Not Ron Sanders!

In my more than 30 years of covering the home entertainment business, for a wide range of outlets ranging from Video Store Magazine to the Hollywood Reporter, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, I have witnessed more than a dozen top leadership changes at the major studios.

At Universal Pictures, I witnessed the departures of home entertainment chiefs Louis Feola, Bruce Pfander and Craig Kornblau; at Sony Pictures, Pat Campbell, Ben Feingold, David Bishop and Man Jit Singh. At Fox, I covered our business while Bob DeLellis, Jeff Yapp, Pat Wyatt and Mike Dunn occupied the president’s chair; at Disney, during the years home entertainment was run by Bill Mechanic, Ann Daly, Mike Johnson, Bob Chapek, Lori McPherson and Janice Marinelli. At Paramount, a series of top executive departures began with Eric Doctorow and continued with Meagan Burrows, Tom Lesinski, Kelly Avery and Dennis Mcguire.

When I began covering home entertainment in 1989, what was then Warner Home Video was headed by Warren Lieberfarb. The father of DVD was ousted at the end of 2002 and briefly replaced by Jim Cardwell; since October 2005 Ron Sanders has been in charge.

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Was, that is. Sanders is one of about 600 staffers, many of them  veteran executives, who have been shown the door at WarnerMedia in the wake of the AT&T takeover, which has led to a new senior management team and, some observers have said, a new mindset bent on dismantling the old studio and creating a new Netflix.

Only time will tell whether the reimagining of Warner Bros. is a bold and visionary move or a disaster in the making. WarnerMedia leadership clearly has taken to heart the adage, “Change or die,” and I am sure they are well aware that there is a risk of doing both.

But back to Ron Sanders. While an astonishing array of smart, competent and even visionary home entertainment leaders have been shoved aside, Ron’s departure hits me especially hard.

Quite simply, I never expected him to go.

Ron Sanders, you see, is something of a rare bird in Hollywood. In all the years I’ve known him — and we go back to the early 1990s, when he joined Warner fresh from Procter & Gamble — Ron always struck me as a man of his word, a man of conviction, passion and integrity. He learned the business at a time when VHS rental was a mature business and beginning to decline, and the brightest minds at Warner were busy fulfilling then-president Warren Lieberfarb’s vision of a disc-based format that consumers would buy rather than rent.

DVD, of course, turned out to be one of the most successful product launches in history, reviving the home entertainment business and laying the groundwork for not just digital distribution but also Netflix, which was initially a DVD-by-mail rental service.

Lieberfarb was no dummy and saw something in Ron Sanders. A year after DVD’s launch, he sent him to England in 1998 to run Warner’s home entertainment operations overseas. I remember a long conversation Ron and I had beforehand, weighing the pros and cons of disrupting his life here in the United States and moving his family abroad. Ultimately he decided to go, and when he came back in December 2002 to join the top leadership team after the departure of Lieberfarb, it quickly became evident that Ron was destined for greater things, both at Warner and in the entertainment industry in general.

Less than three years after his return to the United States as head of Warner Home Video’s North American operations, Ron became division president. Under his lead, Warner was consistently No. 1 when it came to innovation and creativity — not to mention market share. He not only steered the ship, but he also charted its future course — and in doing so Warner became something of a beacon for the rest of the industry to follow, much as it had been during the Lieberfarb era through the launch and growth of DVD.

But as successful as he was in business, Ron Sanders was even more successful in something immeasurably more important: success as a human being. As I wrote back in 2013, when he was elevated to a broader role as head of the redubbed Warner Bros. Entertainment, Sanders represented “a new breed of executive we’re beginning to see more and more of in the Hollywood studio leadership ranks: Sensible, reasonable, even affable — a far cry from the desk-pounding tyrants of Hollywood lore. Anyone who knows Ron Sanders, who has worked alongside him, knows how incredibly hard it is to dislike him. When he says something, he means it. When he makes a promise, he follows through. He looks you in the eyes when he speaks to you; he is passionate about the industry, about Warner Bros., about business, about life.”

I concluded my column at the time noting that a veteran journalist, after interviewing Sanders some years back, quipped, “I wish there were more home video presidents like Ron Sanders.”

I just wish there were more people in my life like Ron Sanders.

Warner Bros. Releasing ‘Tenet’ in Chinese Theaters Sept. 4

Sept. 4 is turning into a pivotal day for Hollywood studios. Warner Bros. announced it would debut director Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller Tenet in Chinese theaters Sept. 4. That’s the same day Disney will release Chinese-themed live-action drama Mulan on premium VOD exclusively to Disney+ subscribers for $29.99.

Both Tenet and Mulan have been seen as key pillars to jumpstarting national exhibitors such as AMC Theatres, Regal Cinema and Cinemark.

Warner, which has delayed Tenet three times due to coronavirus-related issues delaying re-opening of movie theaters, is set to begin rolling out the movie on Aug. 26 in several international markets. The studio will also debut the movie on Sept. 3 in select U.S. theaters, such as in Georgia, which approved theatrical re-openings on April 27.

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Warner Bros. ‘Tenet’ Now Set For Labor Day Weekend Release

Warner Bros. July 27 disclosed the tentative Sept. 3 re-scheduled theatrical release of Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet, starring Robert Pattinson and John David Washington. The film is launching next month in 70 international territories.

The movie, along with Disney’s live-action Mulan, has been widely considered the studios and exhibitors’ path back to some normalcy at a domestic box office ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. Tenet was originally slated for July 15 and then continually delayed due to surges in virus infections across the country. Influx of new content into theaters would then follow with fresh home entertainment titles on digital and packaged media.

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Myriad studio titles previously earmarked for theatrical release have either been postponed to next year, indefinitely or re-directed to premium video-on-demand.

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The Tenet international release slate includes:

  • Aug. 26 — Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
  • Aug. 27 — in Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, Middle East, New Zealand, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Aug. 28 — East Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Vietnam; Sept. 3 in the U.S., Kuwait and Qatar.
  • Sept. 10 — Azerbaijan, CIS Others, Kazakhstan, Russia;
  • Sept. 17 — Cyprus
  • Sept. 18 — Japan.

 

Release dates for Latin America and China remain undisclosed.

Comic-Con@Home Panel Discusses Bugs Bunny’s History, 80th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection and New HBO Max Series

Three voices of Bugs Bunny — Billy West, Jeff Bergman and Eric Bauza — joined “Looney Tunes Cartoons” executive producer Pete Browngardt, movie historian/author/TV personality Leonard Maltin, animation historian/author Jerry Beck, and George Feltenstein, SVP, theatrical catalog, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, for a Comic-Con@Home panel July 23 to discuss Bugs Bunny’s history, the new HBO Max series “Looney Toons Cartoons” and the character’s upcoming Blu-ray collection.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Nov. 3 will release the “Bugs Bunny 80th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection,” featuring 60 remastered cartoons starring the wily rabbit.

“This is gonna be something that fans have wanted for a very long time,” Feltenstein said. “It’s been many years since the company has put together a collection on Blu-ray Disc dedicated to what I consider to be one of the most popular Warner Bros. cartoon stars, Bugs Bunny. He’s right up there with Bette Davis and [Humphrey] Bogart, who created the DNA of the studio’s history. What we meant to do here is have 20 cartoons that had been out before, but that are basically essential, and then have 40 cartoons that either had never been on Blu-ray or never been remastered at all or they were not released in the proper aspect ratio. … It goes from the great classic early cartoons to the very end of Bugs’ tenure [in the mid-60s].”

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The collection includes some titles not available previously, including “Racketeer Rabbit” (1946), “Rabbit Every Monday” (1951), “Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk” (1943) and “What’s Cookin’, Doc?” (1944).

“If you’re collecting Bugs Bunny, as you should be on video, I can’t say you’re going to complete the collection, but you’re going to have literally most — 90% or more — of all the Bugs Bunnys when you get this set,” added Beck.

Panelists mused about the lasting appeal of the cartoons, which were designed as mere amusing precursors to the main feature.

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“These cartoons were considered throwaways as far as the industry at large,” said West (Space Jam, “Futurama,” “Doug”). “While people were getting popcorn and Coca-Colas, that was what was playing on the screen. … They’re more famous and more well-known than any of the movies they opened up for.”

“If something is great entertainment, it will transcend time,” Feltenstein said.

The online panel screened “A Wild Hare,” considered the first official appearance of Bugs Bunny, supervised by Tex Avery.

“When Tex Avery arrived on the scene … he started pushing the cartoons toward wackier, crazier gags,” noted Maltin.

It’s those early Bugs iterations that inspired the new “Looney Toons Cartoons” on HBO Max, said executive producer Browngardt.

“We kind of tried to go back in time to a Bugs that was sort of before the [director Chuck] Jones Bugs had sort of taken over,” he said. “We felt like the character was a little bit more dynamic then. He had flaws. He would actually lose from time to time in a few cartoons and was a little bit surreal at times as well. We purposefully went back to that.”

They gave the character yellow gloves, which created controversy on the web, but helped differentiate the new Bugs. Bugs also got an updated vocabulary, saying things such as “fake news” and “Is that organic, Doc?”

“’Looney Toons Cartoons’ was definitely a different direction as far as getting out of the half-lidded, sarcastic Bugs from the Jones era and into more of the manic, unhinged energy that [voice actor] Mel Blanc had,” added Bouza, the voice of Bugs in the new series.

Each discussed their favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons, the many adversaries he has faced over the years and what they liked about the character.

“He’s a genuine, great hero,” Browngardt said. “He stands up for the little guy when he’s put upon. We all wish we could be the smartest guy in the room, wish we could take on every bully and not be cut down to size.”

“We all want to be Bugs Bunny, but we’re stuck with Daffy Duck is who we are,” added Bergman (“Tiny Toon Adventures,” “Our Cartoon President”).

Feltenstein credited Warner Bros. for taking care of these gems of cartoon history.

“I’m so grateful to our company that we have a preservation program that will see to it that they will remain available for people to see for years to come,” he said.

Stankey: Movie Industry ‘Better Served’ With Alternative Distribution Options

With major theatrical exhibitors pushing back re-opening screens to consumers due to surges in coronavirus infections in parts of the country, WarnerMedia continues to re-evaluate how it will distribute its slate of new-release movies.

Speaking on the July 23 AT&T fiscal call, CEO John Stankey said he welcomed alternate distribution channels afforded studios and consumers during the pandemic. The successor to CEO Randall Stephenson was asked if Warner Bros. would delve further into releasing movies direct to consumers in their homes — beyond the May 15 offering of animated Scooby-Doo movie Scoob!

Stankey said he would be surprised if “coming out of COVID” the movie industry didn’t see “some adjustment” how new titles are distributed beyond the traditional 90-day theatrical window.

While stressing that theaters continue to play an important role in the distribution of studio movies, including titles such as director Christopher Nolan’s espionage thriller Tenet, which Stankey contends is meant to be seen on the big screen rather than in the living room, the executive said ongoing uncertainty on the market’s return to normal forces a reboot of traditional distribution.

“I don’t know when theaters are going to re-open,” Stankey said. “There’s no question the longer this [shutdown] goes on, there’s going to be some content on the margin [that we look at and] say, ‘it may be better served’ to be distributed in another construct. I love the fact we have that option now.”

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Stankey said premium VOD and subscription streaming video platform HBO Max afford studios distribution options for previously earmarked theatrical releases. Will Wonder Woman 1984 head to PVOD? Stankey doesn’t think so.

The sequel to the 2017 hit Wonder Woman, the new franchise installment from director Patty Jenkins, was supposed to open on June 5, was later moved to Aug. 14, and is now slated for October in the United States.

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“I would be very surprised if that was the case,” he said. “We’re going to take a piece at a time. It’s nice to have the [D2C] reality.”

Without naming titles, Stankey reiterated Warner’s current box office slate has been “retooled” for direct-to-consumer distribution.

“Yes, there are going to be some shifts as we move forward here,” he said.

WarnerMedia: HBO and HBO Max Subs Top 36.3 Million

Following the May 27 launch of HBO Max, observers have been on high alert for any subscriber data from the upstart subscription video-on-demand platform. They’ll have to keep waiting for now.

WarnerMedia July 23 disclosed it had 36.3 million combined U.S. subscribers to HBO Max and HBO, up from 34.6 million on Dec. 31, 2019. It isn’t clear whether the 1.7 million sub increase is related to Max exclusively or a combination of HBO, HBO Now and HBO Max. In the quarter, WarnerMedia announced it would shutter HBO Go, which enabled HBO pay-TV subs on-demand access to programming.

WarnerMedia is the company formed by AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, including Warner Bros., HBO and Turner.

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Regardless, the coronavirus pandemic continues to negatively impact entertainment companies not named Netflix. WarnerMedia reported second-quarter operating income of $1.9 billion, which was down 18.4% from operating income of $2.32 billion during the previous-year period. Revenue plummeted 23% to $6.8 billion from $8.83 billion last year.

Warner revenue for the quarter dipped 3.9% to $3.3 billion from revenue of $3.43 billion in the previous-year period. The decline was driven by the absence of theatrical releases, lower video game and other revenue, partially offset by higher television revenue, including internal sales to HBO Max — WarnerMedia’s new subscription streaming video-on-demand platform.

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Studio operating expenses totaled $2.6 billion, down 11.1% from $2.92 billion last year. The decline was primarily due to the production hiatus and lower marketing expenses partially offset by higher film and production costs associated with HBO Max sales.

HBO revenue dropped 5.2% to $1.6 billion from $1.68 billion, driven by lower subscription revenue due to domestic linear subscriber declines, partially offset by growth in digital and international, including HBO Latin America following WarnerMedia’s May acquisition of the remaining interest in this entity.

Content and other revenue also decreased as a result of lower content licensing. HBO operating expenses totaled $1.5 billion, up 32.5% versus the second quarter of 2019, driven by increased programming expenses related HBO Max.

Turner revenue for the second quarter dropped 12.4% to $3 billion from $3.42 billion, driven by lower advertising revenue primarily from the postponement of the NBA season. Subscription revenue declines were also down due to lower regional sports network revenues and unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

Operating expenses totaled $1.4 billion, down 37.2% from $2.23 billion last year, driven by the timing of sports costs associated primarily with the delayed NBA season.

Warner Pulls ‘Tenet’ From Theatrical Release Schedule

In another of unending blows to the theatrical business model, Warner Bros. has pulled director Christopher Nolan’s international espionage thriller, Tenet, from its oft-changed release slate. The studio has not announced a new release date. The movie, which had originally been scheduled for July 17, was pushed back to July 31, then Aug. 12 as coronavirus infections began to surge in parts of the country.

The movie, along with Disney’s live-action Mulan a week later, were supposed to jumpstart the exhibition business following its mid-March worldwide shutdown. But with infections up across the country, and tepid consumer response in China to theater re-openings, Warner is not treating Tenet like other box office titles.

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“Our goals throughout this process have been to ensure the highest odds of success for our films while also being ready to support our theater partners with new content as soon as they could safely reopen,” Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman, said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the support we’ve received from exhibitors and remain steadfast in our commitment to the theatrical experience around the world.”

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Emmerich said the pandemic continues to cause us to “re-evaluate our release dates.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom July 13 announced that all movie theaters in the state should remain closed. Warner said it is vacating release dates for its next two box office titles. The Conjuring 3, Warner’s most-successful horror franchise has been pushed back to June 4, 2021.

“We are not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release, and our upcoming marketing and distribution plans will reflect that,” Emmerich said.

Restocking the Shelves, Part Three: Seeing Through Windows

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.

Hilary Hoffman

“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.”

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“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.

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

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.”

Jeff Brown

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.

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

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.’

Restocking the Shelves, Part Two: Home Entertainment Marketing Shifts Into High Gear

As the theatrical pipeline has dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, home entertainment divisions have turned to their marketing gurus to create excitement around the catalog releases filling the void.

Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution, says the studio’s home entertainment marketing team, headed by senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong, has been “getting really creative when it comes to catalog.”

Wong says Sony has been mining its vault for product appropriate for “seasonal events — finding little gems that we can elevate and create a buzz behind.”

Jason Spivak

“As Easter was the first major holiday in this new period of uncertainty, we worked quickly with our theatrical counterparts to create a Pinterest hub of Easter-themed activities to ensure that families would be able to celebrate the holiday at home with perennial favorite Peter Rabbit,” Wong says. “The activities were seeded to parenting influencer and bloggers to help foster excitement not only for the first “Peter Rabbit” film, but also for the upcoming second installment, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway.”

Sony Pictures also has been closely monitoring fan conversation on social media.

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“Shortly after quarantine began, we noticed that the 1993 film Groundhog Day had entered the social media zeitgeist in a major way as people settled into the repetition of stay-at-home routines,” Wong says. “To join the conversation and invite those at home to revisit the movie, we created an official Instagram account for the film that encouraged fans to post their own Groundhog Day moments and launched a tongue-in-cheek trailer for a ‘sequel’ …oddly similar to the first film’s trailer.”

Lexine Wong

Social media watch-alongs featuring classic Sony Pictures films “also proved to be an invaluable tool in allowing movie fans to maintain the communal watching experience that they love, even during a period when we aren’t physically able to be together,” Wong adds. “We worked with editorial partners like Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, Nerdist, ComicBook.com and others in collaboration with film talent to help host live viewings of fan-favorite titles while viewers posted reactions in real-time via social media.

“While these watch-alongs initially began with new release titles like Bloodshot and Bad Boys for Life, selections have since delved into catalog favorites like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Hook, Center Stage, War Room, The Mask of Zorro and This Is the End — catering to a wide range of viewer tastes.”

See also: Restocking the Shelves, Part One: Home Entertainment Divisions Mine Catalog as Theatrical Slate Stalls

Another initiative at Sony Pictures was the launch of the Sony Pictures Kids Zone YouTube Channel. “The hub was the brainchild of moms and dads on our team who found themselves in a brave new world of juggling work-from-home with parenting duties,” Wong says. “Our content team had hours’ worth of kid-friendly activities, educational content and sing/dance-alongs that had been created for past titles, so they set about curating playlists to help parents who were in a similar position of looking for ways to entertain and educate their kids. The launch saw coverage from dozens of press outlets, exhibitor partners, prominent celebrity moms and social media influencers.”

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Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, notes that “with the current resurgence in catalog interest, we have used this time to create compelling new collections and promotions at retail to keep the space fresh and updated and have sought to further heighten exposure through creative marketing.”

To that end, she says, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment generated millions of impressions by employing a Twitter catalog watch-party series, which spotlighted several library classics and anniversary releases such as Halloween, Apollo 13, Breakfast Club and Jaws. The studio was able to enlist the help of cast members, filmmakers and special celebrity guests such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Howard and Anthony Michael Hall, and partnered with notable filmmaker Kevin Smith to produce a special podcast for the 45th anniversary of Jaws.

Mike Takac

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment routinely partners with digital retailers and in June has teamed with Apple TV and iTunes to promote top catalog films with new key art that features a travel postcard line look. “It’s a fun, creative way to re-position our titles to evoke the feeling of summer travel at a time when most people are stuck at home,” EVP of sales Mike Takac says.

Looking ahead at the rest of the year, Takac says, “We know our success is going to ride largely on our ability to monetize our catalog. We’re fortunate to have some national promotions. We’re going to drive around DC Fandom, we’ll have a ‘Back to Hogwarts’ push, and of course we’re going to drive Halloween and holiday really hard, with a little more consumer marketing than we’ve done in the past.”

Takac says Warner Bros. also is working on a promotion to encourage consumers to buy and rent movies they’ve always been meaning to watch. “We’re still working on that,” he says. “But we can probably bubble them up in a more meaningful way.”

To boost interest in its DC content, Warner is planning a big promotion called DC FanDome, a company-wide initiative that will take place Aug. 22.

Jessica Schell

“It’s a free virtual fan experience celebrating all the superheroes and super villains in the DC Multiverse and will include panels featuring past, present and future talent; filmmakers and creators from DC properties; announcements on upcoming projects; exclusive content debuts; cosplay and fan art; and much more,” says Jessica Schell, EVP and GM, film, for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “It will be a 24-hour immersive global event designed to appeal to fans, families and kids, and the virtual themed worlds will be full of special presentations and localized content to appeal to a worldwide audience. This is a truly massive undertaking and all of WarnerMedia is coming together as one to produce this special event.”

Studios have also been designing special deals to entice consumers.

Warner also has been testing “pricing elasticity,” Takac says, for titles “deep in our catalog that we normally don’t promote. We’ve been working on that for many months and may be able to leverage that in the back half of the year.”

The Walt Disney Co., which owns both Disney Media Distribution and Fox Home Entertainment, also is focused on special pricing for its catalog as well as partnerships with retailers, says SVP of marketing David Kite, Disney Media Distribution.

Early on, says Kite, “we partnered closely with all divisions across the Walt Disney Co. to align our strategies and act responsively to the disruptions in the market.”

Initially, he says, “we achieved a great amount of success with the early in-home releases of Onward and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which reaffirms the value and appeal of both our content and the window.”

More recently, Kite says, “our team has created unique monthly in-home promotions in collaboration with our digital and physical retail partners, offering consumers access to the movies they love at special pricing while they’re at home with their families.”

Adam Frank, Lionsgate’s SVP of worldwide digital sales and distribution, attributes a large part of Lionsgate’s success with catalog titles to its close relationships with retailers.

“Retailers have always been the lifeblood of our home entertainment business,” Frank says. “We need them, they need us, and we pride ourselves on win-win relationships. We look for openings, mine titles from our library and identify anniversaries and seasonal opportunities. It’s similar to the strategy we’ve employed for years, but now with even more consumers entering the space for the first time, and these newer consumers building their libraries through impulse purchases.”

One recent partnership was a “Best of Lionsgate” catalog promotion with Microsoft Movies & TV, with more than 25 films, mostly action titles. “We saw a triple-digit lift, week over week, amounting to incremental revenue in the six digits” he says.

Editor’s Note: This is part two 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.’

‘Scoob!’ Rolling Out Internationally in July Via Theatrical and Premium In-Home Release

Warner Bros. Pictures will roll out Scoob! internationally via a combination of theatrical exhibition and premium in-home release through premium VOD and premium digital ownership.

The international theatrical release will begin on July 8 in France, Holland and Switzerland, with additional countries rolling out over the summer months.

Premium home offerings will begin on July 1 in Australia and New Zealand.

With theaters closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the animated Scoob! debuted for both rental via PVOD and for digital ownership in the U.S. and Canada May 15. The film is now the No. 2 digital release of all time and the No. 1 digital release for Warner Bros., according to the studio. Scoob! June 26 became available in the U.S. on WarnerMedia’s recently launched streaming service HBO Max.

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“Our decision to release Scoob! as an in-home offering in May came during an unprecedented time in history, and we are delighted by the success of the film and the way it was embraced by long-time fans of this iconic character, families and children,” said Ron Sanders, president of worldwide theatrical distribution and home entertainment, and EVP of international business operations for Warner. “Following its strong domestic debut, our international strategy will combine both theatrical and in-home releases to make it easily accessible to worldwide audiences.”

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The film, which will be released on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray July 21 in the U.S., recounts the meeting of Scooby-Doo and his best pal Shaggy, and how they joined with young detectives Fred, Velma and Daphne to form Mystery Inc. Now, after hundreds of adventures, Scooby and the gang encounter the larger world of the Hanna-Barbera universe, teaming with Blue Falcon and Dynomutt to stop Dick Dasterdly from unleashing the legendary ghost dog Cerberus upon the world. The voice cast includes Will Forte, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Isaacs, Gina Rodriguez, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, Kiersey Clemons, Ken Jeong, Tracy Morgan, Simon Cowell and Frank Welker.