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Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.


Opinion
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24 Oct, 2014

Subscription Fever Could Break


Recent news is awash with content owners and producers breaking the cable cord and following the Netflix model of online subscription streaming. Companies such as HBO, CBS and Lionsgate are looking to the Web to create a new avenue to the consumer.

It is particularly interesting that both a broadcast network, CBS, and a major cable network, HBO, are looking to the Web to capture viewers. They represent the entrenched establishment of television programming. Both CBS and HBO have made fortunes via the traditional cable and broadcast route.

CBS Corp. Oct. 16 announced the launch of “CBS All Access,” a $5.99-per-month standalone subscription streaming service that doesn’t require a concurrent pay-TV subscription. That came on the heels of an announcement to an investor group by HBO’s Richard Plepler that the company will launch a standalone over-the-top video service not requiring a cable/satellite/telecom subscription (as opposed to the current HBO Go service) in the United States in 2015. It all makes me think of the World Wrestling Entertainment announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show last January. The wrestling company unveiled a grand plan to go directly to its consumers via a 24-hour streaming network, with a $9.99 a month subscription offering live PPV events, reality shows, original shows, documentaries, classic matches and more than 1,500 hours of VOD programming.

My question is what does this all add up to for the average consumer? Say I’m a wrestling fan ($9.99 a month) who wants to have access to CBS programming ($5.99 a month) with a basic Netflix subscription ($7.99 or more a month) in addition to my basic internet/cable access cost and goodness knows what other programming.

It seems to me that cord cutters may get more specific choices, but may end up paying more than what they would with your average cable package. As any restaurant customer knows, a la carte menu items often end up costing more than the buffet.


22 Oct, 2014

Charting 35 Years of Change


I'm writing this from the outdoor patio at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey, Calif., where I have just finished speaking on a panel discussion on OTT, subscription streaming and how Netflix, in the words of one panelist, "is eating everyone's lunch."

Reflecting on the 35 years that Home Media Magazine, originally Video Store Magazine, has been covering home entertainment, the changes in our business truly have been monumental since the late Stuart Karl launched a trade magazine to cater to the growing flock of video rental stores that were popping up in the wake of that pivotal moment the year before when Andre Blay licensed 50 movies from 20th Century Fox and released them on videocassette.

The very concept of "streaming" would have seemed like something out of “Star Trek” to the early readers of Video Store Magazine back in 1979, those Neanderthal days before the Internet and the personal computer.

"Connected" meant ties to organized crime, "content" meant you were satisfied and "digit" anything made you think of fingers and thumbs.

And yet, at the same time, lots of things have not changed — fundamental, bigger-picture things that call to mind the saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The studios, as lords of filmed entertainment, still want ultimate control over that entertainment — and they prefer clean, neat sales transactions directly to the consumer, with no middle-man, no sharing of the spoils. In 1979 they battled mom-and-pop rental stores over the right to rent; today, they're pushing electronic sellthrough to consumers in love with Netflix and that infernal subscription streaming genie the studios wish they could somehow cram back into the bottle.

On the distribution side, there's still someone who's eating everyone else's lunch — Netflix today, Blockbuster a generation ago.

And among consumers, there continues to be a rabid appetite for entertainment that seems to be increasing now that our TVs are connected and our smartphones function as mini-home theaters.

That, and a burning desire to have that entertainment delivered on demand as cheaply and as simply as possible. VHS opened the door to consumers being able to watch what they want, when they want, where they want. DVD made things even easier, with its low sale price (no need for a return trip to the rental store) and random access. Netflix simplified the process even more with its by-mail subscriptions — heck, now you didn't even have to leave your home. And with subscription streaming the process of watching on-demand entertainment is even easier and cheaper than it's ever been.

What's going to be the next step in this steady progression of ease and simplicity? I have no clue — and yet I can't wait to find out.
 


21 Oct, 2014

Exclusive Universal Titles at Walmart

Walmart's Universal exclusives
Walmart's Universal exclusives

Walmart Oct. 21 offered four exclusive DVDs from Universal: Not Safe for Work, Mercy, Mockingbird and Stretch. Each had a cover sticker touting a $3 savings with the purchase of that title and The Purge: Anarchy.

Walmart also touted its Vudu InstaWatch system, which lets shoppers redeem their digital copy from purchased discs by using their receipt and the Walmart app.

Target offered 30 minutes of exlcusive content with Mad Men: The Final Season — Part 1, in the form of the show’s 2014 Paleyfest panel.

Target also has an exclusive “Downton Abbey” CD soundtrack with preorders of season five of the show at Target.com/Downton. The promotion was highlighted on a sticker on the new four-season DVD and Blu-ray packs of the show.


20 Oct, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Lusty Men' and more …


The Lusty Men

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward, Arthur Kennedy, Arthur Hunnicutt.
1952.
Newly remastered, this solid rodeo drama from director Nicholas Ray stars Robert Mitchum as an aging rodeo star who comes across a married couple (Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward). The tone Ray maintains throughout is mostly perfect and consistent against a triangular dramatic set-up that seems almost foolproof.
Read the Full Review

Al Capone: Icon

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
This lukewarm bio makes some good points about Al Capone’s criminal career, a central thesis being that bootlegging so “made” Capone’s career that if Prohibition hadn’t existed, it’s likely that he’d never escaped the lower rungs of Chicago sociopathy.
Read the Full Review
 


15 Oct, 2014

Extending Love to the Amodei Family

Kate and Joe Amodei
Kate and Joe Amodei

Our hearts go out to our good friend Joe Amodei, head of Virgil Films, whose beloved daughter, Kate, 29, died early in the morning Monday, Oct. 13, in Philadelphia. God bless you and your family, Joe, and may your precious little girl rest in peace until you see her again.

Kate's funeral will be held Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, at Woodside Presbyterian Church, 1667 Edgewood Road, Yardley, Penn. 19067.

Calling hours — 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Funeral service — 11 a.m.

There will be a luncheon following the burial service.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made in Kate's honor to Philabundance. Condolences may be expressed at the Hoffmann Funeral Home Bensalem website: www.hoffmannfuneralhome.com.

In charge of special markets/operations at Virgil, Kate Amodei was a graduate of Temple University and a proud activist who loved to help those less fortunate. She was also an EMT.

Kate is survived by her grandfather, Joe Amodei; parents, Joe and Ginger Amodei; sister and brother-in-law, Kristina and Matt Ulmer; nieces, Aubrey and Elena Ulmer; best friend, Sarah Hughes; boyfriend, Matt Eby; cousin, Dana Amodei; and many other friends, coworkers and family members.

This is not how it's supposed to work. Our children are supposed to outlive us. The pain Joe and his wife, Ginger, must be experiencing is unimaginable. On behalf of the whole home video community where Joe has long been an integral player, we extend our sympathies — and our love.
 


14 Oct, 2014

Plenty of Retail Power for 'X-Men'

Best Buy's 'X-Men' gift set
Best Buy's 'X-Men' gift set

Fans had their pick among retail exclusive editions for Fox's Oct. 14 home video release of X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Best Buy had a huge display of "X-Men" titles, including a special gift set for the 3D Blu-ray edition of Days of Future Past that included special mutant files. Target offered the 2D Blu-ray combo pack in special metalpak packaging.

Walmart had a couple of Days of Future Past exclusives, the most notable being copies of the 3D and 2D Blu-rays packed with special miniature editions of the two-part 1981 comic book storyline upon which the film is based. Walmart also had an exclusive bare-bones DVD edition of the film.

Amazon.com offered a gift set of the Days of Future Past 3D combo pack that included a replica Magneto helmet.

The week's other big title, DreamWorks Animation's Mr. Peabody & Sherman, also had exclusives at the three major retailers.

Walmart had the 2D Blu-ray of Mr. Peabody & Sherman packed with a plush Mr. Peabody doll. Walmart also offered a special bare-bones DVD edition.

Target offered the 2D Blu-ray packed with a bowtie and glasses, while Best Buy offered a lunch box for $4.99 with purchase of the film ($9.99 on its own).

Among other titles, Target had the first season of Paramount's "Penny Dreadful" with special Blu-ray box art, while Walmart had exclusive availability of Universal's animated movie Dive Olly Dive and the Pirate Treasure.

Fox packaged copies of its Fargo: Season One Blu-ray set with a special knit beanie cap.


13 Oct, 2014

New on Disc: 'Dick Cavett's Watergate' and more …


Dick Cavett’s Watergate

Street 10/14
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
Just about the only non-news show that would touch the subject of Watergate during the period was the one hosted by the only Johnny Carson rival who managed to carve out an equally vital late-night niche of his own. This pressure-packed remembrance is hosted by today’s version of Dick Cavett, assisted by star Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, former White House counsel and eventual beans-spiller John Dean, former Nixon Library historian Timothy Naftali (this guy is the final word in historical context) and more.
Read the Full Review

Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Randolph Scott, James Craig, Angie Dickinson, James Garner.
1957.
Truth to tell, there’s really no shoot-out in this lukewarm but sporadically ticklish Randolph Scott Western, but you do get a punch-out or two once the baddies start to get theirs in piecemeal fashion in the later reels. James Garner and Angie Dickinson have major roles when they were very young.
Read the Full Review


10 Oct, 2014

Why You Need to be in the Land Grab for Digital Video Buyers

Mark Kirstein
Mark Kirstein

“It’s the eco-system, stupid”... to misquote a phrase from political elections long gone by.

Approximately 12 million to 15 million consumers in the United States buy digital video to own, while more than 100 million consumers still regularly buy DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.

But those scales are shifting.

According to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, consumer spending on discs dropped 8% in the first half of 2014 to $3.3 billion, compared with the first half of 2013.

While electronic sellthrough enjoyed a 37% jump in the period, growing to $671 million, this gain was far short of making up the declining physical dollars. Fortunately, subscription streaming revenue is growing too, albeit with lower margins.

As spending shifts from physical to digital, two things are clear. First, it’s vital that the overall video industry sustains purchase-to-own as a viable long-term behavior. If the video industry follows what happened in music, tens of millions of buyers will forever abandon their purchase behavior. While people still consume more music than ever, the number of actual buyers is a fraction of the past, and profitable revenue models remain elusive for most.

Second, digital service providers and retailers who want to capture and sustain these video buyers need to act now. Once a video consumer locks into a given digital ecosystem, such as Apple iTunes, Amazon or Vudu, it becomes increasingly difficult to lure them away. The more devices in a common ecosystem and the more titles owned in a digital library, the more committed the customer becomes. Of course, Apple has known this for some time, using their iTunes ecosystem as both a value-add to their devices, as well as a retention tool.

By measure of the massive advertising campaign Google has recently launched for their Google Play platform, it appears they are ready to go all in for these digital buyers as well. This battle is clearly not all about content. It’s about locking the customers into the device, content or service ecosystem.

Assuming many or even most of the 100 million physical video buyers will eventually become digitally active, there are still many millions of digital video buyers yet to be captured. But you need to capture these buyers before the competition does. This will take investment in marketing to increase awareness and communicate differentiation as well as in content discounts and free promotional content.

However, sitting on the sidelines putting short-term margins above the strategic imperatives will cede digital buyers perhaps forever. At a minimum, these buyers will be far more expensive to lure away later than to capture now.

Don’t miss the digital land grab. It’s on now.


10 Oct, 2014

4 Types of Digital Disruption


Digital changes are shaking the industry like earthquakes, and I see at least four major disruptions facing the home entertainment industry.

1. Breaking windows — After taking on appointment TV by offering original episodic programming all at once (“House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black”), Netflix is planning to offer digitally for streaming feature film product traditionally offered first at the cineplex. The Weinstein Co. inked a deal with the online service to release the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon prequel to Netflix streaming subscribers at the same time it hits theaters. Also, Adam Sandler, a longtime draw at the movie theater, signed a deal to bypass that venue and offer his uniquely crude humor on smaller screens via Netflix streaming.

2. Business model bustup — As has long been noted, the revenue model that has underpinned the entire Hollywood ecosystem is under assault. The theatrical business looks shaky. The summer box office disappointed, as consumers found other things to do (including watching digital content). Meanwhile, studios can no longer count on bigger and bigger, or even the same, bags of money coming from the sale of discs as consumers decide to stream rather than buy their content. Meanwhile, advertising upfronts are taking a hit in the TV business as time-shifting and social media disrupt the traditional advertising model.

3. Talent revolt — Those who create content are looking for a bigger piece of the revenue pie and greater creative freedom as the distribution model shifts. Sandler isn’t the only star looking to find a new partner in the digital world. Comedian Chelsea Handler broke up with E! and is looking to create the next form of talk show in the digital realm on Netflix. It’s happening in the music arena as well. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, at a recent industry event musician Jimmy Buffet asked the CEO of the music streaming service Spotify if he would pay talent more than the traditional labels.

4. Entertainment in new forms — And there’s the possibility that the entertainment of the future won’t resemble the feature film and episodic TV model of the past. What makes 30-minute or hour-long episodic TV or a roughly two hour film the most popular models for visual entertainment? Until now, that kind of entertainment has been shaped by the distribution model, i.e. how long folks can stand to sit in a theater seat, etc. On the web, small-bite entertainment may play a bigger part. Witness the success of sketch comedy online. Also part of the new entertainment model: watching folks play and comment on video games. Witness the outlandish success of Twitch, worth nearly a billion dollars to buyer Amazon.

Yes, the entertainment ground is shifting.


9 Oct, 2014

Friday Street Date? Shelve It


Recently some in the music industry have started talking about a uniform worldwide Friday street date for all album and singles releases. To get out in front of this issue, now’s the time to say that a standard Friday street date would be bad for home video and video games, and any consideration should be shelved straight away.

In the United States, street dates for music are usually on Tuesdays, just as they are for home video and for a number of video game titles. Music is released on different days of the week in other countries —Mondays in the United Kingdom and Fridays in Germany, for example.

According to the International Federal of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the international music industry organization, a uniform worldwide street date of Friday would benefit the music industry by allowing coordinated global promotional campaigns for new releases. It would be good for consumers, in IFPI’s view, by letting them know that wherever they are in the world the week’s new releases will be available just after midnight local time on Friday.

There may indeed be benefits to a uniform worldwide street date — and the Entertainment Merchants Association would be happy to have a dialogue about that — but Friday is a terrible choice for the day of the week.

“Why?” you might ask. “Movies release theatrically on Fridays quite successfully, and wouldn’t it make sense to have other entertainment products released just as the weekend is starting to attract consumer dollars to our industries?”

There are plenty of reasons:

• A Tuesday street date is operationally efficient and promotes a better in-stock position of new releases during the high-demand weekend, therefore maximizing both sales and profits. Retailers, distributors and content providers gauge consumer demand in the first couple days of release and have time to then ensure that retail stores are properly stocked for weekend sales. A Friday street date would mean that restocks would occur, if possible, during the weekend, incurring warehouse overtime, overnight shipments, and weekend shipping costs.

• A Friday street date doesn’t leave room for logistical errors. Digitally released titles are at risk of late onboarding and QC issues that can now be corrected before the peak weekend demand. In addition, making titles available well in advance of the weekend helps ensure that Internet capacity and capability aren’t taxed with consumers all downloading or streaming on Friday.

• Most of the largest retailers of home video and game products enjoy additional store traffic from the midweek street date and profit from sales of other non-video products purchased during store visits.

• Many independent specialist retailers also realize a surge of mid-week business, balancing their operational and labor costs through the week.

• A Friday street date would mean that the popular Sunday circulars would support only the following Friday and Saturday sales (that is, if the consumer keeps the ads around that long). And many mid-to-lower tier titles would never be promoted in weekly retail ads if that were to be the case and would, as a result, not warrant shelf space. The home video and video game industries cannot afford lower category productivity, which will ultimately lead to reduced shelf space and spiral sales further downward.

• If the music industry adopts Friday as a common street date, it is highly unlikely the home video and video game industries will follow. This will result in further inefficiencies in shipping — as movies, music and games often are shipped in the same cartons — and in increased costs in all three industries.

• Consumer confusion would likely result due to the many years of branding Tuesday as the new release day for all packaged media.

The Tuesday street date for music, home video and (to a lesser extent) video games has been the standard for years because it works. While the past has a vote, and not a veto, we should not abandon a successful practice unless the alternative is found analytically to be superior. A Friday street date is clearly not and should be summarily rejected.