September 26, 2011
Studios Are the King Makers
Netflix executives, during the past month or so, may have been wishing all the attention were still focused on their old nemesis Blockbuster. As long as Blockbuster was around, Netflix looked like the new, younger kid; the cool kid; the entrepreneur; the next big thing. Netflix represented the future, Blockbuster the past.
Unfortunately, Netflix had to grow up sometime, and its growing pains are starting to show in the company’s stock price, which has dropped precipitously as it has raised subscription prices to offset greater costs and grow its streaming business internationally.
There are a lot of advantages in being the new phenomenon on Wall Street, which is looking for outsized growth, even if it does come by undercutting an older, established business weighed down by debt like Blockbuster. While Blockbuster struggled to move with an enormous debt shackled to it, Netflix could bob and weave and build a better rental mouse trap, one that didn’t involve cumbersome real estate or a debt load and that got great pricing on streaming licenses from content holders who had not yet realized what streamed content was worth.
Now the entertainment landscape has shifted, and Netflix is in the spotlight. The company can’t get the kind of pass offered to new ventures; it will have to grow and prosper under the weight of expectations — and new, higher licensing fees for streamed studio content.
Oh, for the good old days when Blockbuster took much of the heat, Netflix executives must be thinking. But those days may be past for Netflix, which may now find out that the studios can be king makers in the distribution pipeline. Content holders favor whichever distribution avenue will offer them the most profit, and will wring ever more money from distribution pipelines that use their content.
Content is king, and the studios that own it can make or break a distribution partner. In the case of Netflix, I think executives may be finding out they have more in common with Blockbuster and other past studio distribution partners than they thought. Just as Netflix overtook Blockbuster, there are competitors in the wings targeting Netflix.
By: Stephanie Prange
August 09, 2011
Rest In Peace, Maria LaMagra
I’m still reeling with shock and sadness at the death a few days ago of Maria LaMagra, the veteran home entertainment publicist who spent more than a decade running the PR show at Universal Studios Home Entertainment and then went on to become a successful PR consultant and independent contractor for Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures and others
So often, when people die, those of us who are left say something along the lines of, “She left us too soon. She was so full of life.”
In Maria LaMagra’s case, this isn’t just another platitude. It’s God’s honest truth. Maria didn’t observe life, nor did she merely live life. She took life by the shoulders and shook the bejesus out of it, and made it do her bidding.
Come to think of it, she did that to all of us.
Maria LaMagra was the diva of the Hollywood publicists when I joined what was then Video Store Magazine in 1991 and she was still the diva of Hollywood publicists when she died after a brief battle with cancer.
Her family put out a statement saying she was 66 when she died. Maria would have killed them. We all thought she was at least a decade younger. After a certain point, you see, Maria LaMagra stopped aging and became, well, ageless.
I’ll never forget her raspy voice, her loud laugh, the way she would throw back her head when she laughed, those expressive eyes, the way she carried herself, her sense of fashion and style, that aura of self-assuredness she always projected. And her approach – well, let’s just say Maria LaMagra was not from the Subtle School of Publicity. She emailed and then she phoned; she phoned and then she emailed. And she kept doing it, over and over again, until a journalist had no other choice than to say “yes.”
She was, as rocker Dave Edmunds would say, “subtle as a flying mallet.” When Maria LaMagra walked into a room, she owned it. She was loud, no question – and yet her heart was even bigger than her voice.
I’m half expecting a phone call, chastising me for putting her age in print – and asking me for one last favor, for a client, of course. Just six weeks before she died, she was at the EAA’s Wine & Wisdom event at the Skirball Center – clearly ill, but still a big, overwhelming presence. I was on vacation, but our editor in chief, Stephanie Prange, was there and talked to Maria.
The last thing she said, as Stephanie was preparing to leave: “Tell T.K. he still owes me a write-up on Smore Entertainment.”
If there’s a heaven, I can only imagine Maria up there right now, that loud laugh echoing through the clouds as she tells God and his angels what to do.
June 29, 2011
Why Is Blu-ray Quality Overlooked?
Last week I wrote a column about the loss of quality in the digital delivery realm, and since then I’ve received some assenting feedback.
“I agree with you 100%,” said one respondent. “I’m in the custom integration business and I have to spend time with each customer explaining to them the quality difference between streaming and Blu-ray. Sometimes I get the glossed over look when people think disc is dead and streaming is high-definition. It’s a war and the Blu-ray disc Association, Hollywood, etc., had better treat it that way. My kids have no problem with physical media so I know that isn’t a stumbling block.”
Others chimed in as well, pointing out the compression of digital files.
My question is: Why isn’t the industry doing more to drive home the quality of Blu-ray as opposed to the current state of digitally delivered files?
Last month we published a comprehensive white paper on Blu-ray Disc at 5, extolling the format’s quality and continued growth despite the headwinds of a terrible economy and a worthy predecessor in DVD. We, as an industry, should be doing more of that.
The digital delivery market naturally will have a cheering squad on Wall Street that is willing to repeat over and over again, “Disc is dead! Disc is dead!” After all, investors are always looking for the newest thing and tend to shun established and mature businesses. They just aren’t as exciting and won’t produce the kind of outsized stock growth that Wall Street craves.
But their (somewhat self-interested) enthusiasm for digital delivery doesn’t mean Blu-ray isn’t the best way to see a movie in the home.
Recently, I discussed this question with an industry observer who noted that many catalog titles actually are doing quite well on Blu-ray. He, too, wondered why the industry isn’t putting more effort into pushing and growing the market for the format.
Certainly, these aren’t flush times at many studios, which have instituted layoffs in recent weeks. But not promoting a quality, growing product won’t make things any better. There’s only so much cost-cutting studios can do to boost the bottom line. I agree that selling catalog at a hefty price to streaming services that go to consumers’ iPads and cell phones will help plug the profit hole, but so will selling consumers on the big-screen quality of Blu-ray.
By: Stephanie Prange
May 04, 2011
Disc Sales Enter Era of New Reality
So what’s really going on here? The news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed put everything else on the media’s back burner, including the Southern tornadoes and, of course, our own industry report on first-quarter sales and rental numbers. The few stories that did surface blew right through the box office correlation – disc sales were down 20%, while the collective box office earnings of those films was down 25% — and jumped right back into their “discs are dying” mantra.
“Down, down, to obsolescence town – that might just be the broad-view takeaway from Los Angeles-based Digital Entertainment Group's recent sales report, which suggests new DVD sales in the U.S. plunged 20% over the past 12 months,” said Time magazine.
"Disc sales drop 20% as streaming video begins to take over,” observed USA Today.
And a blog posting in PC World proclaimed “DVDs are one step closer to extinction.”
Most stories reported the decline in box office value, as well as the absence of the Easter holiday shopping season in the first quarter of 2011. But no one gave either of those factors any credence, and why should they? It didn’t fit in with their preconceived notion that the disc business is dead.
The truth is, box office is very much a factor in the home video business, especially now that the business is primarily sellthrough. Back in the old days when rental dominated, mediocre theatrical performers tended to perform better on video, but these days, there’s a direct connection, and one that makes sense – if you’re not going to spend $10 to see a film in the theater, you sure aren’t going to plunk down $15 to own it.
The advent of Netflix and Redbox may have triggered a resurgence in rental, and here the old formula still works: total consumer spending on rental rose slightly, even with the down box office.
That said, we are seeing a new reality in disc sales. The novelty of being able to own every movie the day it comes out on home video, at an affordable price, has worn off. We as a society now realize we don’t want to own every movie that comes out, even if it’s priced at $15, or $10, or even $5. We simply don’t have the room.
And in the children’s animated category, the new reality has hit harder than practically anywhere else. Whereas in the past the video-to-theatrical ratio was in the high 60s and even low 70s (meaning an animated feature film that grossed $300 million in theaters could be expected to generate, on average, about $200 in consumer spending on disc sales), the VTR now is down to the low 30s.
Children’s titles are still inherently more “ownable” than most films, but the competition for 8-year-old eyeballs has gotten increasingly intense. There’s YouTube, Club Penguin, hundreds of game apps for Dad’s iPhone, and more.
As Francois de La Rochefoucauld, the famous French author of maxims and memoirs, once said, “The only thing constant in life is change.”
April 20, 2011
Show Me the Money
Granted, the latest disc sales numbers for the first quarter, which should be released later this week, don’t look good. And the barrage of media reports alleging that the packaged-media business is on the ropes seems to be intensifying, with even the movie-biz website The Wrap calling the DVD business “dying” in a story today.
But once again, I need to plead with everyone to stomp on the brakes. Packaged media may no longer be Hollywood’s bread-and-butter, as it was beginning in 2001, as DVD transformed us all from movie renters into movie buyers. But it is still the dominant method we use to consume entertainment into our home, and in all likelihood will remain so at least for the foreseeable future.
An NPD Group study released earlier this week put things into perspective: Consumers may be talking about streaming and downloading movies, but when it comes time to take action they’re still plunking down their money for a Blu-ray Disc or DVD (to read the original story, click here). The study, conducted in March, found that nearly 80% of consumers watched a movie on DVD or Blu-ray Disc during the past 90 days, and that nearly 80 cents of every dollar spent on home entertainment goes toward the purchase or rental of physical discs. Respondents said 78% of their home video budgets went to the purchase and rental of Blu-ray Disc or DVD, including online and in-store retail purchases and rentals, while 15% was spent on video subscription services like Netflix. Digital video downloads, paid streaming, transactional VOD and pay-per-view accounted for just 8%.
I’d like to further point out that almost since the day this business began, we’ve been using the collective box office strength of movies available on home video to gauge the strength of the home entertainment business. And if you tally up what the movies that came to Blu-ray Disc and DVD in the first quarter of 2011 earned in U.S. theaters, and then compare that to the total for films issued on disc in the first quarter of 2010, you’ll find the drop in box office is virtually identical to the decline in disc sales.
Digital may be cool, sexy, hip, and with it. But to borrow a line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.”
April 06, 2011
Dishing the Brand
With Dish Network buying Blockbuster Inc. at auction for a bid of roughly $320 million, the digital delivery sweepstakes is about to get a lot more intense.
Dish is in a three-way battle for consumer eyeballs — eyeballs attached to bodies that want to watch first-run movies without making a trip to the rental store, the supermarket or even their own mailbox.
On one front Dish is fighting satellite rival DirecTV. Both get to offer most new releases for “transactional” viewing the same day they come out on disc. Up until now, DirecTV has had the edge, both in subscribers (19.2 million to Dish’s 14.1 million, as of the end of 2010) and in marketing. When studios began holding back hot new releases from rental leaders Netflix and Redbox, DirecTV launched a media blitz crowing about the street-date availability of first-run movies from Warner, 20th Century Fox, and Universal Studios — as did Blockbuster, before it ran out of money. Dish was conspicuously quiet.
On another front, Dish is fighting the cable companies that are scrambling to launch and improve their own premium VOD channels.
And on a third battleground, Dish is squaring off against the telecoms, who also are engaged in a continual game of streaming one-upmanship.
How can the purchase of Blockbuster give Dish the upper hand? It all depends on what Dish does with its new acquisition. And surely, but surely, there is a plan. As David Berliner, a consultant at BDO Seidman LLP in New York who specializes in restructuring and insolvency issues, told the Bloomberg news service, “It doesn’t make sense to buy a melting ice cube unless you’ve got a plan to increase revenue.”
My hunch is that Dish sees the $320 million it is spending to buy Blockbuster as an investment in its digital future. Dish didn’t buy Blockbuster for the stores, or for the inventory. Dish bought Blockbuster for the brand, and will leverage the brand to position itself as the No. 1 source of VOD. I wouldn’t be surprised it a name change, to something like the Blockbuster Movie Network, is in the future. Imagine this: “Blockbuster used to be the place where America rented its videos. Now, Blockbuster is the place where Americans watch their movies—in the comfort of their own homes. The old Blockbuster did away with late fees. The new Blockbuster is doing away with stores, vending machines and even your mailbox — so your lazy ass never even has to leave the couch.”
I jest, of course. But only in part. Rest assured that the Blockbuster brand will live on, even if the stores don’t. The vending machines — yeah, I think they’ll stay, too, considering NCR Corp. owns and operates Blockbuster Express kiosks under a license agreement. Redbox still does an awful lot of business, and this way Dish has some skin in that game, as well.
Dish may also use the fact that Blockbuster went belly-up owing tons of money to the studios to its advantage. “Hey, Warner. Hey, Paramount. Yeah, we’ll pay you. But what about those windows, eh? I know we get some movies the same day they come out on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. But it sure would be nice to get everything …”
These next few months should be interesting.
October 05, 2011
Un Grito for ‘Grito’
Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16) passed last month (also Hispanic Heritage Month). I didn’t do much to commemorate the holiday until days later. I recalled writing this story about the Televisa miniseries Gritos de Muerte Y Libertad (Vivendi), which is about Mexican independence. And with el grito (or “the yell,” synonymous with Mexican independence) just having passed, now seemed like a good time to finally watch it.
I was pretty blown away by this two-disc set that tells the story of the Mexican struggle for independence from Spain during 1808 through 1821. I learned so much about the violent and prolonged struggle as well as the country’s heroes during this time, about which I knew nothing (I am American after all). And some of this stuff resonates with what’s going on in other countries today. As a woman, I also enjoyed that it highlighted not only the men, but also several key women in the revolution.
Plus, the production is puro Mexicano — from the directors and cast to the writers, crew and historians who ensured historical accuracy. It would be hard for any Mexican to watch this and not be proud of the fighting spirit of our people as well as the talented Mexicans working in film and television today.
The miniseries included many familiar faces I’ve seen in numerous films and novelas, including Julio Bracho (Casi Divas), Lumi Cavazos (Like Water for Chocolate), Daniel Giménez Cacho (Bad Education), Cecilia Suárez (Capadocia), Alejandro Tommasi (“Alborada”), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) and many, many others.
The DVD also features equally noteworthy extras. Historians offer interesting anecdotes about the historical figures portrayed, and a behind-the-scenes featurette explains how on-point the series was in its accurate portrayal of what historians think really happened.
Mexicanos and history buffs, don’t wait for the next dia de independencia to watch this one.
By: Angelique Flores
October 04, 2011
The Circle of Retail Life
As it has done with previous movies, Disney offers a $5 coupon to save money off the purchase of The Lion King 3D Blu-ray combo pack. The coupon also works on the Lion King Trilogy boxed set and Best Buy’s exclusive version of the Blu-ray that comes in a “Lion King” lunchbox.
Target’s “Lion King” exclusive came in the form of the soundtrack as part of the 3D combo pack.
Walmart’s “Lion King” exclusive was a 15-month calendar packed on with the combo pack.
Best Buy offered previous “Fast & Furious” movies at $4.99 on DVD each and $9.99 on Blu-ray.
Best Buy also had a $10 savings when the DVDs of The League: Season 2 and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 6 were purchased together.
By: John Latchem
October 03, 2011
Indie Just Announced: ‘Sid and Nancy,’ ‘Beginners’
Sid & Nancy: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray
BD $24.99 (Amazon)
The legendary story of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, who was found dead in their Chelsea Hotel room, as indelibly played by Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, is coming Blu-ray with the featurettes “For the Love of Punk” and “Junk Love.”
Ewan McGregor plays a man named Oliver who is having a mid-life crisis when his father, who comes out of the closet shortly after Oliver’s mother dies, begins to die of cancer. Better, funnier and more complex than most any film this year. Christopher Plummer’s portrayal of the father isn’t to be missed.
BD $34.98 (Amazon)
A starless indie sleeper about a student who, after an accident with tragic consequences, finds another Earth in the sky.
People have been talking about this movie all year, and it’s out on disc soon — great, hilarious movie about teens in London defending their housing project from alien invaders.
By: Billy Gil
October 03, 2011
New on Disc: 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' Blu-ray and more …
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Blu-ray)
Warner, Comedy, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Pee-wee Herman, Elizabeth Daily.
1985. In terms of color, Blu-ray punctuates what has always looked like a nifty wax job on that “neat” bicycle Pee-wee possesses for a while — the theft of which puts him on the road to meeting (with us) an array of equally colorful characters.
Extras: You can see — in the deleted scenes from this resplendent straight carry-over from an earlier DVD release — that director Tim Burton, making his feature debut, had a pretty keen sense of what to include and what to excise.
Read the Full Review
My Cousin Rachel
Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Richard Burton, Audrey Dalton.
1952. Rachel was kind of a big deal upon its release for being the first film Olivia de Havilland did after winning two deserved Best Actress Oscars in three years: 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress.
Extras: The print is spectacularly crisp, shadowy and detailed. As usual for Twilight Time, the DVD includes a Julie Kirgo essay and an isolated musical score track for screen music connoisseurs.
Read the Full Review
American Experience: Houdini
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Mandy Patinkin.
2000. Produced a little more than a decade ago, this presentation is a good example of how one keeps a documentary moving when there isn’t a bottomless pool of existent real-life footage. Those interviewed include illusionist David Copperfield and late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
Read the Full Review
By: Mike Clark