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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.

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24 Feb, 2015

Sizing Up a 'Big Hero'

Walmart's 'Big Hero 6' gift set
Walmart's 'Big Hero 6' gift set

When it comes to retail exclusives, animated fare and superhero movies are usually the best bet, and Disney’s Big Hero 6 just happens to be both.

Among the Big Hero 6 exclusives available upon its disc debut Feb. 24, Walmart  offered a deluxe gift set of the Blu-ray combo pack with a “Science of Big Hero 6” bonus DVD.

Target offered Big Hero 6 in a steelbook case, plus a $5 savings toys based on the film.

Best Buy had the film with exclusive lenticular box art.

The Disney store had offered preorders of Big Hero 6 with speical lithograph giveaways.

Among other films, Walmart stocked a DVD two-pack of the “Horrible Bosses” films upon the release of the second movie, while Best Buy offered a $7 savings with the purchase of both films on Blu-ray.

Target offered the final season of “Sons of Anarchy” on disc with exclusive box art and previous seasons for $14.99 each. Best Buy offered $10 off the seventh season with the purchase of any previous season on disc.

23 Feb, 2015

A Procession of Visionaries

Honoring Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson of Walmart as this year’s Home Media Visionaries was pretty much a given, based on the big retail chain’s continued innovation in the field of electronic distribution and its simultaneous refusal to give up on the physical disc.

For more on these two fine gents, please read my column in the special section on Walmart.

But looking back through the years at our other honorees, I can’t help but notice that the one trait they all possess in common is an unbridled enthusiasm for the business and an unshaking belief that no matter how uncertain things might appear at the present, there’s always another day when things will become clearer and the business will return to growth mode.

Warren Lieberfarb’s selection as our very first Home Media Visionary in 2002 came as DVD celebrated its fifth birthday and sales were still growing by double digits every year. Few could remember DVD’s half-hearted launch and near death at the hands of Divx. Lieberfarb could have given up at any point in the early stages of DVD’s launch, when some studios simply refused to come aboard. Indeed, to many of us, the obstacles the fledgling format faced seemed insurmountable. But Lieberfarb never forgot that before DVD the rental business was slowly dying, and that DVD was not just a much better product but also the catalyst for a complete change in consumer habits, from going out to rent a movie for the night to buying one to keep or give away as a gift. So Lieberfarb persevered — and DVD became the biggest consumer electronics success story in history.

Our 2006 Visionary, Amy Jo Smith of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, is another industry veteran who refuses to give up — or bow down. Her claim to fame is rallying the troops and getting everyone talking again about next steps. Through conferences, workshops, white papers and webinars, Smith has become the glue that holds all of us together — and, it might be said, keeps things from falling apart when the outlook is not good. She’s not afraid to embrace and even encourage change. She and her team are always looking ahead, and in the process getting everyone excited about the business and its future prospects.

Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson are on the same track. Equal parts cheerleaders and visionaries, they know home entertainment will always play a key role in consumers’ lives, regardless of how it’s delivered. And like Lieberfarb and Smith, their overarching goal, quite simply, is to keep the customer satisfied.

23 Feb, 2015

A Tale of Two Retailers

Digital ownership took a hit recently with news that Target had abandoned its Target Ticket service, a key supporter of UltraViolet, the cloud-based digital content storage platform supported by most of the major studios. But Target’s digital surrender may be less of a defeat for digital ownership, than it is a case of the tortoise losing to the hare.

A key reason why another retailer, Walmart, has been able to bridge the digital gap is its quick decision to embrace digital technology and ownership with its Vudu service and its adoption of the UltraViolet platform as well as Disney’s cloud-based service, Disney Movies Anywhere. In the digital arena, often companies that move more quickly win the race. Unfortunately, Target’s caution may have cost it, making it an also-ran.

That’s why Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson are so worthy of our Visionary Award this year. Walmart’s decisive move (before competitor Target) to embrace UltraViolet digital cloud ownership as a complement to its robust physical disc business put it at the forefront of innovation in the retail arena. Walmart was key to supporting the UltraViolet service, and working with its studio partners, has helped consumers get what they really want from entertainment ownership — the ability to possess a physical copy with the highest possible quality and numerous extras, as well as the option of viewing content they already own on their digital devices, from tablets to PCs to cell phones. Walmart this January accepted a Software Retailer of the Year award from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, and Greth put it best in accepting the award for the retailer: “Our customers love your product.” Giving customers what they want is the top calling of retailers, and Walmart has never lost sight of that, whether it be physical product or digital.

As the competition heats up in the retail space, Walmart is facing the future and embracing it. Target, still an important physical disc retailer, seems to have ceded control of the digital territory, finding that it was too far behind in the digital race.

It’s hard to see now how this marathon will ultimately end. Digital ownership certainly faces challenges, as Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara reportedly told a tech group Feb. 18 at Re/code’s Code Media confab in Dana Point, Calif. But in this tale of two retailers, one competitor is out of the race.

17 Feb, 2015

Exclusives for the 'Throne'

Best Buy's 'Game of Thrones' Season 4 exclusive covers
Best Buy's 'Game of Thrones' Season 4 exclusive covers

The popular new release Feb. 17 in terms of retail exclusives was easily HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season, which drew incentives from each of the big three brick-and-mortar chains.

Both All three offered exclusive bonus content. Target offered a photo book and a 20-minute featurette about the show’s costumes, while Walmart packed its exclusive edition with a King Joffrey Funko mini-doll and a featurette about the season’s royal wedding episode.

Best Buy offered the “Thrones” season set with a choice of exclusive box art depicting the various family sigils seen on the show, plus a visual effects featurette.

Walmart offered a Dumb and Dumber To gift set with a T-shirt.

Otherwise, stores were anxious to promote the upcoming release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1. Target offered a $5 gift card, a free fabric poster and 45 minutes of exclusive bonus content with a preorder of the film, while Best Buy offered a Blu-ray steelbook case with its $19.99 preorder.

Best Buy also offered a $29.99 bundle that included the Blu-ray steelbook and Digital HD copies of all three films. Details are available at BestBuy.com/Mockingjay.

16 Feb, 2015

New on Disc: 'Kiss Me, Stupid' and more …

Kiss Me, Stupid

Street 2/17
Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13.’
Stars Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston, Felicia Farr.
At its very least, Billy Wilder’s career Armageddon is the ultimate Rat Pack movie, a tale about what the artistically driven (if not necessarily talented) will do to get out of a podunk hellhole — which is almost anything.
Read the Full Review

Panic Button

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Maurice Chevalier, Jayne Mansfield, Eleanor Parker, Michael Connors.
Even before the script manages to get Maurice Chevalier into nun drag, we’re talking a cinematic one-of-a-kind here, about a shady business executive desperate to come up with a $500,000 tax loss who elects to use the half-million on his hands to finance a disastrous TV version of Romeo and Juliet.
Read the Full Review

10 Feb, 2015

The Dog Days of February

Walmart's '101 Dalmatians' with bonus disc
Walmart's '101 Dalmatians' with bonus disc

Walmart offered a gift set of the Feb. 10 Blu-ray of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians: Diamond Edition with a bonus DVD of animated content called Kanine Krunchies: Dog Show.

While the regular Walmart price for 101 Dalmatians is $22.96 for the Blu-ray and $2 more for the gift pack at $24.96, the first week both were offered for $18.96, meaning the bonus DVD was essentially free with purchase.

Best Buy set its focus on preorders, offering 100 My Best Buy points for preorders of select titles, with exclusives such as a steelbook for Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 and Warner’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and a lenticular cover for Disney’s Big Hero 6.

For Game of Thrones: Season Four, Best Buy will offer five exclusive covers, including an online exclusive. Details are at BestBuy.com/GameofThrones4.
Target touted a $5 coupon off the purcase of music, books or movies totally $25 or more.

9 Feb, 2015

SVOD's Slippery Slope

The Interview
The Interview

On Feb. 17 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release infamous ‘R’-rated political comedy The Interview on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

If anybody still cares.

On street date, it will have been 56 days since the movie launched online and in select indie theaters — despite terrorist threats against the movie’s distribution in any form. The film from Seth Rogen co-stars James Franco as a bumbling TV journalist whose interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is co-opted by the CIA into an assassination attempt.

If the Christmas Day capitulation of the nation’s largest theater chains to a murky group of cyber hackers allegedly operating on behalf of the North Korean government wasn’t bad enough, Sony Pictures — victim to the hackers’ IT attack — succumbed to an even bigger foe: SVOD.

That’s because Sony Pictures inexplicably made The Interview available to Netflix on Jan. 24 — about three-and-a-half weeks before the packaged media release!

Sony Pictures undermined much of its ability to generate incremental revenue from The Interview through packaged media, opting instead to enable Netflix’s 39 million domestic and 3 million U.K. subscribers to binge-view the movie for free.

While Sony Pictures likely extracted a large license fee from Netflix, the deal set a dangerous precedent putting subscription streaming ahead of packaged media in the distribution food chain. Sales of DVD and Blu-ray Disc titles may be slowing, but consumers still spent 80 cents of every home entertainment dollar on physical product in 2014, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

Subscription streaming may be buzz worthy, but it endangers all home entertainment channels — notably retail and rental — if not regulated.

“Every move Sony made [with The Interview] was wrong ... it was all reactive,” said Ralph Tribbey, editor of industry tip sheet The DVD & Blu-ray Release Report.

He said studios — not just Sony Pictures — need to re-think their business models and approach toward SVOD. Unless they are willing to bypass a theatrical run, studios need to return to recognize that the theatrical window promotes higher-margin retail, followed by broadcast and streaming.

Netflix, which is seeking $1.5 billion in new debt-funding to underwrite content acquisitions, is pursuing content exclusivity by paying premium license fees. Indeed, it ended 2014 with $9.5 billion in content obligations.

Tribbey argues that studios must resist the temptation of exorbitant license fees by retaining the traditional distribution food chain (theatrical, retail, rental, streaming) — with SVOD at the end of the line.

Putting The Interview on SVOD ahead of packaged media exacerbates the mindset physical media sales are declining and digital distribution is the answer.

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Tribbey said.


9 Feb, 2015

Music Licensing — Getting It Right

Music licensing for movie and television programs can be complex, and it is vital to get it right to ensure proper monetization and to avoid copyright liability issues.

Music is an asset. It is important to recognize it can provide significant revenue opportunities to whoever holds the rights to it. In fact, the global music publishing industry generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually. Visual media companies have an opportunity to capture some of this value.

If you own the copyright to music in an audio-visual work you can derive income from:
• “Public performance royalties” when
  o the music composition is performed on broadcast television, cable television, or the Internet;
  o the sound recording is performed by way of digital audio transmissions in the United States and through any medium in most countries abroad;
• “Mechanical reproduction” royalties when the music is reproduced in phonorecords such as a soundtrack album
• In “synchronization” licenses when the music is licensed by other audio/visual producers for subsequent productions.
• Borrowing against future music revenue as gap financing for production; and
• Selling your music library, as many have done.

So if you commission music for a video production, you should contemplate doing it as a “work for hire,” meaning the composer is a contractor and you retain the rights to whatever musical work he or she creates. That way, you will collect the royalties (and because the copyright in a work for hire lasts for 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation — whichever is shorter — your heirs may continue to collect royalties well into the future).

Of course, many productions will use already existing music — in which case, you should assume that the work is copyrighted and you will need a license. Because music copyrights usually consist of two separate copyrights — the copyright for the music composition and the copyright for the sound recording in which the composition is fixed — one must determine who holds each.

Once you have identified the copyright holders, you have to negotiate a license. As an audio-visual licensee, you need to acquire a synchronization license from both the holders of the copyrights of the sound recording (the “record label”) and the composition (the “publisher”). This license will provide the right to make a derivative work (the audio-visual program with music synchronized and mixed in) and to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform and display the derivative work with the sound recording and/or music composition embedded.

One way to avoid the pitfalls of music licensing is to use music that is in the public domain, meaning not subject to copyright. These include very old compositions and recordings (and works from before 1964 that did not have their copyrights renewed) and royalty-free stock sound recordings. There is also the “fair use” exception to copyright, but that is an area fraught with litigation.

Because copyright infringement is essentially strict liability — it doesn’t matter whether you intended to do it or just made a mistake — getting all of this right is essential. (And, as a practical matter, it is advisable to purchase errors and omissions insurance for your production that includes coverage for copyright lawsuits due to the music infringing someone's rights.)

To provide some clarity in this area, the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) recently released a white paper on music licensing for audio-visual works to provide an overview of the applicable laws, practices and issues involved in successfully sourcing and licensing music for synchronization with audio-visual programming. The white paper is available at http://www.entmerch.org/digitalema/ema-music-rights-white.pdf.

Jason Peterson is CEO of ContentBridge, a leading supplier of digital supply chain services and technology to the media industry, and is a member of the Entertainment Merchants Association’s Digital Steering Committee.

9 Feb, 2015

Oh, All the OTT!

The media business is abuzz with talk of OTT (over-the-top distribution via the Web). Not since DVD has a three-letter distribution format garnered so much attention in the industry.

Chase Carey at Fox said his studio is going to be careful to control it, making sure to preserve the profitability of the legacy business while cultivating a marketplace with many players ¬— and customers to which the studio can sell its valuable content. Bob Iger at Disney said the “Star Wars” and Marvel properties might make marvelous online channels, and that the Disney brand itself is also perfect for OTT.

The major studios aren’t the only players in the OTT game. Dish Network’s Sling TV, fresh off the announce of its launch at the Consumer Electronics Show, added Univision content to its lineup, which also includes ESPN. Shout Factory announced the launch of its catalog of cult TV and movies OTT with an ad-supported service.

And then of course there are OTT heavyweights Netflix and Amazon Prime, which are both basking in the glow of awards season, with their original content earning numerous plaudits.

The growing marketplace is reminiscent of the early days of cable, when the TV channel choices suddenly multiplied from the original three broadcast networks. But this is channel multiplication on steroids, with almost limitless possibilities. Finding the consumer in the cacophony of competitors will grow ever more difficult. Conversely, with an almost limitless amount of content at their fingertips, consumers may not be able to find or discover exactly what they really want to watch, distracted instead by what they stumble upon.

How will a revolutionary indie film be discovered or produced? What profit stream will finance high-quality product?

I applaud services Netflix and Amazon Prime for getting into the content game rather than just distributing others’ content. Granted, both services see it as necessary for self-preservation on the Web, where the barriers to competition are low. But the services also are committed to quality, which is laudable when much of the “content” on the Internet is amateur-produced distraction — makeup tips, gags and gimmicks. Like fast food supersizing, more isn’t always better in the content realm either.

9 Feb, 2015

New on Disc: 'The Palm Beach Story' and more …

The Palm Beach Story

Criterion, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, Mary Astor.
An uncommonly knockabout farce even by Preston Sturges standards — yet also visually lush enough for its lead actress to be expertly sporting duds by Irene — The Palm Beach Story was released smack in the middle of the writer-director’s prime years.
Extras: Also included are background featurettes with writer and historian James Harvey and “Saturday Night Live’s” Bill Hader; a luminous 4K restoration; a Sturges-written wartime short; and an essay by the Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek.
Read the Full Review

Woman They Almost Lynched

Olive, Western, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Lund, Brian Donlevy, Audrey Totter, Joan Leslie.
I’ve never quite gotten over the sight of Audrey Totter in leather pants causing a lot of mayhem for saloon owner Joan Leslie in what is only the second-weirdest feminist Western (after Johnny Guitar) that Republic Pictures managed to release in a two-year period.
Read the Full Review