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Erik's Spin


Heralding a Pyrrhic Savior

5 Nov, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The home entertainment industry appears to be borrowing a page from Netflix’s playbook regarding digital revenue — lauding electronic sellthrough (EST), transactional VOD, and even subscription streaming, as market saviors.

But if you analyze the third-quarter data from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, EST and transactional VOD rental collectively (again) lagged packaged media’s $1.45 billion in revenue by a whopping 50%!

Transactional VOD and EST totaled $742 million, with widely heralded digital sellthrough generating a rather modest $274 million in standalone revenue. While EST is up 46% year-over-year and boasts significant margins (compared with disc), does the industry really want to crow about a sector that generated just $29 million more in revenue than the surviving ghosts of Blockbuster did renting discs over the counter? Packaged media sales, which are indeed declining, still generated 80% more in revenue than EST.

To put it another way, $29 million is approximately the amount Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, CCO Ted Sarandos and CFO David Wells collectively earned selling stock options in September. And why? Because SVOD’s $815 million “contribution” to the $1.55 billion in Q3 digital consumer spending is misleading.

SVOD revenue largely went to Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Instant Video — not studios and content holders. Content holders receive license fees from SVOD operators over a multi-year period. In fact, Netflix said a record 5 billion hours of content was streamed by its subscribers during the quarter. That’s a lot of content being consumed for just $7.99 a month. Had those hours been from transactional VOD or EST, the fiscal impact (and relevance) would be exponentially higher.

Indeed, when subtracting SVOD revenue from both the 2012 and 2013 Q3 tallies, this year’s total home entertainment consumer spending actually declined.

Netflix, which continues to turn a cold shoulder and pull back marketing dollars from its high-margin disc rental business, said it does so in order not to confuse an increasingly digital consumer.

Home entertainment would be wise not to emulate; and instead up marketing of packaged media with a few changes.

That’s because transactional VOD, which has been heralded by studios for 10 years as the preferred rental option, grew less than 3% year-over-year, suggesting that the hype surrounding SVOD (and kiosk rental) is undermining the $4.99/$5.99 VOD transaction — and packaged media.

The consumer has been in the throes of an economic recession for more than five years. Low cost (and low margin) entertainment sources such as SVOD and kiosks have gained traction (it’s hard to argue against $7.99 monthly and $1.20 nightly rentals) and improved their content offerings. Home entertainment has become a commodity.

Studios, as a result, do need to heed recent comments from Netflix’s Sarandos criticizing inane release windows that allow theater operators to control distribution of new movies for up to four months after launch. Studios should call theaters’ bluff and release $40 bundled Blu-ray Disc/DVD/digital titles (and $20 DVDs) simultaneously with the theatrical launch. Nearly every home has a DVD or Blu-ray player. Then release to digital channels and kiosks four months later. And let the market decide. 

If the theaters refuse to screen movies being released simultaneously at retail (which they will), that’s their right. So is it the right of studios to move their theatrical releases and marketing budgets to home entertainment.

Sarandos says the consumer should have ubiquitous access to content on their terms (without pirating, of course). It’s time studios stop protecting low margin theaters and throw a lifeline to higher margin home entertainment, beginning with packaged media.


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