Universal, Warner Bros. To Merge Domestic Disc Business

After a year of two gigantic mergers, Hollywood is welcoming the new year with further consolidation — this time, in the home entertainment sector.

Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. on Jan. 15 announced plans to merge their physical distribution businesses.

On the domestic front, the two studios are establishing a joint venture to market and distribute Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and 4K Ultra HD discs in the United States and Canada.

The new unit, which still must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, is expected to officially launch early in 2021. It will combine the existing domestic disc businesses of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, and be headed by current UPHE President Eddie Cunningham.

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Internationally, territories will be broken up through licensing arrangements. Warner Bros. will assume distribution duties of UPHE discs in the United Kingdom, Italy, and Benelux (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg). UPHE will distribute Warner products in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Japan.

The digital distribution business at each studio will not be affected.

The proposed union covers new releases and library titles as well as television content, and will be operational for up to 10 years.

The domestic joint venture will include leadership from both UPHE and Warner Bros., and covers trade marketing, sales and distribution.

Consumer marketing remains with each studio.

The announcement was made by Peter Levinsohn, president and Chief Distribution Officer of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, and Ron Sanders, president of Worldwide Theatrical Distribution & Home Entertainment and EVP of International Business Operations at Warner Bros.

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“As the home entertainment landscape evolves, we are continuously working to deliver the best entertainment range and value to our fans,” said Sanders.  “The physical business is still an important and active category for the industry.  This proposed joint venture with Universal gives us the best opportunity to foster innovation in this business, optimize the physical offering and extend the lifespan of the format for our fans and consumers.”

“With market conditions and consumer viewing behaviors continuing to evolve, we wanted a partner who shares in our commitment to deliver the best consumer proposition going forward,” Levinsohn said. “This proposed JV presents a significant opportunity to continue to work with our retail partners to ensure the format’s strength and sustainability for years to come.”

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On the appointment of Cunningham, Levinsohn said, “For more than two decades Eddie has been an expert in understanding the evolution of the physical home entertainment landscape.  He’s been a dynamic leader in shepherding business innovation and operational effectiveness.”

This is not the first time studios have joined forces in their home entertainment endeavors. In the early 1980s, Columbia (now Sony) Pictures created a joint venture with RCA to distribute videocassettes to the then-burgeoning rental market. RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video was in operation for more than a decade; in the meantime, the industry saw several other joint ventures, including CBS/Fox Video and Thorn-EMI/HBO Video.

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Tops Redbox Disc Rentals, ‘Hustlers’ Is On Demand No. 1

Lionsgate’s Rambo: Last Blood remained at No. 1 on Redbox’s kiosk disc rental chart the week ended Jan. 5. The Redbox disc rental chart tracks DVD and Blu-ray Disc rentals at the company’s more than 40,000 red kiosks.

It was the third straight week Rambo: Last Blood has been the top disc rental.

STX Films’ Hustlers, distributed by Universal Pictures, was No. 2 on the disc rental chart but returned to No. 1 on the Redbox On Demand chart, which tracks digital transactions, including both electronic sellthrough and streaming rentals. Hustlers, in its fourth week, had previously debuted as the No. 1 digital title.

Rambo: Last Blood slipped to No. 2 on the On Demand chart.

Universal’s Abominable slid to No. 3 on the disc rental chart and No. 6 on the On Demand chart.

The No. 3 On Demand title was Universal’s Good Boys, which was the No. 9 rental.

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Sony Pictures’ Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stayed at No. 4 on the disc rental chart and was also No. 4 on the On Demand chart.

Rounding out the On Demand top five on both charts was Lionsgate’s Angel Has Fallen.

Top DVD and Blu-ray Disc Rentals, Redbox Kiosks, Week Ended Jan. 5:

  1. Rambo: Last Blood — Lionsgate
  2. Hustlers — Universal
  3. Abominable — Universal
  4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Sony Pictures
  5. Angel Has Fallen — Lionsgate
  6. It: Chapter Two — Warner
  7. Primal — Lionsgate
  8. Ad Astra — Fox
  9. Good Boys — Universal
  10. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw — Universal

 

Top Digital, Redbox On Demand, Week Ended Jan. 5:

  1. Hustlers — STX
  2. Rambo: Last Blood — Lionsgate
  3. Good Boys — Universal
  4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Sony Pictures
  5. Angel Has Fallen — Lionsgate
  6. Abominable — Universal
  7. Ad Astra — Fox
  8. It: Chapter Two — Warner
  9. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — Sony Pictures
  10. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw — Universal

 

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‘Queen & Slim’ Due Digitally Feb. 18, on Disc March 3

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the drama Queen & Slim through digital retailers Feb. 18, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray March 3.

While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man (Daniel Kaluuya) and a black woman (Jodie Turner-Smith), are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, and the man kills the police officer in self-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country. As they drive, these two unlikely fugitives will discover themselves and each other in the most dire and desperate of circumstances, forging a deep and powerful love that will reveal their shared humanity and shape the rest of their lives.

The cast also includes Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Indya Moore, country singer Sturgill Simpson, and Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. The film was directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe, who also produced the film together.

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Queen & Slim earned $42.8 million at the domestic box office.

Home video extras include commentary with Matsoukas and Waithe; the featurette “A Deeper Meaning,” in which the cast and filmmakers discuss the deeper meanings of the film; the featurette “Melina & Lena,” a behind-the-scenes look at the collaboration; “Off The Script,” in which Waithe reads from her original screenplay for Queen & Slim; and “On the Run With Queen & Slim,” a look at filming Cleveland and New Orleans.

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Rom-Com ‘Last Christmas’ Home Release Announced by Universal

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the romantic-comedy Last Christmas through digital retailers Jan. 21, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Feb. 4.

The film stars Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) as Kate, who works as an elf at a year-round holiday shop and faces an endless streak of bad luck and poor decision-making until she meets Tom (Henry Golding), a kind-hearted man with a mysterious past who challenges her cynical world view. The cast also includes Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson.

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Directed by Paul Feig, and co-written by Thompson and Greg Wise, the film earned $35 million at the domestic box office. The film features the music of George Michael, including a never-before-heard track.

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Home video extras include an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; a blooper reel; a Feig solo commentary; a commentary with Feig and Thompson; a full performance of George Michael’s “Last Christmas”; and several featurettes:

  • “Director in Vision” — Feig offers directorial tips and fashion advice;
  • “It’s All So Cold” — how Clarke and Golding’s stayed warm while filming in chilly London;
  • “Try Not to Laugh” — Clarke and Thompson come down with a severe case of the giggles;
  • “A Legacy Revealed” — how the song “Last Christmas” was developed into a film;
  • “Pure Golding” — A profile of Henry Golding;
  • “Emilia Recording Session” — a recording session with Emilia Clarke;
  • “Love Letter to London” — Feig and some of the cast explore London;
  • “Santa and Her Elf” — a behind the scenes look at the quirky relationship between Kate and “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh);
  • “12 Days of Production” — a chronicle of the production;
  • “Paul Feig Takes Over the Tram” – Before Feig became a director he was a Universal Studios tram tour guide in 1981. Hop on the tram and experience part of the tour as Paul takes over the ride.

 

Golden-Globe Winning ‘Parasite’ Due Digitally Jan. 14, on Disc Jan. 28

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release the South Korean black comedy Parasite through digital retailers Jan. 14, and on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Jan. 28.

Parasite tells the story of a poor Korean family who manipulate a wealthier family into hiring them into indispensable jobs, and then must protect their newfound position from an interloper.

The film earned $23.9 million at the domestic box office and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Film. It was directed by Bong Joon-ho, who previously directed The Host and Snowpiercer.

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The Blu-ray and DVD will include a Q&A with director Bong Joon-ho.

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‘Downton Abbey’ Tops Disc Sales; Rambo Leads in Blu-ray Sales

Downton Abbey: The Motion Picture, distributed by Universal Pictures, debuted at No. 1 the week ended Dec. 21 on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales.

A continuation of the popular PBS TV series, Downton Abbey was the No. 2 Blu-ray. It earned $97 million at the domestic box office.

The No. 1 Blu-ray for the week and No. 2 overall sellers was Lionsgate’s Rambo: Last Blood. The fifth “Rambo” movie earned $44.8 million in U.S. theaters. The latest “Rambo” sequel sold 80% as many copies as Downton Abbey.

Another new release, DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable, distributed by Universal, was No. 3 on both charts after a $60.7 million domestic box office haul.

The previous week’s top seller, Warner’s It: Chapter Two, dropped to No. 4 for the week.

The No. 5 overall seller was Sony Pictures’ Overcomer, a faith-based sports film that earned $35 million at U.S. theaters. It was No. 8 on the Blu-ray chart.

The No. 5 Blu-ray was Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, also from Sony Pictures, which was the No. 6 overall seller.

The only other newcomer to land on the top 20 charts was 20th Century Fox’s sci-fi drama Ad Astra, which was No. 7 on the overall sales chart and No. 6 on the Blu-ray chart.

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Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 43% of Downton Abbey sales, compared with 58% for Rambo: Last Blood, 52% for Abominable, 38% for Overcomer and 64% for Ad Astra. The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray made up 13% of Rambo: Last Blood‘s total and 18% of Ad Astra‘s.

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On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended Dec. 22, Rambo: Last Blood debuted at No. 1, followed by Abominable at No. 2 and Ad Astra as No. 3.

Universal’s Hustlers dropped to No. 4, while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was No. 5.

The previous week’s top rental, It: Chapter Two, slid to No. 6 in its second week.

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 12-21-19
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 12-22-19
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 12-21-19
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 12-21-19
Sales Report for Week Ended 12-21-19
Digital Sales Snapshot for Week Ended 12-23-19

Home Entertainment Execs Predict More Turbulence as the ‘Roaring’ ‘20s Get Underway

Coming off a year of momentous change, home entertainment executives expect more turbulence to hit their business in 2020.

Streaming has clearly become the dominant force, with two more high-profile subscription streaming services scheduled to launch in 2020. Comcast/NBC Universal in April will bow Peacock, with more than 15,000 hours of content and a free, ad-supported service as well. A month later, WarnerMedia will debut HBO Max, with a large library of titles from across the media titan’s family — including a curated list of classic movies.

And then there’s Quibi, a mobile-centric, short-form video platform launching in April, the brainchild of ex-Disney and DreamWorks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg.

But home entertainment executives, whose proverbial bread-and-butter has always been the transactional model — in which consumers pay a set fee to either buy or rent a movie, TV series or other filmed content, either digitally or on disc — insist there’s enough of an audience for both aspects of the home entertainment (or at-home, or direct-to-consumer) business.

“With an abundance of exceptional content combined with a plethora of platforms, we can expect a ‘roaring’ start to the ’20s as consumers are met with a mass of entertainment options,” says Bob Buchi, president of Paramount Home Entertainment. “It is now the challenge of the industry to focus on marketing and distribution to hone the messaging and delivery to meet the varied needs of consumers across linear, on-demand, subscription and transactional.

“While SVOD has captured the attention of consumers and created an ‘always on’ expectation, the transactional business continues to offer very unique and important consumer propositions: the first post-theatrical home viewing opportunity, the greatest breadth of selection, the highest quality viewing options, and custom bonus content to extend the entertainment experience. The data continues to show that SVOD and transactional can co-exist and thrive. More than half of viewers are involved in both activities, and despite the availability of catalog titles on SVOD platforms, we at Paramount saw record sales numbers for our catalog in 2019.”

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Jason Spivak, EVP of distribution at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, is similarly optimistic. “As the business evolves consumers are becoming increasingly aware and comfortable with the ways that various distribution models fit together,” he says. “While SVOD delivers great value for many use occasions and types of content, the benefits of transactional models — recency, collectability and image quality — also continue to be prominent, especially in regard to new release theatrical content, and premier catalog titles.”

“Obviously we have been paying very close attention to growth and adoption of streaming services, and we are constantly evaluating their impact on our physical and digital business,” adds Jim Wuthrich, president of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment & Games. “With Warner Media’s HBO Max coming in 2020 the industry will continue to grow.  And as the business grows, so does access to an ever-increasing new consumer base who are familiarizing themselves with digital transactions and streaming, so it opens doors for us to bring in new audiences for our products and content.”

Ron Schwartz, president of worldwide home entertainment for Lionsgate, says “the transactional home entertainment space remains a very dynamic and robust business for our many types of content.” He touts the success on both digital and physical platforms of John Wick: Chapter 3 and Angel Has Fallen, calling those two films “great examples of the type of content that home entertainment consumers want to own. Overall, multiple steaming platforms and transactional, physical and digital will all continue to coexist as the marketplace continues to evolve.”

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Digital retailers agree. “In 2020, we think transactional and subscription will both continue to grow because they complement one another,” says Cameron Douglas, head of FandangoNow. “Nowadays, digital entertainment is a mainstream business. Every TV is connected and OTT services have become the norm for audiences looking for content at home. The growth bodes well for the future of our industry.”

Even at Disney, where much of the focus is on the much-hyped Disney+ service, there’s room for transactional, according to David Kite, SVP of marketing for Disney Media Distribution.

“With this year’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, we remain committed to both digital and physical ownership,” Kite says. “We successfully integrated the Fox team into the expansive Disney home entertainment organization and have implemented a unified strategy that includes a more synergistic approach across key lines of business. We’re looking forward to another exciting year across both physical and digital platforms with a wide-range slate of home entertainment releases.”

In the first quarter of 2020, Kite says, “We will be releasing two very promising titles — the critically acclaimed awards contenders Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari.  We’re also excited about the rollouts of Frozen IIStar Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Marvel Studios’ Black Widow, Disney-Pixar’s Onward and the live-action Mulan as our customers continue to build their libraries.”

While disc sales will likely continue to decline in 2020, no one’s giving up on DVD, Blu-ray Disc or, in particular, 4K Ultra HD.

“The 4K UHD physical market will continue to experience growth throughout 2020,” says Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “We are encouraged by industry forecasts, which anticipate the sales of that format in North America alone will deliver 25% of Blu-ray Disc dollars in 2020.”

“We will continue to release the majority of our new release titles in the highest possible definition and also mine our vast catalog library for worthy and deserving films to be remastered, as we did this year with The Wizard of Oz,” adds Wuthrich. “The desire for classic titles in the ultimate high-definition format is definitely a factor in the continued momentum of 4K UHD.”

Spivak agrees. “As consumer viewing habits evolve, the disc remains a prominent part of the home entertainment market, particularly given the steady growth for 4K Ultra HD,” he says. “With households nationwide regularly upgrading their TVs to 4K UHD there’s every indication that 4K UHD will evolve beyond a niche audience of format enthusiasts. We will continue to put out most of our new releases and select catalog in UHD, while working with retailers to expand placement and experimenting with features that make the product most attractive to consumers.”

Disney’s Kite is similarly optimistic for the disc business. “Physical ownership remains a robust line of business for us, especially among the collectible consumer,” he says. “There continues to be a healthy appetite for the physical format, particularly with premium, and we already have substantial plans in place for 2020.”

Universal’s Cunningham stresses the importance of retail partnerships in maximizing the transactional model’s potential.

“Given that physical and digital transactional consumption rates are remaining steady year over year and that disc purchases are making up more than half of that consumption, there’s no question that movie buyers continue to be vitally important to retail,” he says. “At no other time in our industry has it been more critical to ensure that we work together to retain the loyalty of movie consumers, creating urgency for our products and delivering the utmost value, quality, accessibility and convenience possible.

“It is important for us to continue supporting our retail partners with creative thought leadership and close collaboration to ensure that we collectively continue to capture shopper attention and deliver key, compelling reasons to transact.”

Sony Pictures’ Spivak agrees. “More than ever we must embrace the fact that our retail partnerships are multi-faceted and cross distribution models — from transactional to SVOD and AVOD,” he says. “Ultimately, our mutual objective is maximizing the consumer value proposition and providing the best potential viewer experience.”

Biopic ‘Harriet’ Coming to Digital Jan. 14, Disc Jan. 28 From Universal

Harriet, a biopic of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman, will journey to digital Jan. 14, and Blu-ray Disc, DVD and on demand Jan. 28 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film, which has earned $42 million at the domestic box office, has been nominated for two 2020 Golden Globe awards, including Best Actress in a Drama for Cynthia Erivo and Best Original Song for “Stand Up,” which was co-written by film star Erivo and Joshuah Campbell. Additionally, the film was nominated for a SAG Award and a Critics Choice Award, earning a total of three Best Actress nominations.

Based on the inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, Harriet tells the extraordinary tale of Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Haunted by memories of those she left behind, Harriet (Erivo) ventures back into dangerous territory on a mission to lead others to freedom. With allies like abolitionist William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and the entrepreneurial Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe), Harriet risks capture and death to guide hundreds to safety as one of the most prominent conductors of the Underground Railroad.

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The film also stars Joe Alwyn, Vodie Curtis Hall and Vanessa Bell Calloway.

Bonus features include deleted scenes, a deeper look into Harriet Tubman’s story, and feature commentary with director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons.

’21 Bridges’ Crossing Over to Digital Feb. 4, Disc Feb. 18 From Universal

The Chadwick Boseman thriller 21 Bridges will come out on digital Feb. 4 and Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Feb. 18 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The film follows an embattled NYPD detective (Boseman), who is thrust into a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers after uncovering a massive and unexpected conspiracy. As the night unfolds, lines become blurred on who he is pursuing, and who is in pursuit of him. When the search intensifies, extreme measures are taken to prevent the killers from escaping Manhattan as the authorities close all 21 bridges to prevent any entry or exit from the island.

The cast also includes Sienna Miller (American Sniper, Foxcatcher), Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk, “Homecoming”) and Keith David (Cloud Atlas , Platoon) with Taylor Kitsch (“True Detective,” “Friday Night Lights”) and J.K. Simmons (WhiplashSpider-Man).

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The film made $38.2 million at the global box office.

Special features include deleted scenes and feature commentary with director Brian Kirk.

‘It: Chapter Two’ Tops Redbox Disc Rentals, ‘Hustlers’ Is On Demand No. 1

Warner’s It: Chapter Two took over the No. 1 spot on the Redbox kiosk disc rental chart the week ended Dec. 15. The Redbox disc rental chart tracks DVD and Blu-ray Disc rentals at the company’s more than 40,000 red kiosks.

The second part of the adaptation of the Stephen King novel and sequel to the 2017 first chapter earned $211.6 million at the domestic box office.

STX Films’ Hustlers, distributed by Universal Pictures, was No. 3 on the disc rental chart but took over No. 1 on the Redbox On Demand chart, which tracks digital transactions, including both electronic sellthrough and streaming rentals.

Hustlers earned $105 million at the domestic box office.

It: Chapter Two was No. 2 on the On Demand chart.

Sony Pictures’ Once Upon a Time in Hollywood debuted at No. 2 on the disc rental chart and No. 3 on the digital chart. The comedic look at 1969 Hollywood earned $141 million at U.S. theaters.

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The previous week’s top rental and digital title, Lionsgate’s Angel Has Fallen, dropped to No. 4 on both charts.

The thriller Ready or Not, from 20th Century Fox, dropped three spots to No. 5 on both charts.

Top DVD and Blu-ray Disc Rentals, Redbox Kiosks, Week Ended Dec. 15:

  1. It: Chapter Two — Warner
  2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Sony Pictures
  3. Hustlers — Universal
  4. Angel Has Fallen — Lionsgate
  5. Ready or Not — Fox
  6. Good Boys — Universal
  7. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw — Universal
  8. Dora and the Lost City of Gold — Paramount
  9. The Lion King — Disney
  10. The Kitchen — Warner

 

Top Digital, Redbox On Demand, Week Ended Dec. 15:

  1. Hustlers — STX
  2. It: Chapter Two — Warner
  3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Sony Pictures
  4. Angel Has Fallen — Lionsgate
  5. Ready or Not — Fox
  6. Good Boys — Universal
  7. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — Sony Pictures
  8. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw — Universal
  9. The Kitchen — Warner
  10. Dora and the Lost City of Gold — Paramount

 

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