When Paramount Home Entertainment on March 9 announced the launch of its “Paramount Presents” line to showcase films from the studio’s extensive library, marketing chief Vincent Marcais had no idea how prophetic the move would prove to be.
Just two days later, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared a global COVID-19 pandemic, and over the ensuing days governments the world over issued stay-at-home mandates and ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.
Movie theaters were among the businesses that suddenly went dark, which meant box office revenues quickly dropped to near zero. On top of that, productions were halted, which meant that not only were there no new movies in theaters, there were no more new movies, period, at least for the foreseeable future.
Home entertainment, thanks to 90-day windows, got a three-month reprieve — as well as an extra crop of high-profile films released digitally to home audiences, at a premium price, due to the closure of theaters. But by mid-June, studio home entertainment divisions were running out of fresh new theatrical product, which had been their lifeblood since the home video business began more than 40 years ago.
So how are the home entertainment divisions of the major studios keeping the lights on?
At Paramount, says Marcais, EVP of marketing, the studio has been filling the void primarily with catalog product from its rich library of film and TV content, buoyed by the launch of the Paramount Presents line.
“The library is at the core of what we do here at Paramount,” Marcais says, noting that since the end of March weekly catalog sales have been double what they used to be.
“Catalog has always been important, but now it’s more important to us than ever,” adds Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment. “We’re very well positioned to meet demand as new releases continue to dry up.”
With no fresh new theatricals in the pipeline, she says, “we have a very robust release strategy for our library. We continue to explore things like anniversary efforts, or leaning into historical dates or holidays, and we’re also looking at 4K Ultra HD, digging in and looking at opportunities.”
On the digital side, Paramount works in tandem with digital retailers such as FandangoNow, Apple and Vudu to create curated promotions that are marketed primarily through Instagram and other social media channels, such as a collection of family films or series of dancing and singing movies that included Grease and Dreamgirls.
On the physical media side, the emphasis is on finding classic films from the vaults that have never before been released on Blu-ray Disc, such as Roman Holiday, and on the “Paramount Presents” Line — both of which target collectors.
The “Paramount Presents” line of Blu-ray Discs kicked off with the April 21 release of Fatal Attraction; 1958’s acclaimed Elvis Presley drama King Creole; and director Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller To Catch a Thief, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. Subsequent waves have been released monthly. All films in the “Paramount Presents” line are remastered and sent to Blu-ray in collectible packaging that includes a foldout image of the original movie poster and interior artwork featuring key movie moments.
“This new label is really a labor of love,” Marcais says. “We’re like a publishing company, in that we take a very diverse group of movies from our library and we publish, or republish, them with the mindset of a really small shop where the focus is on quality.”
Like films in the vaunted Criterion Collection, Marcais says, “Paramount Presents” titles get the VIP treatment. “We go back to the filmmakers and find the best master and really work on the quality of the image,” he says. “We improve everything and then make these films available to the most important people for us — the core Blu-ray Disc fans.”
Paramount may have enjoyed the luck of the draw with the launch of its “Paramount Presents” line — as well as the already-scheduled May release of a special 35th anniversary edition of Top Gun — but other studios are reporting similar upticks in catalog sales, both on disc and digitally.
“From the outset of this unprecedented period, we’ve been seeing a broad lift across catalog,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has one of the biggest catalogs of any studio, buoyed by MGM, HBO and Turner product. EVP of sales Mike Takac says that during the first six weeks of the pandemic, when shelter-in-place orders were in place and businesses were closed, sales of theatrical catalog titles doubled.
“The COVID-19 bump was massive,” Takac says. “So now it becomes a matter of trying to predict how much of it will fall off as restrictions ease, and no one knows. But the second quarter was historic — we hadn’t seen such robust catalog sales in years.”
For Lionsgate, home entertainment’s moment in the sun is an ongoing thing. Home entertainment packaged media/digital movies at the studio represented 42.2% of the Motion Picture segment’s $1.67 billion revenue for the fiscal year ended March 31 — twice the percentage of theatrical, according to the company’s 10K fiscal filing, which was released May 27. The tally is up 14.1% from revenue of $1.46 billion in fiscal 2019.
“Home entertainment has always been, and will continue to be, a huge priority for the company,” says Adam Frank, Lionsgate’s SVP of worldwide digital sales and distribution.
He says Lionsgate is in a strong competitive position because of the strength of its theatrical titles and the diversity of its slate, including a longstanding tradition of multi-platform releases. Between box office blockbusters such as the “John Wick,” “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises and original hits such as Knives Out and La La Land, he says, Lionsgate has always filled in the gaps with a diverse portfolio of movies, some of which are released simultaneously across theaters and other platforms. With movie theaters closed, he says, films such as Arkansas and Survive the Night, aimed at home audiences, are posting “amazing results — they’re really outperforming our expectations and ranking in the upper echelon of multi-platform release performance, industry-wide.”
“We were well prepared,” he adds, “and we still have a number of those films that we have not yet released.”
Lionsgate also has a vast 17,000-title film and television catalog that studio marketers routinely mine in partnership with digital retailers, Frank says.
“We have always had an unrivaled dedication to our catalog,” he says. “We are coming off a record $600 million year in library revenue for our company, and we are now seeing weekly run rates up nearly 100% in recent months compared to before shelter-at-home orders.”
Editor’s Note: This is part one in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’