Merchandising: ‘Nomadland’ Homeless on Blu-ray

Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures perfectly timed the Blu-ray release of Nomadland for April 27, two days after the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony at which the film won the Oscar for Best Picture.

However, copies of the film were nowhere to be found at major retail shelves on the day of its release. Target, Walmart and Best Buy all relegated the Nomadland Blu-ray to their online store. It received worse treatment at Amazon, which didn’t even list it until the day it came out, and even then only as available from third-party marketplace sellers (meaning Amazon isn’t selling it directly — likely another casualty of the e-commerce behemoth’s long-running disputes with Disney over physical media availability).

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Best Buy at least paired the Nomadland Blu-ray with a deal to get a month of Internet TV service Philo for $1, a savings of $19 off the regular $20 monthly fee. The Blu-ray itself costs $22.99, bringing the total deal to $23.99.

The only other notable exclusive for the week also came at Best Buy, which offered a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook of 1987’s Dirty Dancing for $19.99.

Best Buy’s ‘Dirty Dancing’ 4K Steelbook

Best Buy Testing Paid Membership Program in Select Markets

Taking a page from Amazon Prime and Walmart+, Best Buy has quietly begun testing a membership program, dubbed Best Buy Beta, that affords consumers an array of benefits, including exclusive pricing, Geek Squad technical support, up to two years of protection on most product purchases, free standard shipping and delivery, and free installation on most products and appliances.

Priced at $199.99 per year ($179.99 per year for Best Buy credit card holders), the program also includes access to a concierge service available 24/7 by phone, chat, email or through the Best Buy app.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“As we look to evolve our membership programs, the goal of Best Buy Beta is to create an experience that customers will love and to leave them feeling confident throughout their relationship with Best Buy,” Allison Peterson, the CE retailer’s chief customer officer, said in a statement. “This pilot offers premium service, complete with support aimed at anticipating our customers’ needs.”

The pilot is currently available at select stores throughout Iowa, Oklahoma and eastern Pennsylvania. In April, it will expand to customers and select stores in Minnesota, North Carolina and Tennessee. At that time, it will be available at a total of about 60 stores.

Best Buy existing membership programs, including “Total Tech Support” ($199 per year) and the “My Best Buy ” points program, continue separately.

Amazon’s Prime membership gives consumers free two-day shipping on myriad purchases, in addition to access to movies and TV shows, music, books and video games.

Walmart’s $98 annual “Walmart +” platform also offers free shipping, discounts on fuel purchases, mobile checkout service and free grocery home delivery.

 

Merchandising: Plenty of Exclusives for ‘Wonder Woman 1984’

Widely released ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Blu-ray and 4K box art

Superhero movie fans looking for exclusive home video editions of Warner’s Wonder Woman 1984 had their wish granted upon its March 30 release on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Not only did each of the major national retail chains have an exclusive version, but Amazon did as well.

Amazon’s two-film “Wonder Woman” 4K double feature

In this case, Amazon offered a two-pack of Wonder Woman 1984 and its predecessor, 2017’s Wonder Woman, as a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for $44.99. The set includes 4K versions and digital copies of both films, but not regular Blu-ray versions. The standard Blu-ray version of the two-pack was a wide release.

Best Buy, as is typical for the chain, presented a Steelbook edition of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack of Wonder Woman 1984, for $34.99.

Walmart’s single-disc ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ DVD

Walmart likewise stuck with its typical pattern, and as it often does with major Warner Bros. releases, stocked an exclusive vanilla DVD edition without the bonus disc but with unique box art.

Widely released ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ DVD box art

The widely released DVD includes a bonus disc touting 90 minutes of special features, including extensive making-of featurettes, and is offered at $17.99 at Target and Best Buy, and $17.96 at Amazon and Walmart’s online store.

Walmart’s physical stores stocked just the vanilla version, offered at $16.96 and containing just one extra, a “Scene Study: The Mall” featurette.

Walmart also offered an exclusive DVD two-pack of both “Wonder Woman” movies for $22.96.

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Blu-ray combo pack with Target-exclusive box art

Target went with a simpler route and just offered unique box art with the Wonder Woman 1984 Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack, for $24.99.

Rounding out the array of “Wonder Woman” releases, the Warner Archives Wonder Woman 1984 3D Blu-ray combo pack was priced at $29.88 on Amazon,com, $27.99 at BestBuy.com, and $34.99 at Walmart.com.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Best Buy offered an additional exclusive this week, a two-film “Mortal Kombat” Blu-ray Steelbook collection for $14.99.

Best Buy’s “Mortal Kombat” 2-Movie Blu-ray Steelbook

Walmart Expands Board With Ex-AT&T Boss Randall Stephenson Appointment

NEWS ANALYSIS — Walmart has named former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson to its board of directors, effective March 3, expanding the board to 12 members. Stephenson, who retired less than 12 months ago with a reported $270,000 monthly pension and benefits after 13 years as CEO of AT&T, is being sought for his “leadership skills and insights in finance, technology, retail and brand management,” according to Greg Penner, chairman of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail behemoth’s board.

“We look forward to working with him as we drive Walmart’s strategy forward and continue providing effective governance for all our stakeholders,” Penner said in a statement.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Stephenson will join a board whose annual compensation per member ranges from $260,000 to Penner’s $500,000 — with virtual meetings occurring as often as determined to be “necessary or appropriate.”

No doubt Stephenson has experience at the highest levels within corporate America. He also has a fiscal legacy some might question as less than effective. When the 60-year-old Stephenson departed AT&T, he left the telecom-turned-Hollywood player saddled with a staggering $180 billion in debt — a fiscal burden AT&T continues to labor downsizing to manageable levels.

The bulk of that debt was incurred following two high-profile Stephenson-led acquisitions: The 2014 purchase of DirecTV for $67 billion, including the assumption of satellite TV operator’s debt; and the 2016 acquisition of Time Warner for $85 billion, plus assumption of the media giant’s outstanding debt. Time Warner properties Warner Bros., HBO (and HBO Max), and Turner operate under the WarnerMedia umbrella.

Following closure of the Time Warner deal former President Trump’s Justice Department tried to derail, citing antitrust issues, activist hedge fund Elliott Management sent a letter to Stephenson and the board questioning why AT&T needed to own a movie studio, and wondering if the telecom could pay off its debt, among other issues. Elliott later sold all of its 5 million AT&T shares.

Indeed, no sooner had the ink dried on the DirecTV deal than the pay-TV operator began hemorrhaging subscribers to over-the-top video competitors such as Netflix — a common theme within linear TV. Subsequent efforts to hitch a ride to online TV via DirecTV Now failed. The platform is now called AT&T TV Now, with AT&T announcing a $10 monthly rate hike, effective in April. AT&T’s legacy pay-TV platforms lost a combined 617,000 subscribers in 2020.

Through Dec. 31, 2020, AT&T wrote off $15.5 billion for the DirecTV business. That came in addition to a $13.8 billion AT&T fiscal loss in the fourth quarter and a $5.2 billion loss for the fiscal year. In February, AT&T spun off 30% of DirecTV in a $8 billion cash deal with private equity group TPG to to create “New DirecTV,” encompassing satellite, online TV and cable service U-verse.

“The AT&T deal with TPG is good, it will keep investors, workers, customers and executives happy,” analyst Jeff Kagan wrote in a March 1 blog post.

Merchandising: Retailers Focus on ‘Croods: A New Age’

Target and Walmart brought out exclusive editions of DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods: A New Age, which was released on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, 3D Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Feb. 23 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Target offered the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the animated film with a 40-page filmmaker gallery book at $24.99.

Walmart had a gift set of the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack for $24.96 packed with a “Croods” water bottle and a 35-piece puzzle.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

‘The Croods: A New Age’ Walmart Blu-ray

Walmart Reports Record Q4, Fiscal Year Revenue; E-Commerce Skyrockets

Walmart Feb. 18 reported record revenue of $152.1 billion for the fourth quarter (ended Jan. 31). That was up 7.3%, or $10.4 billion, from the previous-year period. Same-store sales increased 8.6%. For the fiscal year, revenue increased 6.7% to $559.2 billion, an increase of $35.2 billion. Online sales exploded 69% in the quarter and 79% for the fiscal year.

The world’s largest retailer saw strong sales performance in categories related to customer comfort, leisure and recreation, including home, consumer electronics, sporting goods, toys, and outdoor living. Walmart attributed the surge in part to federal government-driven COVID-19 stimulus spending, which benefited January sales.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“Our associates responded unbelievably to serve customers in one of the most challenging times we’ve faced,” CFO Brett Biggs said in a statement. “We accomplished this while accelerating our long-term strategy of transforming Walmart into a dynamic omnichannel business. It’s now time to accelerate even more.”

CEO Doug McMillon said some of that acceleration includes raising average wages toward $15 per hour for an additional 425,000 frontline workers after raising wages for 165,000 associates last fall. The chain is set to raise some position’s hourly wage to $13 to $19 on March 13. Walmart’s current average minimum wage remains at $11 hourly, while rivals Amazon and Target increased their starting hourly wage to $15.

Walmart, the country’s largest private employer with around 1.5 million personnel, has been long criticized for not raising its minimum wage for store workers. Three years ago the chain reacted, upping its hourly starting pay to $11 from from the federal minimum of $7.25.

Increased employee costs and cautious 2021 projections resulted in a pre-market stock value decline, which then bumped up slightly in early trading.

“We completed a strong year and a strong Q4 thanks to our amazing associates,” McMillon said. “They stepped up to serve our customers and members exceptionally well during a busy holiday period in the midst of a pandemic.”

Last September Walmart launched “Walmart Plus,” a $98 annual subscription program aimed at competing with the Amazon Prime membership. Unlike Prime, Walmart’s membership service does not include streaming video after the chain sold its Vudu subsidiary.

“This is a time to be even more aggressive because of the opportunity we see in front of us,” McMillon said. “The strategy, team and capabilities are in place. We have momentum with customers, and our financial position is strong.”

CES: Walmart CEO Talks Accelerated Change

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, a 30-year veteran at the company, talked about changes at the retailer accelerated by the pandemic during a keynote at the virtual CES Jan. 13.

“There’s more change happening right now than at any point in those 30 years,” he said.

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Walmart had to adjust to serve customers as they flocked to e-commerce.

“I think many of those things that changed won’t go back,” he said.

As the pandemic hit, he said Walmart identified five priorities, in order:

  1. Keep associates safe.
  2. Keep the supply chain moving.
  3. Help others.
  4. Manage the business in the short term.
  5. Move forward on strategy.

 

As far as keeping employees safe, the chain was able to quickly secure tens of millions of masks and install plexiglass to protect associates.

“They’re just being so courageous,” he said, noting the difficulty of “working with customers, some of which don’t want to wear a mask even though we have a mask mandate.”

With the supply chain, food was the first challenge, and then other items were in high demand, including adult bikes.

“The demand really changed on a lot of those items,” he said.

During the pandemic, the company had to adapt to how customers wanted to live and shop, which taught the company lessons on the importance of using new technology, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, to better interact with them.

“We’ve got to get better at forecasting demand, so artificial intelligence and the way we use data is really important,” he said.

As far as helping others, the chain forgave rents, offered different terms for suppliers, and hired more than a half million people in a matter of months.

“We hired bartenders that didn’t have a job,” he said.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Walmart+, the chain’s $98 annual subscription program aimed at competing with the Amazon Prime membership, debuted Sept. 1 in the middle of the pandemic. The service offers subscribers the ability to “scan-and-go” purchases in stores, free same-day shipping on some store items, and discounts on gas, among other perks. The chain is carefully ramping up those memberships, keeping an eye on maintaining customer service.

“We’ve got to build capacity for delivery,” he said.

McMillon discussed the company’s environmental initiatives such as Project Gigaton, a Walmart initiative to cut 1 billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gases from the global value chain by 2030. The company wants to go further to become a “regenerative” force, preserving land and water, he said.

Follow us on Instagram

Spurred by the killing of George Floyd and protests last year, the company also stepped up its diversity strategy. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation last summer committed $100 million over five years through a new Center for Racial Equity. The center’s initiatives will fund research, advocacy, innovation of practices and tools, stakeholder convening, and non-profit capacity building.

“We’ve been looking in the mirror, and we’ve been studying and learning,” he said, noting that his own educational background was lacking.

“I’ve been learning more about American history, things I was not taught in school,” he said.

The company has also been looking at processes such as where they put cash deposits and how that might help black-owned businesses.

He’s also garnered lessons about organizational speed, learning to count on and trust employees, he said.

“There were quite a few times where we were facing something that I didn’t have answer for,” he said, adding, “I think the run rate of the company going forward will be faster as a result of what’s happening.”

Merchandising: On the Hunt for ‘Tenet’

The big title to hit shelves Dec. 15 was Warner’s Tenet, the latest mind-bending adventure from director Christopher Nolan. Both Best Buy and Walmart offered exclusive editions of the film.

Best Buy had its typical Steelbook offering, presenting a Tenet 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook combo pack for $34.99.

Walmart’s ‘Tenet’ DVD

Walmart also dipped into its exclusives playbook, and with Tenet being a Warner title, offered a bare-bones DVD with unique box art and no extras for $16.96. The widely available special-edition DVD with an hour of behind-the-scenes extras wasn’t even stocked in some stores, but was available at Walmart.com for $19.96.

‘Tenet’ standard-release box art for DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD

Target didn’t have a Tenet exclusive, but was running a promotion for 20% off DVDs and Blu-rays, excluding new releases.

A number of Target stores around Southern California continue to have issues stocking their new releases in a timely manner on Tuesday morning. At one store, where the shelves were empty at 8 a.m. but the display labels for all the new titles were in place, a clerk said the new titles likely wouldn’t be stocked until late afternoon, as they weren’t in a rush to bring out the boxes of new product from the stockroom, even for customers who asked about them specifically.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

There were also reports of issues with Target’s app feature allowing shoppers to pay online and pick the item up in the store. One customer looking for the Tenet 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray said he had several stores cancel his order on the claim that they were out of stock, but when he went to the actual store, they had plenty of copies on the shelf.

As COVID-19 Surges, Black Friday Crowds Don’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed this year’s Black Friday retail shopping frenzy, in which hordes of shoppers typically camp out overnight waiting for stores to open early on the morning after Thanksgiving — or, in recent years, start shopping right after they finish their turkey dinners.

Not this year.

With COVID-19 surging in what health experts are calling a third wave of the disease, none of the big retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day — not even Walmart, which used to be open all day, or Target and Best Buy, which opened for business in the late afternoon or at midnight.

The big retailers also began offering their deep discounts several weeks before Black Friday, often targeting online shoppers with Web-only specials. And the year’s hottest gift item, Sony’s new PlayStation 5 video game console, saw gamers glued to the Internet to watch for alerts on Twitter and other social media channels about the next wave of consoles available at the various retailers, mostly for online purchase.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

“One thing that is happening, and has been happening for awhile, is the past couple of years, we’ve seen Black Friday deals moving more and more online,” Amir Neto, director of Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University, told USA Today. “This year, there are more incentives to maintain or expand this trend.”

Adobe Analytics on Nov. 27 reported that online spending on Thanksgiving Day rose by nearly 22% to reach a new record of $5.1 billion, from $4.1 billion last year. The research firm said November and December online sales are expected to jump 33% this year, totaling $189 billion, including $10.3 billion on Black Friday.

Aside from the big retail players, Family Video, the last remaining national chain of dedicated video stores, sent out an email early Friday morning offering discounts of up to 75% on Warner Bros. DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD titles, including Aquaman, The Dark Knight, Inception, Doctor Sleep, 12 Strong and Annabelle. “You will not find better Black Friday deals on Blu-rays, DVDs, and 4K Blu-rays from Warner Bros. anywhere else!” the Family Video email read, noting that the sale ends Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, with physical stores having offered discounts all week, reports on Black Friday itself suggest the early rush to physical retail stores is more of a trickle this year. A Target store in Costa Mesa, Calif., was practically empty shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 27. “It looks like any other day,” said one observer.

Target is running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on books, movies and music. Blu-rays and DVDs could be had for as low as $4, $7 and $9. Signs were placed not only in the electronics area, but in some stores displays were put in the clothing section in the center of the store and at checkout. One customer in Mission Viejo, Calif., noted that the sales weren’t as prevalent as previous years.

At a Costa Mesa Best Buy, there were fewer than two dozen people waiting in a socially distant line, a far cry from prior years.

In Oceanside, Calif., a Walmart was a little busier, but the traditional DVD and Blu-ray Disc “dump bins,” featuring catalog movie titles priced as low as $2 to $5, were conspicuously absent. “It’s really slow,” a clerk said.

The movie aisle at an Oceanside, Calif. Walmart on Black Friday 2020, shortly before 9 a.m.

Chicago resident Maria Lopez, who often shops on Black Friday, said she was only visiting one store this year out of concerns of contracting the coronavirus. Lopez bought a 42-inch television from Best Buy.
“It’s so sad,” Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve been out since 6 a.m. and there were no long lines. It’s definitely not the same like years prior.”

And yet the National Retail Federation earlier in the week  forecast that total holiday sales during November and December would be up by as much as 5.2% from the same period last year, generating $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion in revenue. The data, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compares with a 4% increase in 2019, and an average holiday sales gain of 3.5% over the past five years.

“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” Matthew Shay, CEO of the retail trade group, said in a statement. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year.”

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Redbox is participating in the Black Friday discounting frenzy with specials across all its platforms, physical as well as online. Through the weekend, the retailer is offering customers who rent two discs at its more than 40,000 kiosks 50 cents off, as well as “price drops” on digital rentals through Redbox On Demand. Redbox also is hosting a used movie sale at “select kiosks,” selling off previously viewed copies of films such as Trolls World Tour ($3.99), The Tax Collector ($5.99) and Justice League ($3.99).

On the streaming front, NBCUniversal as a Black Friday special offered 20% off access to the Peacock subscription streaming service, while Hulu launched a discounted $1.99 monthly promotion at midnight on Thanksgiving Day. The campaign gives new and returning subscribers 12-month access to the ad-supported Hulu option, which amounts to a $48 savings over the recently reduced $5.99 monthly fee (from $7.99). The ad-free subscription plan remains priced at $11.99 monthly.

Additional reporting by John Latchem and Stephanie Prange

Walmart Bows Holiday Recipes, E-Commerce on Tastemade Streaming Video Service

Walmart is partnering with media company Tastemade to launch two special holiday episodes of the Daytime Emmy-nominated series “Struggle Meals” on Tastemade’s streaming network.

The episodes are Tastemade’s first brand partnership for the online series, and allow streamers to shop for holiday recipe ingredients using Walmart’s pickup and delivery service for delivery or curbside pickup. The first episode just launched, followed by the second episode, which will go live Dec. 17.

With the pandemic prompting more families to cook at home and prepare meals in advance, Walmart is focused on finding innovative solutions and partners to help streamline the process for people to get food on their tables. The streaming video episodes offer tips on how to cook inventive, better-for-you, minimum waste meals that aim to save time and money, while also alleviating the stress of holiday cooking and planning.

“Struggle Meals” is hosted by Chef Frankie Celenza and is one of Tastemade’s most successful shows to-date, garnering an audience of more than one million viewers per week cross-platform.

“Viewers will be able to easily shop all the ingredients for these amazing holiday recipes, while cooking alongside their favorite chef and enjoying delicious meals with their loved ones,” Mary Schulke, associate director of strategic partnerships at Walmart, said in a statement.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Viewers have the opportunity to text an on-screen number from their phones to add ingredients from the featured recipes in the episodes directly to their Walmart shopping cart using Walmart’s pickup and delivery service.

In each episode, Chef Frankie offers techniques to cook Thanksgiving and holiday-themed meals, and shares tips to creatively use ingredients viewers already have at home to make delicious fare for their guests in addition to the main dishes. The Struggle Meals holiday edition features a unique take on bold holiday flavors, including dishes like Thanksgiving turkey burgers, cinnamon nutmeg doughnuts, tacos with holiday brisket, creamy butternut squash soup, and more.

“The holidays will look a little different this year, so with these special Struggle Meals episodes, we’ve partnered with Walmart to help consumers prepare delicious meals that will save time and money, and that will allow for more time to be spent with friends and loved ones — whether that’s virtually or in-person,” said Jeff Imberman, head of sales and brand partnerships at Tastemade.

The episodes will air on Tastemade’s streaming network, on the newly launched Tastemade en Español streaming channel (with Spanish subtitles). These episodes will also be available on Struggle Meals’ YouTubeSnapchat, and Facebook, and Tastemade’s FacebookInstagram, and TikTok.