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Studios Mull Monetizing Every Screen

3 May, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

Apple iPad

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. — For Aubrey Freeborn, SVP of marketing and product management for worldwide VOD and electronic sell-through for 20th Century Fox, the “ah-ha” moment came last week while serving jury duty. While everyone, young and old, was waiting for court to begin, they all had a screen of some sort working in front of them.

“No matter the [demographic], they were reading on a Kindle or a Nook, or they had their iPad, or they had a phone, there was something going on,” she said May 3 at the annual spring Digital Hollywood event. “It was just amazing to see that it wasn’t a niche market anymore, and that there’s a lot of consumption happening. It’s exciting for us, as we distribute movies and TV shows to consumers through these devices.”

For Curt Marvis, president of digital media for Lionsgate, it was a drive with his children to Mammoth Mountain in California. One of his teenage daughters was sitting in the passenger seat, watching something on her iPhone, and Marvis assumed she had downloaded a movie.

“We were literally out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and [I asked her] what she was doing? She was streaming Netflix on AT&T 3G out in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

For Fox, Lionsgate, and every company in the content business, getting content to every screen, and maximizing profit off that content, has become the daily goal. From windows to business models to devices, the changes are coming fast, almost too fast for content owners to make sure they monetize every one appropriately.

“It’s really about differentiating and sharpening our offerings on the transactional side,” said Jason Spivak, SVP of worldwide digital distribution for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. “Some of the traditional barriers between models don’t exist anymore. There’s a misconception out there, I think, that consumers don’t want to own anything digitally.” He said the heyday of DVD and today aren’t too different, in that consumers still want to own their content.

“[But the industry hasn’t] done a good job giving good value to that digital project,” he said. Better service, better applications and enhanced, unique digital bonus features are ways the industry can make digital offerings more attractive, he added.

The tablet market especially seemed to surprise this day’s panelists.

“I’m shocked by the numbers. I’m shocked by the usage,” Marvis said, pointing to figures showing 24 million tablets shipped by the end of 2010. “Extraordinary growth. I haven’t seen anything like it in the history of consumer electronics.”

Freeborn said the key is to offer content in every way possible, in every form possible.

“For digital, it’s meant to be incremental to the business that’s already there,” Freeborn noted. “I don’t know that it’s true that they want it one way or another. They want it in a variety of ways. It’s the need or want at that moment.”

Spivak pointed to UltraViolet as a way to give consumers what they own wherever they want it, when they want it, on any device they want to watch it on. UltraViolet offers consumers an opportunity to buy a physical disc or digital download, and then play that content on multiple other devices, with no added charge.

The UltraViolet’s concept works off a “buy once, play anywhere” philosophy, and is unique in the physical to digital transition, with Spivak noting that no other change in how consumers got their media — VHS to DVD, tape cassette to CD — “really provided an opportunity to unlock value in the prior format.”

“To me it’s about available screens,” Marvis added. “The number of screens that will be available in 2020 compared to 2010 will be [huge].”

And not forgetting about past properties is also becoming extremely important in this digital world, panelists agreed. A 20-year-old property can be monetized like never before.

“You’ve got to find different ways to engage and hold on to an audience when you have a brand that captures their attention,” Marvis said. He pointed to his company’s Dirty Dancing Facebook page. Despite revolving around a movie released in 1987, it’s quickly grown to more than 9 million fans, mostly women ages 20 to 50. “It’s extraordinary, when you think about it,” he said. “We are absolutely, positively looking into way to make money from that audience.”

But who gets what with all these new digital properties is an especially important question, one that needs to be addressed early on, according to Robert Nashak, EVP of digital entertainment for BBC Worldwide.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve by engaging our new shows, our new brands early on in their development … most importantly to retain our digital rights wherever possible, and not give them away to our distribution platforms,” he said. A tie-in game, an iPhone application and other digital tie-ins “need to be negotiated very, very tightly, or you just won’t make any money anymore.”

Nashak also noted that most people have their laptops open while watching content today, and there’s a pressing need to force more interactivity into the content consumers watch.

“Once we can create this interactive content around the video content … new forms of revenue will become open to us,” he said.


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