UPHE’s Eddie Cunningham to be Honored With Third Annual ‘Fast Forward’ Award

Media Play News on Feb. 28 announced that Eddie Cunningham, president of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE), will receive the third annual Media Play Fast Forward Award, which honors people, technologies, organizations, products or services that move the home entertainment industry forward.

Cunningham is being honored for his innovative and aggressive promotion of packaged media since he assumed his present position in 2014. Under Cunningham’s leadership, UPHE has scored a steady string of best-selling Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, spanning such global blockbuster franchises as “Jurassic World” and “Fast and Furious” as well as the breakout film sensations Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Us and Downton Abbey.

In an effort to further innovate for the industry, UPHE last June unveiled a completely reimagined bonus content menu for its physical disc offerings that is more easily accessible and navigable — a move the studio introduced to provide viewers with a more visceral and engaging experience for Blu-ray Disc and DVD bonus content, which Cunningham and his team believe is a key selling point for its physical product offerings.

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And when Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures in January 2020 announced plans to merge their domestic disc distribution businesses, Cunningham was chosen to lead the joint venture that pending regulatory approval will begin operation in early 2021.

Last year, the Media Play Fast Forward Award went to digital retailers Cameron Douglas of FandangoNow, Galen Smith of Redbox On Demand, Google Play Movies & TV’s Jonathan Zepp and the team at Apple iTunes.

The previous year, the inaugural Media Play Fast Forward Award was shared by Fox Innovation Lab and Movies Anywhere.

The Media Play Fast Forward awards are an outgrowth of the Home Entertainment Visionary Awards, which were launched in 2002 by the now-defunct Home Media Magazine. Comcast’s Brian Roberts was the 2017 honoree. Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, was the first Visionary Award winner, back in 2002. Other honorees have included Sony Pictures’ Ben Feingold, Samsung’s Tim Baxter, and Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson.

Cunningham will be profiled in the March issue of Media Play News.

Closing Thoughts — and Shots — on CES 2020

Moments after my obligatory Facebook posting of pictures from my visit to CES 2020, industry veteran Gary Khammar — who for 10 years, from 1980 to 1990, was EVP at RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Entertainment, the precursor to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment — commented, “How many CES shows have you attended in your career? The number must be pretty high by now.”

I responded, “27,” but it might be 28. All I know is I recently received my 25-year pin from the kind folks at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), who produce the annual show. Looking back, I can still remember roaming the show floor and checking out the latest VCRs, and then this new disc-based technology called CD-I, which let you watch movies on disc. It was sort of the 8-track of home entertainment: you had to break up a movie onto two separate discs, and the blacks weren’t very, well, black.

Then came DVD, and a flurry of exciting home entertainment news at each year’s show — the initial battle with Divx, a pay-per-play variant, and Warren Lieberfarb, the father of DVD, following me in the hallway of the Las Vegas Convention Center to bemoan the format’s slow launch. Making the encounter all the more tragic was that Lieberfarb was hobbling about on a cane, due to a broken foot.

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A year later, it was a whole other story. Divx was gone, and Lieberfarb had ditched the cane and was all smiles — a rarity, colleagues of the former Warner Home Video chief will tell you. DVD had become the biggest consumer electronics launch in history, and the whole home entertainment industry was reveling in joy — and dollars.

Then came the big television revolution. We went from boxy TVs that maxed out at 27 inches to giant flat screens with a constantly improving picture quality. With the advent of high-definition, the DVD was no longer good enough, and I remember how the ensuing format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc was played out at CES. Driving to Las Vegas in January 2007, I kept having to pull over and interview studio presidents who were lining up in one camp or the other, and I remember the flurry of press conferences at that year’s show that led to many a late-night writing session, trying to keep it all straight.

No sooner had the format war been settled than CES became the launching pad for yet another generation of new and improved TVs. But the 4K launch was spectacularly unspectacular — not because of the technology, but, rather, because the hardware was launched without anyone bothering to get the studios on board first.

A year or two later, the studios did jump in, but they decided “4K” wasn’t sexy enough so they rolled out a new acronym, UHD, for “ultra high-definition,” followed, later, by an additional acronym, “UHD with HDR,” HDR standing for high dynamic range. Not surprisingly, the expected excitement over yet another new format was tempered by consumer confusion over what, exactly, it was called.

After many meetings and discussions it was decided to restore the 4K name to the software, initially known as UHD Blu-ray Discs but subsequently rebranded as 4K Ultra HD.

Today, 4K UHD TVs remain on the upswing, accounting for 44% of all TVs shipped in 2019, according to the CTA. And 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs are selling remarkably well — still climbing, while the overall disc market remains in a state of decline.

But in the four years since the 4K Ultra HD discs were launched at CES 2016, the show itself has become increasingly irrelevant for those of us on the content side of the business, as the focus has shifted toward innovation and technology. One analyst even noted in an interview that CES was now one of the country’s biggest car shows, a showcase for connectivity and autonomous driving.

Last year’s CES once again saw the launch of a new and improved TV, 8K — again, with no software support.  The first 8K TVs went on sale later in 2019, and at the just-concluded CES 2020, the central hall  was dominated by massive 8K displays by huge CE concerns such as Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and TCL — as well as smaller players like Sharp and Hisense.

There were debates over which variant is better, QLED or OLED, while Samsung executives talked up Serto, a TV that flips from horizontal to vertical so viewers can watch portrait-mode content (presumably, commercials, and woe to any vase or bauble that might get in the way when the TV automatically rotates).

Samsung also touted how streaming-friendly its TVs are, thanks to Samsung TV Plus.

But there was not a peep from Hollywood about 8K content on disc — or digital, for that matter.

Whatever happened to the concept that content is “king?”

 

Home Entertainment Industry Golf Tournament a Big Win

More than 100 people participated in the Los Angeles Media and Entertainment Golf Tournament July 15 at the Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, Calif., honoring a “foursome” of industry legends and raising nearly $80,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  Warren Lieberfarb, David Bishop, Steve Nickerson and Mike Fidler were honored for their contributions to DVD, which triggered the start of home entertainment’s digital revolution. The event was organized by Mark Horak, a former executive with Warner Bros. Entertainment Group and Redbox, and is a precursor to the Los Angeles Entertainment Summit, which starts July 16.

Lieberfarb is the former president of Warner Home Video who has been widely hailed as the “father” of DVD.  Bishop is the former president of both MGM Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; he was a leader in driving catalog DVD sales, one of of the format’s big growth engines. Nickerson is the former Toshiba executive who pushed DVD from the consumer electronics hardware side; he was later hired by Lieberfarb at Warner. And Fidler is the former Sony Electronics executive who drove DVD’s marketing; he is currently president of the UHD Alliance.

All four played key roles in the launch of DVD, which shifted home entertainment from a rental to a purchase model and introduced digital into what had been an analog business. DVD subsequently gave way to Blu-ray Disc, which opened the door to digital movie sales and rentals through the inclusion of a digital copy with each purchased disc. DVD generated  millions of dollars of revenue to studios, becoming an important factor in greenlighting films.

Honoring DVD Pioneers

Four industry veterans crucial to the launch of DVD were joined at an informal dinner July 11 as a precursor to the Los Angeles Media and Entertainment Golf Tournament on July 15, where they will be officially honored for their contributions to DVD, which triggered the start of home entertainment’s digital revolution. Warren Lieberfarb, David Bishop, Steve Nickerson and Mike Fidler dined alongside various other past and present executives, including Ryan Pirozzi of Amazon, Eddie Cunningham of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Amy Jo Smith of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, and 20th Century Fox innovators Mike Dunn and Danny Kaye, both of whom left the studio earlier this year when Disney’s takeover was complete. The golf tournament is being held at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, with all proceeds benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Four ‘Digital Revolution’ Pioneers to Be Honored at Industry Golf Tournament

Four industry veterans crucial to the launch of DVD — which signaled the start of home entertainment’s digital revolution — will be honored at the Los Angeles Media and Entertainment Golf Tournament on July 15.

The tournament takes place the Monday prior to the ninth annual LAES and OTT Conference, produced by the Entertainment Merchants Association. It will be held at the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, with all proceeds benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The honored “foursome” includes Warren Lieberfarb, the former president of Warner Home Video who has been widely hailed as the “father” of DVD.  Other honorees include former MGM Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment president David Bishop; former Toshiba and Warner executive Steve Nickerson; and former Sony Electronics executive Mike Fidler, president of the UHD Alliance.

All four played key roles in the launch of DVD, which shifted home entertainment from a rental to a purchase model and introduced digital into what had been an analog business. DVD subsequently gave way to Blu-ray Disc, which opened the door to digital movie sales and rentals through the inclusion of a digital copy with each purchased disc. DVD generated  millions of dollars of revenue to studios, becoming an important factor in greenlighting films.

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Lieberfarb not only brought the concept of movies and other content on a digital video disc to fruition, but also rallied the other studios as well as consumer electronics manufacturers to support and heavily promote the new format. Bishop, as head of MGM, was Lieberfarb’s strongest studio ally, while Nickerson was SVP of sales and marketing at Toshiba America Consumer Products, the U.S. arm of the Japanese CE giant that helped develop, and bring to market, the DVD format. Fidler was recruited by Sony Electronics from Pioneer Electronics in 1997 to lead efforts to establish the DVD format in the U.S. market.

“DVD was the start of a digital revolution that allowed movie lovers to collect and enjoy content at home,” said Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. “Beyond the actual disc, the launch of DVD saw groundbreaking new partnerships and cooperation across studios and CE manufacturers, component providers, replicators, mastering services and retailers. The development and launch of DVD also laid the foundation in authoring and compression technology that ultimately made it possible for entertainment content to be distributed over broadband.”

The Los Angeles Media and Entertainment Golf Tournament is produced by Mark Horak, a former Warner Home Video and Redbox executive who has two daughters with cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. He launched the tournament in 2012 and from the start donated proceeds to the foundation to support the development of new drugs and treatments to extend the lives of the 30,000 people in the United States with the disease.

Horak believes the time has come to bring the tournament back, not just to raise funds for charity but also as a prime networking opportunity.

“Without the vision, leadership and collaboration of these industry veterans in both Hollywood and the CE industry, consumers would not have the convenient access to high quality content that they have today,” Horak says. “Everyone who operates in the new digital world owe them our sincere thanks.”

Attendees will include executives from the major and independent studios involved with the production and distribution of content, retailers and distributors of digital and physical content, consumer electronics manufacturers and various suppliers of supporting products and services for the media and entertainment industry.

To attend the event sign up here.