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Women in Home Entertainment Facing the Challenge of Change

31 Aug, 2015 By: Stephanie Prange

In polling several of the 2015 Women in Home Entertainment executives about their challenges and opportunities, a common theme was change. As the home entertainment industry negotiates both physical and digital content distribution, these executives see a chance for greater growth, but are also facing an urgent need to find new ways to reach that growth.

“We are optimistically focused on growth in our industry driven around consumer engagement and enhanced product experiences, as well as exploitation of all media formats and strategic partnerships,” said Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, noting that consumer and market insights are key. “We need to win consumer mindshare by ensuring our content is relevant and valued. With all the content and platform choices, we must continue to find organic and innovative ways to break through the clutter and keep consumers engaged and transacting.”

Likewise, Mary Daily, president and CMO of worldwide marketing at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, called digital growth and new formats a big opportunity, but noted the challenge of “getting more consumers through the digital turnstile.”

Disney’s Janice Marinelli is also looking to all markets, old and new.

“We are constantly challenging ourselves to find the right balance of managing and growing our existing business while also seeding models of the future,” said Marinelli, president of Disney/ABC Home Entertainment & Television Distribution. She noted the slow decline in the physical disc market despite the great disc sales success of Disney’s Frozen.

HBO’s Sofia Chang, who recently took over duties at the company’s new streaming service HBO Now, also said that the physical disc sales decline was a challenge because it is not being replaced by electronic sellthrough revenue.

“However, there is an opportunity to integrate the physical and digital products across all of our retail partners as consumers are still in the market buying physical product,” said Chang, EVP of worldwide digital distribution and home entertainment. “For example, we recently launched a ‘Game of Thrones’ program leveraging the presence and traffic of Walmart to drive digital sales at Vudu.”

Longtime industry veteran Kelley Avery, now head of worldwide home entertainment and television distribution for DreamWorks Animation, said the studio’s high-quality family and kids content provides a great opportunity to expand her business in the digital realm.

“I enjoy challenges where there is no predefined path to follow,” she said. “Those are the best as they often lead to new, sustainable business.”

“I think we have a great opportunity to use social media, online, mobile and digital platforms to market directly to consumers,” noted Julie Cartwright, EVP of marketing at Anchor Bay Entertainment. Anchor Bay’s product catalog includes fitness, horror and family titles, as well as blockbuster theatrical films, edgy indie fare and direct-to-DVD product. “Each of these categories appeals to different kinds of consumers, and we are developing unique ways to connect with them directly using Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and mobile,” she said.

“We have also been developing omni-channel programs with our retail partners to drive sales and awareness through all platforms.” Publicity stunts, such as with character Paddington Bear throwing out the ball at the Chicago Cubs game this summer to publicize Paddington, are “very effective today by leveraging social media to share photos and video.”

Andrea Downing, co-president of PBS Distribution, also handles a varied catalog, including documentaries, drama and children’s episodic programming that the company offers on DVD, Blu-ray, Digital HD and SVOD.

“Maximizing sales opportunities across diverse genres and through different platforms are both our biggest challenge and biggest opportunity,” she said. “We have been very successful placing Ken Burns documentaries such as The Civil War (available for the first time on Blu-ray Oct. 13), dramas such as Masterpiece’s ‘Downton Abbey,’ and PBS Kids programs like ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ everywhere across all platforms for customers virtually simultaneously, which has been a huge win for us.” The right placement strategy, windowing, pricing and marketing for these varied releases “is a combination of art and science,” she said.

Cinedigm’s Yolanda Macías agreed that changes in consumer behavior are making distribution more complicated.

“Our strategy is to predict the viewing patterns and ensure that our content is available on all platforms — including our own OTT channels,” said Macías, EVP of acquisitions, forecast, planning and digital sales. “The challenge and the opportunity is to remain innovative and bold and in position to benefit from these seismic consumer behavior shifts.”

Colleague Susan Margolin, president of Docurama and special acquisitions at Cinedigm, agreed that both opportunities and challenges “stem from this dynamic transformation of the marketplace.” On the digital distribution service side, female executives say they are struggling with the same changes in the market, but are also optimistic about the possibilities.

Jessica Igoe, head of global media and content marketing partnerships at Google Play, finds it a challenge “keeping up with the always changing market dynamics in the entertainment industry.” But she is energized by “the constant ability to create great partnerships with studios and content providers.”

Colleague Kelly Merryman, VP of content partnerships at YouTube, who came from subscription streaming pioneer Netflix, is facing an international growth challenge.

“A challenge I face daily is the management of a truly global team,” she said. “My team spans 29 countries, and YouTube plays an important local role in each. Keeping the team aligned on our global priorities while also recognizing when there is a need for localized solutions is critical to our success.”

But a global reach is also a great learning experience, she said.

“The opportunity to travel the globe and see how YouTube is inspiring, entertaining and educating this next generation is truly amazing,” she said. “This year I have traveled to Brazil, Japan, India, the U.K. and France and am looking forward to my upcoming trip to Australia. Each country has its own local YouTubers sharing their unique and authentic stories; each story is helping shape this next generation.”

Meanwhile, disc rental kiosk service Redbox is still serving a hardy physical rental business. Lori Flynn, VP of purchasing, sees release windows as her biggest challenge as well as satisfying consumer demand for new-release movie rentals on DVD and Blu-ray as major studios and independents continue to shift windows.

But she sees an opportunity in the vast Redbox customer base and “leveraging the 90 million consumer touch points in the Redbox digital marketing network to support low-awareness indie films.”

Christy Tanner, SVP and GM of CBS Interactive Media Group, echoed the sentiment of many of the women in home entertainment. “The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity,” she said. “Technology is enabling incredible new entertainment experiences for our customers. Everybody in this business needs to maintain a fast pace and flexibility to ensure we continually provide excellent and thrilling experiences.”

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