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October 30, 2017

Movies Anywhere Is a Locker I Can Get Into

I have a new morning ritual. While sipping my first cup of coffee (of two) and catching up on my email and the latest news, all on my iPhone, I now also invariably finish the movie I fell asleep watching the night before.

Yes, I am at that age where I begin to nod off well before the closing credits. And until just recently I would finish watching a movie the next night, before starting a new one. But thanks to my new ritual, I now start a movie every night, which by my estimation has increased the number of movies I watch by at least 30%.

What changed? The mid-October launch of Movies Anywhere, a remarkably simple and easy to use digital storage locker that lets me watch any film in my library with a couple of clicks on my iPhone button. All the major studios, except for Paramount, are participating, and the beauty of Movies Anywhere is that even for people like me who still buy Blu-ray Discs, entering the redemption code so I gain access to a digital copy takes just seconds — and then the movie is available on my iPhone, my TV, and anywhere else I have the app. (In fact, while writing this paragraph I just entered the code for Annabelle: Creation and watched it instantly appear on my iPhone. I will start watching it tonight — probably on disc, just out of habit — and then whatever I missed will be viewed in the early morning, with a Keurig cup of bold Sumatra, after the obligatory cleansing of emails and quick look at the news headlines.)

I have a confession to make. While I consider myself an early adopter, both because of my role in the industry and my natural curiosity and yen to be on the cutting edge of new and cool stuff, my digital movie experience has been limited to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. I have never bought a movie online; I set up an UltraViolet account years ago but never used it, not even once. I keep writing that consumers value convenience, simplicity and ease of use, above all else, and I might as well have been writing about myself. I rarely make myself a salad, preferring the salad-in-a-bag approach. I vastly prefer Uber to taxis, and order most of my stuff online — even my Keurig coffee cups — because I hate waiting in line.

The problem was, prior to Movies Anywhere, watching digital copies of movies I acquired was too much of a hassle. There were too many sites to visit, too many passwords to enter, too many steps to take.

Movies Anywhere is as easy as watching Netflix. And that’s why I believe our studio friends have gotten it right this time. Sure, there are still hurdles to overcome — chiefly the other main driver of consumer behavior, the desire to get things for free or, at the very least, for as little as possible. It’s still going to be a challenge to convince consumers who are used to spending around $10 a month for unlimited Netflix content to fork over more than that for a single movie, regardless of how new that movie is, or how much hype it has generated.

Still, everything else is in place. The stage has been set for digital ownership to really take off, once consumers realize the value proposition of instant access — and immediate (or, in my case, morning-after) satisfaction.

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October 24, 2017

Retail Fun With 'The Emoji Movie'

A couple of retailers offered exclusive pack-on goodies with the Blu-ray of Sony Pictures' The Emoji Movie.

Walmart offered the animated movie in a gift set containing the Blu-ray and a character plush backpack clip.

Target offered the Blu-ray with a pack-on movie-branded PopSocket mobile-device grip.

Among other titles, Target didn't have any copies of Fox's Teen Wolf: Season 6 Part 2 on shelves, and the title didn't come up on a search through Target.com. The title is listed at Target.com (where it comes up after a Google search), where is it listed as out of stock online.

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October 19, 2017

Movies Anywhere a Good Next Step, But Some Digital Ownership Holes Remain

The introduction of Movies Anywhere, an expansion of the Disney Movies Anywhere platform to include four more studios, is the most significant advancement of the promotion of digital ownership since the launch of UltraViolet.

The concept behind UltraViolet was to give consumers more choices in playing back their digital content by linking several digital retailers. After it launched in 2011, UltraViolet became primarily associated with the code included with Blu-rays and DVDs that allowed consumers to have a free digital copy of a movie or TV show with the purchase of the physical disc. The content itself would be stored in the cloud, and UltraViolet accounts would give consumers the rights to access the content whenever they wished from affiliated websites and apps such as Flixster, CinemaNow or Vudu.

But, there were significant gaps in the service. Apples’ iTunes, one of the biggest retailers of digital content, did not sign up. Neither did Disney, which launched its own, proprietary Disney Movies Anywhere service, which was compatible with iTunes.

In essence, while you could buy almost any content from any retailer, you could only watch it across platforms depending on the interconnectivity deals they had in place. This could lead to some eclectic digital collections, as some studios began offering digital copy only through UltraViolet. So you could have some movies on iTunes and some on Flixster and no means to visit one site to gauge your entire library. In many cases, especially for families, this could lead to inadvertently buying the same content again without realizing you had it on a different service. (Some studios, such as Paramount and Universal, allowed the same code to redeem a digital copy on both iTunes and UltraViolet, which opened up options but was still essentially owning the movie twice in two different spots, even if it were free).

One key difference between digital and physical ownership, of course, is the nature of the playback device. With a disc, you put it in a Blu-ray or DVD player and watch it as many times as you want, and the brand or location of the player shouldn’t matter. With streaming, however, the retailer where you bought (or redeemed the code for) the movie also provides the playback device, via the retailer’s app or a video plug-in at their website.

Thus, the key for consumers looking for the best option to see as much of their collection as possible in one spot would be finding a retailer that used as many of the available rights lockers. With its deal with Disney Movies Anywhere, Walmart’s Vudu soon became the only digital retailer where consumers could see their cloud-based collections of movies and TV shows from all six major studios and participating mini-majors such as Lionsgate.

But, it’s not as if these facts where widely marketed or known to mainstream consumers, many of whom erroneously expect everything ever made to show up eventually on Netflix. For digital ownership to remain viable, the ability to access content couldn’t be so annoying as to drive more viewers to subscription streaming.

Another problem facing UltraViolet was the decline in compatible retailers, particularly big names such as Flixter and CinemaNow.

So, unless studios wanted to incur the wrath of other retail partners to exclusively promote Vudu as the digital solution, they needed to facilitate a way to expand how their movies interacted with a variety of digital retailers.

Aside from a few early technical snafus, creating a Movies Anywhere account and linking all a consumers’ retail accounts is a relatively seamless process. Plus, as a reboot of DMA, the new Movies Anywhere offers something that UltraViolet never did — a playback app. You still have to visit a participating retailer to buy the movie, but you can watch it through the MA app in addition to that retailer if you want.

Now, the Movies Anywhere app and website just allow you to see which movies you own that are connected to the Movies Anywhere platform (not unlike how the UV site lets you see which UV-linked movies you own). So you can’t watch your content from holdouts such as Paramount and Lionsgate there. And because those studios haven’t signed up yet, their movies won’t automatically cross-populate between participating retailers Vudu, iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play the way the rest of your collection will (with some exceptions).

Also, the biggest drawback to Movies Anywhere thus far is that it doesn’t include TV shows. All the major retailers connected to Movies Anywhere also sell TV episodes and seasons, and many TV DVDs and Blu-rays include UltraViolet codes for the content. Thus, you can’t watch TV shows on the Movies Anywhere app or website, and if you own TV content on iTunes it won’t show up in Vudu, or vice versa.

That, and the lack of Paramount and Lionsgate content, means consumers may still have to jump between retailers to see all their content.

But, if those issues can be worked out, and soon, then Movies Anywhere represents a good step toward the one-stop option for digital content studios are looking to achieve.

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October 17, 2017

Retailers Offer a Web of 'Spider-Man' Exclusives

Retailers offered several exclusives for Sony Pictures' Spider-Man: Homecoming Oct. 17.

Target touted a "triple exclusive" with a comic book, special packaging and artwork, and an exclusive bonus disc. Target also offered $5 with the purchase of both the movie and a $9.99 Spider-Man flip mask.

Best Buy offered Steelbook packaging with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of the movie.

Walmart offered a gift set with two Mashems figures, one Spidey and the other a mystery figure.

Amazon had the Spider-Man: Homecoming UHD Blu-ray with a collectible mask case.

Among other titles, Target offered Universal's Girls Trip with an exclusive one-year subscription to Essence.

For Warner's animated Batman vs. Two-Face, Best Buy offered the Blu-ray with Steelbook packaging, while Target offered lenticular box art.

One of the bigger Target exclusives during the week was a $24.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo set of Netflix's Stranger Things: Season 1 in retro packaging styled like a VHS tape with a collectible mini-poster.

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October 16, 2017

New on Disc: 'Portrait of Jennie' and more …

Portrait of Jennie

Street 10/24/17
Kino Lorber, Fantasy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotton, Ethel Barrymore, Cecil Kellaway, Lillian Gish.
1948. David O. Selznick’s coffers-busting Portrait of Jennie is a favorite of many despite more lumpy moments that you’d expect from a good movie that runs just 86 minutes. It’s an ethereal, supernatural romance that wouldn’t take too many stretches to qualify for inclusion in the time-travel genre.
Extras: Film historian Troy Howarth provides a stacked bonus commentary.
Read the Full Review

Crime of Passion

ClassicFlix, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Royal Dano, Fay Wray.
1957. With a new true 1.85:1 rendering that has more going for director Gerd Oswald’s sometimes detail-packed framing than the old DVD, Passion on Blu-ray is still a hit-and-miss affair that wavers through a good set-up, some boilerplate courtship material and then some nasty stuff that half-compels — though in sometimes rush-job fashion that gives the impression that maybe the filmmakers aren’t getting all that’s to be had out of the material.
Read the Full Review

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October 11, 2017

Best Buy Offers 'Baby Driver' Steelbook

In a sparse week for retailer exclusives, Best Buy offered Steelbook packaging for Sony Pictures' Baby Driver 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Target offered an exclusive bonus DVD with Paramount's new Dreamgirls: Director's Extended Edition Blu-ray with more than two-and-a-half hours of content.

Best Buy is offering $10 in rewards for My Best Buy Members with preorders and purchase of select digital and physical video games.

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October 09, 2017

New on Disc: 'Funny Bones' and more …

Funny Bones

Kino Lorber, Drama, $14.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, Lee Evans, Leslie Caron, Oliver Reed.
1995. A good drama, despite laughs, about professional comedy that also deals with strained relationships involving progeny that goes into some very dark byways, which audiences should be allowed to sample for themselves.
Extras: Includes a very animated commentary by writer/co-director Peter Chelsom and simpatico interviewer Elijah Drenner.
Read the Full Review

Gun Fury (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Phil Carey, Lee Marvin, Leo Gordon.
1953. This Raoul Walsh Western is not much of a movie, only occasionally wallows in the 3D form and is of primary interest due when you’re “outside the picture” and simply concentrating on what was going on with careers at the time.
Read the Full Review

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October 03, 2017

Retailers Load Up on 'Pirates' Booty

Retailers offered quite a few options for consumers looking to buy Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales on disc.

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with exclusive digital bonus content in the form of featurettes "From the Depths" and "How to Steal a Bank."

Best Buy had Steelbook editions for the Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray versions. Best Buy also had the first four "Pirates" movies as low as $7.99 each.

Target is giving a $5 gift card with preorders for Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Blu-ray will include a comic book and an exclusive bonus disc.

Walmart had a display of Fox and MGM Halloween-themed Blu-rays and DVDs with limited-edition cover art by Mexican-Cuban-American artist Orlando Arocene. The copies at Walmart came with an exclusive coloring book featuring the designs.

 

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September 28, 2017

Celebrating the 30-Year Legacy of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'

Today marks the 30th anniversary of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which premiered in first-run syndication Sept. 28, 1987.

At the time, few put much stock in the prospects of Paramount’s attempt to bring “Star Trek” back to the small screen, despite the success the crew of the original series had been enjoying in movie theaters. However, despite a bumpy start, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would go on to represent a significant milestone in the evolution of science-fiction on television.

By the mid 1980s, television networks weren’t interested in weekly sci-fi dramas anymore. In the 1960s, shows such as the original “Star Trek” and “Lost in Space” proved there was a market for it, but advancements in visual effects over the ensuing decades would prove problematic for such productions, especially with Star Wars raising audience expectations. Space-based shows were either too expensive for networks to pursue when done right, or would seem too cheesy when done on the cheap, to the point where audiences would stay away.

For example, the 1978 “Battlestar Galactica” generated a significant fan base, but not large enough for ABC to justify its weekly budget. So, the network canceled the show, then retooled its premise to cut costs. The result, “Galactica 1980,” was widely panned as one of the worst shows of all time.

“Star Trek,” of course, had migrated to the big screen by 1979 with the first film starring the cast of the original 1966-69 show. That project had evolved from an attempt by Paramount to revive “Star Trek” on television in the 1970s by making it the anchor of a new TV network. When those plans fell through, the success of Star Wars inspired Paramount executives to bring their own vaunted space franchise into cinemas.

While the business of Star Wars may have had some influence on its existence, the creative direction of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is more of a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s visually stunning ode to space exploration that was released in 1968, when the original “Star Trek” was still on the air.

While Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a box office success, it was also a troubled production that proved expensive for the studio, which overhauled the film production team to ensure a tighter budget on the sequels. This led to what most fans regard as the best of the “Trek” films, 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which was followed in 1984 by Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 1986 by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The three formed a tidy trilogy, with Star Trek IV proving to be the biggest box office hit of the entire franchise (a title it would hold until the J.J. Abrams movies).

During production of the fourth movie, the studio decided to take advantage of the 20th anniversary of the franchise with a new TV show. With production budgets of the films once again inching upward, the studio decided a cast of unknowns would be a cost-effective alternative way of carrying on the franchise. (Indeed, the fifth film to feature the original cast would fall victim to budget restrictions.)

By this time, network sci-fi was usually just a high-concept adjustment to an otherwise normal TV show — Knight Rider and its talking robotic car had just finished airing on NBC. Paramount decided to air the new “Star Trek” episodes in syndication, bypassing networks and selling the episode rights directly to stations in local markets. Syndication is typically a distribution model for reruns of old shows and movies, but using it for original content wasn’t unheard of, such as with American airings of the British show “Space: 1999” in the 1970s.

As to the problem of production costs, the show’s visual effects team decided it could save time and money by compositing the show on video tape, resulting in complex visual effects that at the resolution of televisions at the time would appear to be motion-picture quality. (This process, however, wasn’t suitable for high-definition, leading to the show being painstakingly remastered in the past few years for a Blu-ray release).

Gene Roddenberry returned to create the show, essentially reinventing the concept he had brought to NBC more than 20 years earlier, refining it to reflect changes to his humanist philosophy over the ensuing decades. Roddenberry’s involvement with the new show might be considered ironic in some circles, given how the show was a response to the movies, which didn’t achieve their measure of success until after Roddenberry’s role in their production was reduced following the first film.

Likewise, it could be argued that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” didn’t take off until many of the storytelling restraints Roddenberry imposed upon it were lifted after he took on a reduced role in its production in the later seasons. He died in 1991.

By then the show had caught on, and its success led to a glut of programming using first-run syndication, such as the long run of “Baywatch” following a brief network run. Hollywood being the hot-bed of imitation that it is, by the 1990s many shows in this new wave of syndication were low-budget sci-fi and fantasy efforts, such as “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and its spinoff, “Xena: Warrior Princess.”

Paramount itself would produce one such show in the form of “War of the Worlds,” a two-season sequel to the 1953 film based on the H.G. Wells novel.

By 1993, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was popular enough to justify its own spinoff, and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” was born, inverting the “Trek” formula by being set on board a space station rather than a ship.

With syndication having proved viable, distributors also began to piece together ad hoc networks for their shows, such as the “Prime Time Entertainment Network,” which aired “Babylon 5,” a space station-based rival to “DS9,” and “Time Trax,” a show about a time traveling cop aimed at the “Quantum Leap” crowd.

By the mid 1990s, deregulation would allow these syndication relationships to coalesce into new national networks, with the WB and Paramount’s UPN joining CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox. With “Star Trek: The Next Generation” coming to an end in 1994 (and itself migrating to the big screen), and “DS9” proving a success amid an increasingly crowded syndication field, Paramount decided that a fourth “Trek” show, “Star Trek: Voyager,” would anchor its new network, finally realizing the plans it has previously tried in the 1970s.

As if on cue amid this resurgence, the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) launched in 1992, and over time cable channels would prove to be a viable home for televised sci-fi. “Stargate SG-1,” based on the 1994 Stargate movie, would premiere on Showtime in 1997 before itself migrating to the Sci-Fi Channel.

All these shows, but especially “Star Trek,” would prove to be a stomping ground for sci-fi writers on TV.

Prominent “TNG” and “DS9” writer/producer Ronald D. Moore and several other writers from those shows would go on to produce the 2003-09 remake of “Battlestar Galactica” for Sci-Fi Channel that many consider to be one of the hallmarks of the current age of prestige serialized television dramas. After that, Moore adapted “Outlander” for Starz.

Another notable “DS9” writer, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, went on to produce “Andromeda,” a future-set sci-fi show based on ideas by Gene Roddenberry.

“Star Trek; Voyager” alum Bryan Fuller was later responsible for the likes of “Dead Like Me,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Hannibal” and “American Gods.”

Still other “Trek” veterans would stay on with the franchise, with “Star Trek: Enterprise” airing for four seasons on UPN following the end of “Voyager.” With the end of “Enterprise” in 2005, producers felt it was only appropriate to conclude where it started, setting the finale of the 18-year run of revived “Star Trek” as another adventure for members of the “TNG” crew.

Even writers who didn’t work on “Trek” were certainly influenced by it, given “TNG” an even bigger footprint on the landscape of television over the past 30 years.

So, it’s only fitting that one of the latest entries in this legacy is “The Orville,” a loving homage to “TNG” created by long-time fan Seth MacFarlane and produced by many of talents who cut their teeth on “Star Trek” so many years ago.

And, of course, the franchise itself is back on TV with “Star Trek: Discovery,” which, in keeping with the tradition of finding new distribution models to deliver new “Star Trek,” is the flagship of the CBS All-Access streaming service.

In many ways, “Discovery” is a bold departure from the franchise fans might be used to — a reinvention of “Star Trek” for the golden age of television of the 21st century. And in that, the franchise has in its own way come full circle, as the wide-ranging impact that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had on the television landscape will continue to be felt for years to come.

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September 26, 2017

A Slew of 'Transformers' Options at Retail

The big national retailers inundated consumers with a number of exclusive versions of Paramount's Transformers: The Last Knight Sept. 26.

Best Buy offered three Steelbook editions containing the new film — Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD versions, plus a Steelbook five-film collection.

Target offered a version of the Blu-ray combo pack with special box art and an exclusive bonus disc containing 50 minutes of additional content.

Walmart offered a couple of gift sets containing the fifth live-action "Transformers" movie. One had the Blu-ray combo pack with die-cast miniatures of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee in vehicle form. Another had the UHD version with an "immersive 360-degree video experience" and limited-edition viewing goggles.

Among other titles, Best Buy had a line of Marvel Cinematic Universe Blu-rays with new box art. These are slimmed down from the usual Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and contain just the Blu-ray and Digital HD for $19.99 each.

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