The week of Aug. 25 again saw most notable new releases arriving on shelves without much in the way of retailer exclusives.
Walmart offered a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of a young adult movie called Max Winslow and the House of Secrets, from Skip Stone Pictures. The story concerns five students who compete in a series of games to win a mansion from an eccentric billionaire (Chad Michael Murray).
Best Buy used its home entertainment Top Deals section to unveil preorders for more Steelbook Blu-ray editions it will offer in the future.
Among the new batch of Steelbook preorders includes a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Warner’s Goodfellas, due Sept. 15; a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Sony Pictures’ Whiplash, due Sept. 22; a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Sony Pictures’ District 9, due Oct. 13; and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Warner’s V for Vendetta, due Nov. 3.
Best Buy also has an exclusive edition of Warner’s Superman: Man of Tomorrow animated movie on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Sept. 8, packed with a figurine.
Once again, a number of Targets didn’t even bother stocking the new titles in a timely manner. A store in Tustin, Calif., had the shelf tags for the titles out, but left them empty well into the afternoon.
Walmart Inc. delivered healthy financials Aug. 18, with same-store sales at U.S. locations for the second quarter of 2020 up 9.3% from the year-ago quarter.
The big surprise, though, was a near doubling in online sales. Walmart tallied a 97% uptick in e-commerce sales in the United States, and a 39% gain overall.
Total revenue was $137.7 billion, an increase of $7.4 billion, or 5.6%.
In the United States, Walmart’s “essential” status during the pandemic — a designation due to the chain’s large grocery sections — allowed its stores to remain open even after other businesses closed in mid-March.
On an earnings call, president and CEO Douglas McMillon said Walmart’s strong store performance was fueled by “government stimulus, more people eating at home, a focus by customers on entertaining themselves at home, and investing in their homes and yards.”
“We also had some headwinds,” he noted, “including reduced store hours and out-of-stocks.”
McMillon said Walmart has hired more than 500,000 new associates since the beginning of the year.
In an interview with CNBC, Walmart Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs echoed McMillon’s thoughts that government stimulus checks played a big role in the sales gain — but warned of uncertainty ahead.
“Stimulus was definitely impactful to the consumer in the second quarter, and we’re watching what’s going on in Washington, and how we’re going to progress with a new stimulus package,” Biggs said. “I think certainly it would be helpful for consumers.”
On the earnings call, McMillon said that during the second quarter, “our
customers were spending so much more time at home that we experienced strong sales in categories like TVs, computing, and connected home. Customers also took advantage of time for outdoor entertainment and sports, which led to strength in those categories. With significant operating restrictions for restaurants across the country, families continue to prepare more meals at home, and our business has benefited from that trend.”
He added that while “there’s volatility in the supply chain levels, we’re starting to see some categories recover in terms of in-stock.”
Following home entertainment studios’ strong quarterly fiscal results, top retailers Walmart and Target are set to release fiscal results this week that should underscore ongoing consumer demand for both physical and digital movies and TV shows.
Walmart, which reports fiscal results on Aug. 18, is the world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer and top seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, with more than 5,000 outlets in the U.S. and more than 6,000 international stores.
Long a packaged-media promotional juggernaut, on big releases Walmart will often do a gift set pairing a Blu-ray combo pack with a collectible such as a plush or keychain. The chain also offers exclusive bare-bones DVDs of Warner titles.
Target Corp., which reports results on Aug. 19, markets home video at more than 1,800 stores with point-of-purchase displays and significant shelf space. Like Walmart, Target has long been a big seller of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Disney in 2019 launched 25 branded sections within select Target stores, with 40 additional locations opening by this October.
Target’s go-to marketing angle is the behind-the-scenes booklet add-on to packaged-media releases. For instance, for Onward, the latest Pixar release, Target offered a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a gallery booklet and slipcover for $34.99.
Target has seen increased sales due to the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a 141% increase in e-commerce revenue for the first quarter (ended March 31) as consumers stocked up on lower-margin products online. CEO Brian Cornell said Target.com saw an increase of 5 million customers in the quarter, while more than 2 million used the drive-up service. The chain said more than 70 million people have downloaded the Target Circle app to access e-commerce.
Sony Pictures announced it is offering consumers access to branded catalog movies and new releases in a drive-in atmosphere on the studio’s backlot in Culver City, Calif., beginning Aug. 14 and on subsequent Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays thereafter.
Showtimes, which begin at 8 p.m. PT, will be limited to 75 cars paying $30 per vehicle. The movie line-up includes Baby Driver, Bad Boys for Life, Bloodshot, Don’t Breathe, Ghostbusters (1984), Grown Ups, Jumanji: The Next Level, The Karate Kid (1984), Men in Black (1997), Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, among others. Tickets will be handled by Atom Tickets.
Sony will also debut The Broken Hearts Gallery, a romantic comedy from executive producer Selena Gomez.
The drive-in campaign, which is similar to marketing efforts currently in operation at 160 Walmart parking lots and select third-party venues into October, is in response to ongoing closures of movie theaters due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest catalog title to get a special Best Buy Steelbook exclusive Blu-ray is Universal’s 1995 family film Casper.
The film, a live-action version of the “Casper the Friendly Ghost” cartoons, is offered at Best Buy as a 25th anniversary Steelbook Blu-ray edition at $14.99. The movie version stars Christina Ricci and Bull Pullman.
Otherwise, the DVD and Blu-ray sections at the major retailers are starting to see some neglect as the pandemic wears on, simultaneously upping the profile of digital delivery while limiting the number of blockbuster new releases hitting shelves. A Target store in Tustin, Calif., hadn’t even bothered putting the new Aug. 11 titles on shelves as of late afternoon Tuesday.
Walmart has officially launched its branded drive-in movie campaign taking place across 160 supercenter store parking lots throughout the Southeast, Midwest, Texas, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey through October.
In an announcement on its Twitter page, Walmart said the pop-up drive-in program (in association with Tribeca Enterprises) will screen one select studio classic at various locations. Titles include Wonder Woman (2017), Spy Kids (2001), Space Jam (1996), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), Ghostbusters (1984), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Black Panther (2018), E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Friday Night Lights (2004).
Gates open at 6 p.m. and the screening begins at 7:30 p.m. No late entry is allowed. Tickets are free, but must be requested in advance. Tickets will not be available at the gate. Movie audio is transmitted via car radio or handheld FM radio receiver. No alcohol is permitted and moviegoers must wear face masks when leaving the automobile.
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Thanksgiving Day is slowly returning to a national holiday from the retail ecosystem. Big box stores Best Buy and Target are joining Walmart in not being open on Nov. 26.
“We can all agree that, so far, 2020 has turned out differently than what we might have expected,” Best Buy said in a statement. “And now, the holiday season at Best Buy, including Thanksgiving Day, is going to look different, too.”
Indeed, consumers looking for door specials on big screen televisions, computers, soundbars and DVD/Blu-ray Disc movies will have to wait 24 hours for Black Friday deals. Best Buy, which has been open on Thanksgiving since 2013, reiterated that consumers can still shop on BestBuy.com and via the Best Buy app on Turkey Day.
The announcement follows last week’s disclosure that retail sales are up 255% in the current quarter compared with a year ago — driven by purchases of computers, appliances and tablets.
“Although this holiday season may certainly look different, we’re ready to once again be there for our customers how, when and where they need us, during the most exciting time of the year,” the retailer said.
Target, like other chains, is accommodating the Thanksgiving Day closure by offering special deals before and after Nov. 26.
“This year more than ever, a joyful holiday will be inseparable from a safe one, and we’re continuing to adjust our plans to deliver ease, value and the joy of the season,” said CEO Brian Cornell.
Walmart, which was the first major retailer to change it Thanksgiving Day operations, has been a perennial home entertainment retail leader over the Black Friday holiday weekend, which typically began with special deals on Thanksgiving.
That decision was in tandem with corporate announcing plans to spend $428 million on special cash bonuses to store, club, distribution center and fulfillment center associates for their ongoing contributions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up,” said John Furner, CEO of Walmart U.S. “We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones.”
Regardless, brick-and-mortar sales on Thanksgiving Day have been waning, up just 2.3% in 2018, according to First Data, with an average ticket amount of $60, a $1 increase over 2017.
Adobe Analytics contends retail trends continue push e-commerce. A record $9.4 billion was spent online by the end of Cyber Monday (Dec. 2) in 2019, up 19.7% from 2018. It was the largest online shopping day of all time in the U.S., topping $7.9 billion spent in 2018.
Best Buy’s latest exclusive Steelbook arrived July 21 in the form of the re-release of the 1960 Stanley Kubrick-directed Spartacus. The consumer electronics retailer offered a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack in Steelbook packaging for $19.99.
The big new release of July 21, Warner’s Scoob!, didn’t have any major exclusives at the big three retailers, but did have a few tie-in promotions.
Walmart offered a DVD double feature of Scoob! with the previously released animated direct-to-video movie Scooby-Doo! and the Gourmet Ghost for $22.96.
Target offered 20% off select “Scooby-Doo!” titles.
Walmart July 21 announced it would not be open on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26 — typically the beginning of the retail behemoth’s annual Black Friday retail holiday. The decision also affects Sam’s Club locations.
Walmart has been a perennial home entertainment retail leader over the Black Friday holiday, which typically began with special deals on Thanksgiving.
The decision was in tandem with corporate announcing plans to spend $428 million on special cash bonuses to store, club, distribution center and fulfillment center associates for their ongoing contributions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bonus will be $300 for full-time hourly associates and $150 for part-time hourly and temporary associates. Drivers, managers and assistant managers in stores, clubs, DCs, FCs, and health and wellness will also receive a bonus.
“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up. We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones,” John Furner, CEO of Walmart U.S., said in a statement. “We are certainly thankful to our people for all of their efforts.”
Walmart stores and Sam’s Club locations will operate normal hours on Wednesday, Nov. 25. Information for store and club hours on Friday, Nov. 27 (a.k.a. Black Friday) will be shared at a later date.
One positive trend that has emerged during the pandemic, home entertainment studio executives say, is that consumers seem to be gaining a better understanding of the difference between transactional and subscription streaming and are realizing that not everything they might want to see is available on Netflix or the other big SVOD services.
“Because consumers are spending so much watching digital video at home, they are acutely aware of which titles are available on the various platforms,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution.
“It has become clear that consumers sheltering at home not only have become increasingly engaged in our catalog offerings to keep entertained, but also have progressively grown to become more savvy in navigating the spectrum of formats,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As such, we have continued to invest and reward consumers to stay engaged in the category and have been working in lockstep with our digital and physical retail partners to ensure that we remain hyper-focused on delivering the broadest access and best possible in-home experience.”
“Consumers have become much more receptive to different price points,” adds Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong. “They realize not everything’s on Netflix, and it’s worth it to them to pay a transactional amount for something they really want to watch. They really have embraced all the ways to consume digital video.”
That includes the physical disc. “We are encouraged by the resilience,” Spivak says. “When you think of the structural impediments, stores being closed, online ordering taking longer to fulfill — consumers who love the physical disc are persevering and that business is holding up quite well.”
Studios were fortunate that two of the biggest retail sellers of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, Walmart and Target, were able to remain open throughout the pandemic because they also sell groceries and thus were deemed “essential” businesses. Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment, says studio marketers have already met with Walmart to discuss fourth-quarter plans, with a focus on catalog.
“We went through a whole planning session with the Walmart team,” Powers says.
But the biggest lift to DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales, studio marketers say, comes from e-commerce sellers such as Amazon.
“We’ve seen quite a boom in e-commerce,” Powers says. “Initially we were unsure about the supply chain and how retail would react, but we kept all our new-to-Blu-ray titles on the calendar and saw a very positive response so we’ve continued to fill the slate with additional titles.”
Indeed, in addition to monthly waves of “Paramount Presents” releases, Paramount recently has come out with a 25th anniversary edition of the Alicia Silverstone comedy Clueless and 40th anniversary editions of horror classic Friday the 13th and John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. Clueless and Friday the 13th also are available in limited edition steelbooks.
“We’re really leaning more into the collector’s market,” Powers says. “That’s where e-commerce really shines.”
It’s not just movies, either. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment enjoyed a banner spring with TV product, says Jeff Brown, EVP and GM, Television. “The second quarter was a panacea for transactional television content, physical as well as digital,” Brown says. “Our business grew over 40%, year on year. And if you exclude ‘Game of Thrones,’ which had an extraordinary performance last year with the final season broadcast and transactional release, our business nearly doubled. This really shows peoples’ appetite for television content, and while obviously stay-at-home behavior contributed to this, there were several other opportunities we were able to capitalize on.”
One was the fact that Warner now distributes TV content from HBO and Turner digitally as well as physically.
Another is a strong slate of product, released just in time for viewers to enjoy while encouraged by state and local governments to stay in their homes. “Our top drivers included ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ as well as the animated original movie titles Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which was probably our best-performing DC animated movie since Batman: The Killing Joke and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge,” Brown says.
The third factor behind Warner’s strong TV quarter is a series of “Entertaining the World” promotions, Brown says, with a menu of promotional actions for digital retailers such as Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and FandangoNow.
“We promoted shows such as ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire,’ and Hanna-Barbera and DC animated classics,” Brown says. “We were able to look at the total Warner-HBO-Turner TV and animation library and come up with compelling retail programs, and we coordinated this on a semi-monthly ‘wave’ basis to provide an abundance of promoted content to retailers in a timely manner.”
Editor’s Note: This is part three 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.’