaming access for kids featuring age-appropriate content.

BBFC’s Austin said the partnership with Netflix would help in the group’s goal to offer age-ratings across all content available in the U.K.

“We hope that others will follow Netflix’s lead and provide comprehensive, trusted, well-understood age ratings and ratings info, consistent with film and DVD, on their U.K. platforms,” he said. “The partnership shows how the industry [is] working with us to find new and innovative ways to deliver 100% age ratings for families.”