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It’s been an exciting ride since we first produced the Digital Drivers section in the spring of 2011. In that issue, my colleague Thomas K. Arnold noted that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes thought Netflix would remain a small player without the valuable content from the studios. “Is the Albanian army going to take over the world?” he quoted Bewkes as saying in an interview. “I don’t think so.” Nevertheless, we highlighted Netflix CEO Reed Hastings as a high-level digital strategist, along with Warner’s Kevin Tsujihara, who would later use his digital prowess to become head of the studio. We also anticipated a new digital locker called UltraViolet, which was to provide an avenue for consumers to collect titles digitally in the cloud.
What a difference less than a decade has made in our view of the digital landscape!
Netflix is making its own valuable content, which competes alongside studio content at annual awards ceremonies. The little online service that started with by-mail disc rentals to combat late fees is now a movie and TV series producer that leads the subscription video-on-demand market.
UltraViolet, later grouped into the Digital HD category, is but one of the services in an EST marketplace that includes Disney Movies Anywhere, that studio’s own locker service. Indeed, electronic sellthrough is a growing, vibrant part of the studios’ home entertainment business, but it is still a work in progress, as executives look to offer consumers a superior ownership experience digitally with extras and easier interfaces.
Digital Drivers and services have come and gone. Redbox’s Mitch Lowe was in that first section in anticipation of the kiosk company’s move into digital delivery. Ultimately, Redbox found it better to focus on the good old disc. Netflix executives Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, also featured in that first section, have become perennial Digital Drivers, and Walmart’s Vudu service, noted in 2011, is now a primary player in electronic sellthrough.
It’s been an interesting seven-year journey, with many twists and turns along the way. Even Netflix faced some headwinds, taking a big hit on Wall Street when it raised prices and later when the companies that delivered their heavy traffic pushed back and asked them to pay extra.
Where the road for our Digital Drivers goes in the future is likely to change as much as it has since that first section in 2011.
By: Stephanie Prange
At 73, Warren Lieberfarb is the proud father of a very famous young adult: DVD, the most successful consumer electronics product in history, which turns 20 this year. And if he seems remarkably calm and content — he’s even taking a twice-a-week history class — it’s because unlike most parents who have weathered a turbulent adolescence, his legacy is not mired in uncertainty and what ifs. It is both assured and crystal-clear.
With DVD, Lieberfarb didn't just make Hollywood a heck of a lot of money. The argument can be made that he also set into motion the sweeping digital revolution that has forever transformed the way we consume entertainment. Streaming, downloading, mobility, even Netflix — none of it, one could maintain, would have been possible without the foresight, vision and resolve of Warren N. Lieberfarb, the original Digital Driver.
That’s why we are singling out Warren Lieberfarb for a special salute in our annual Digital Drivers issue. DVD opened the door to digital as a home entertainment delivery mechanism, and the industry has never looked back. DVD and its successor, Blu-ray Disc, also have served as an entry point for the lucrative electronic sellthrough (EST) business, with the studios shrewdly including digital copies with physical discs in an effort to acquaint mainstream consumers with the concept of pure digital transmission.
Capturing the essence of Warren Lieberfarb — and just how right he’s been about this business, all along — in a space as short as this isn’t easy. So let me go back 10 years, to our April 2007 issue, when I related a few personal anecdotes: “I first met Warren Lieberfarb in mid-1995, when DVD was still a glimmer in everyone’s eye, two rival formats were planning to come to market, and studios were slugging it out over who had the highest prebook numbers for rental cassettes. As editor in chief of Video Store Magazine, I had written a column in which I advocated rental pricing for the new disc format. Rental, I wrote, was an ingrained consumer habit that would never go away.
“I received a phone call from a harried publicist at Warner Home Video informing me that Lieberfarb wanted to meet with me, for lunch, in the studio dining room. Since Warren had been notoriously press-shy, I accepted, although I had no idea why I had been summoned.
“So I drove to Burbank on the appointed hour, and met one of the most charming and gracious men I had ever encountered — until about 15 minutes into our lunch, when all of a sudden I felt I was in the middle of a sit-down with Marlon Brando in the first Godfather film. … Warren essentially informed me that I was an idiot, and he proceeded to lay out his vision of DVD as a sellthrough-only product that would add incremental revenue to studio and retail coffers. ‘It’s not a replacement technology,’ he argued.”
Boy, was he ever right. The rental model was dying — stabbed by late fees and return trips to the video store — and Warren was convinced packaged media needed to shift gears into a purchase model if it was to survive. There would always be a large chunk of consumers who didn’t want to buy, he said, but as technology advanced they would be driven to some form of advanced pay-per-view, the only electronic delivery system in existence at the time, particularly if it was easier and cheaper.
Fast forward two years. DVD was on the market, and Warren Lieberfarb was its chief cheerleader. Columbia TriStar Home Video (now Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) president Ben Feingold also emerged as a vocal supporter of DVD, “but with four of the six majors still on the sidelines, it was rough going,” I wrote 10 years ago. “Analysts began revising sales projections downward, and Warren’s tireless championing of DVD was beginning to tick off some people. I remember asking [former] 20th Century Fox studio chief Bill Mechanic when Fox was going to start releasing movies on DVD. ‘Ask Warren Lieberfarb’ was his response.
“Warren became a bit demoralized. ‘I don't know. T.K., maybe I should just give up the whole thing,’ he mused during a private conversation we had during the July 1997 Video Software Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas. (He was walking with a cane at the time, and had followed me into the restroom, which made the whole scene even sadder.) ‘I'm trying to do something that can be very good for our entire industry, but some people just don't seem to get it.’ The trade press got it, however, and so did some of the major retailers. By the late summer of 1997, Universal Studios and Disney had announced their intent to join the DVD team, and Warner went national.
“But just as it appeared DVD was beginning to gain some momentum, another fly appeared in the ointment: Divx, a payper-play variant championed by the chief of Circuit City, one of the country's major consumer electronics retailers. Several studios immediately lined up behind it, including Fox, which had yet to come to the DVD table.
“Warren went to war. He criticized Divx as a half-baked blend of packaged media and pay-per-view that was doomed to failure, but still could wreak havoc on the fledgling DVD format by confusing consumers. I agreed with him, and unabashedly railed against Divx in my columns. And when Divx died, chiefly because the consumer electronics manufacturers failed to support it, I rejoiced with him. I also laughed my ass off when I first heard the following story, which I have never been able to verify as fact or urban legend. A reporter asked the head of a leading Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer why his company, and most other companies, would not support Divx, even though it was being championed by one of their leading retail customers. ‘We were told the most powerful man in Hollywood was against it,’ came the response. ‘Who is the most powerful man in Hollywood?’ the reporter asked. ‘Why, Warren Lieberfarb,’ the executive responded. ‘Who told you that?’ the reporter demanded. ‘Mr. Lieberfarb did,’ was the response.”
I’m going to relate one other anecdote that indicates another side of Warren Lieberfarb — a kind, generous man, a mensch, if you will.
It took place at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1999. DVD by then was a huge hit; I had a breakfast meeting with Warren at Caesar’s and woke up with the flu, complete with high fever. Stymied by CES traffic, I opted to walk the mile and a half from the Monte Carlo. Warren knew right away I was not well, and at the conclusion of our meal, when I told him I had to hurry back because my flight left in an hour, he insisted his car and his driver take me back to my hotel room and then to the airport. “Thanks, but what will you do?” I asked him, knowing he was at the Bellagio, also a good mile away. “I’ll walk,” he said.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Are the disruptors being disrupted? That’s a good question to ask ourselves as we at Home Media Magazine present our seventh annual Digital Drivers feature, which we launched 2011 as a way to spotlight the executives behind the transition from physical media to digital distribution.
Back then, there were two views of digital distribution. One, held by the studios, was a transactional model in which consumers would buy digital copies of movies, TV shows and other filmed content over the Internet, effectively transitioning their purchase habit from physical media and providing studios with much better margins, with no manufacturing costs, minimal distribution expenses, and, best of all, no returns.
Rental, too, would migrate to the web, in the form of transactional streaming, or pay-per-view.
What studios hoped would be a smooth transition was already then being disrupted by Netflix, which had a whole other view of digital distribution: subscription streaming. Three years earlier, in 2008, Netflix jump-started its then-nascent subscription streaming service by leveraging a sub-contract with Starz that gave it access to Disney and other studio movies. That, in turn, led to the studios dealing directly with Netflix in licensing their back-catalog films and TV shows.
It was a decision Hollywood would soon come to regret, but, as they say, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle. And so it is today that the digital distribution world is dominated by streaming, and streaming is dominated by Netflix, the biggest disruptor this industry has seen since DVD 20 years ago shifted home video from a rental model to a purchase model.
And yet while Netflix and the whole over-the-top (OTT) concept certainly dominate digital distribution, Netflix and the other streamers aren’t immune to disruption, either.
New research from Parks Associates reveals that 39% of U.S. broadband households visit a video sharing site like YouTube at least once a week — and 59% of broadband households visit an online video site on a regular basis. These findings sparked a session at the NAB show in Las Vegas called "OTT Video Services: Fighting to Capture and Retain Users," with Parks Associate senior analyst Glenn Hower, in a press release, maintaining that the growing popularity of user-generated content, particularly among young people, poses a growing treat to professionally produced content. "Consumers 18-24 go to a video sharing site 13 days per month on average,” he said. “They also use a video chat app like Snapchat an average of nearly 11 days in one month. The TV is still the most-used device for watching video content, but increased usage of secondary devices and video apps is making a significant impact on how users, especially younger viewers, consume and perceive content.”
Parks Associates research also shows 26% of households participate in live-streaming activities, such as streaming video from their own device or watching video over a live-streaming platform. "Emerging content platforms are changing the way content creators tell visual stories," Hower said. "Services like YouTube have given rise to video bloggers and sketch performers, who can interact with their audiences in a way that traditional media like film and television cannot allow. In addition, live streaming on platforms like Twitter's Periscope or Facebook Live is raw and impromptu, which can come across as more 'authentic' compared to a recorded video that has been edited and perfected."
The savviest digital drivers are those who realize that disruption is no longer something that happens from time to time, but, rather, is an ongoing thing.
It’s not enough to be platform agnostic. We now have to be content agnostic, as well.
The digital revolution is not over.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Target 'Teen Titans: The Judas Contract' Steelbook Blu-ray
Among the few exclusives offered for the April 18 new releases, Walmart had a deal for Universal's new Bigger Fatter Liar DVD.
The direct-to-video film is a follow-up to 2002's Big Fat Liar. Walmart offered a two-pack containing the DVDs of both films.
For Warner's new animated Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, Target offered the regular Blu-ray with Steelbook packaging.
A gift set of Teen Titans containing a figurine was widely available, and curiously seems to have been the only Blu-ray version of the movie offered at Amazon.com upon its debut. The regular Blu-ray was relegated to second-hand Marketplace sellers. Marketplace sellers also had the Steelbook for about $40, almost three times the shelf cost at Target, where the Steelbook mostly sold out quickly.
Walmart had an early release window for Lionsgate's Isolation DVD, which is listed on Amazon as a June 20 wide release.
World Without End (Blu-ray)
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Sci-Fi, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Hugh Marlowe, Nancy Gates, Rod Taylor.
1956. World Without End tells the story of astronauts time-warped to an Earth filled with cave-dwelling creatures that attack Hugh Marlowe and crew in a futuristic society full of mutants in a story that shares many similarities with H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, and the result is all rather charming unless your eyes get stuck rolling back into their sockets.
Read the Full Review
Night Passage (Blu-ray)
All-Region French Import (billed as Le survivant des monts lointains)
Elephant/Universal, Western, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Brandon de Wilde, Dianne Foster.
1957. Sometimes an unexpectedly great-looking disc is its own justification if it catches you in a receptively generous mood. And Passage, whose lack of any substantial dramatic sand may have been a contributor to its unfortunate footnote in Western history, gets a lot of “demonstration” visual utmost out of its source Technirama roots.
Read the Full Review
By: Mike Clark
'Hidden Figures' display at Target
A week after the mega home video release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, retailers took a step back for the April 11 new releases. While more notable titles were available during the week, overt retailer exclusives were kept at a minimum. About the only spotlight for the new titles was a front-of-store corrugated display for Fox's Hidden Figures at Target.
A week earlier, all the big retailers had exclusive editions of Rogue One. The 3D exclusive editions offered by Target and Best Buy apparently sold out quickly, and a week later only the Walmart exclusive-packaging version of the Disney film was observed still being on shelves in a store check of some Southern California locations.
For Hidden Figures, Fox actually released two configurations of the Blu-ray combo pack. One was a simple Blu-ray case with a Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD code. The other came with a cardboard fold-out slipcover and The History and Inspiration movie companion booklet. According to Internet reports, Amazon shipped the simpler version without the booklet.
In addition, Best Buy offered he slipcover version with an exclusive e-book of the original Hidden Figures book upon which the film is based.
Retailers were more interested in running promotions for Easter tie-ins in the week leading up to the Sunday holiday. Target touted several sales, including big brands such as Disney films and Warner's "Harry Potter." The chain also had family DVDs and Blu-rays priced at $4, $10 and $13 levels
Best Buy didn't offer a weekly ad circular; some weeks it doesn't publish one. The chain did offer a $5 gift card with the purchase of $25 or more on select movies from its family and Easter displays.
Notably, a couple of high-profile HBO shows were released on disc April 11 but weren't seen at most stores. Neither Veep: Season 5 or Silicon Valley: Season 3 were seen at Target or Walmart on DVD or Blu-ray, with the websites for both chains listing the titles as unavailable in stores. A Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif., just had the Blu-ray of "Veep," while the Blu-ray for "Silicon Valley" was available only in select stores, according to the Best Buy website.
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’
Stars Julie Andrews, William Holden, Robert Preston, Richard Mulligan, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters.
1981. The main claim to fame of this admittedly overlong outing with huge visual compensations is probably as the vehicle in which top-billed Julie Andrews bared her breasts, but more importantly as the source of William Holden’s final screen appearance.
Read the Full Review
Peyton Place (Blu-ray)
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lana Turner, Diane Varsi, Lee Phillips, Hope Lange, Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn.
1957. Producer Jerry Wald did a bang-up getting Peyton Place to the screen so relatively soon after the best-selling 1956 publication of Grace Metalious’s New England scandalmonger. This has to be one of the most handsome Blu-rays that Twilight Time has ever released.
Extras: Both voiceover commentaries here are worth it and the first fabulously so. It’s by filmmaker/historian Willard Carroll, whose bonus then-and-now video of the Maine locales is a treat I didn’t expect. There’s also a spotty but valuable track, carried over from the 2004 Fox Studio Classics DVD, by Russ Tamblyn and supporting player Terry Moore in which Tamblyn comes off as one of the great guys ever, at least if we’re talking actors.
Read the Full Review
By: Mike Clark
(L-R): 'Rogue One' Blu-ray covers at Walmart, Target and Best Buy
Disney's home video release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dominated retail channels April 4, with exclusive versions offered at most of the major chains.
Target even took the opportunity to promote all its "Star Wars" products, devoting a whole page to the franchise in its weekly ad circular. The chain offered coupons for $10 off any "Star Wars" purchase of $50 or more, and $25 off any "Star Wars" purchase of $100 or more. Among the products offered was an exclusive six-inch AT-ACT driver action figure.
Target's exclusive Blu-ray edition of Rogue One included the 3D version of the movie in addition to the Blu-ray combo pack, which included the 2D movie on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. The exclusive packaging came with five interchangeable character covers and a bonus disc containing 10 minutes of exclusive featurettes: "Inside the Creature Shop" and "Digital Storytelling." Fans who preordered this version at Target.com also received a $5 digital gift card.
Best Buy's exclusive edition also included the 3D version as part of a Blu-ray combo pack in a Steelbook case. A Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif. was raffling off its Rogue One cardboard display to customers.
Walmart's exclusive Blu-ray had pop-out cover art featuring K-2SO and two Galactic Connexions trading discs.
The Disney store offered exclusive lithographs with preorders of the Rogue One Blu-ray.
Curiously, Amazon took down preorders for Rogue One weeks ago and listed the film as out of stock on its debut day. Availability of other Disney titles, such as Moana, was listed as out of stock or available only through third-party Marketplace sellers, leading to some speculation of a dispute between Disney and Amazon.
Rogue One home video display at Target
Rogue One display at Best Buy
Amazon's 'Fantastic Beasts' Blu-ray with statue
Plenty of retailers offered exclusive editions of Warner's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Best Buy offered the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Fantastic Beasts in a Steelbook case for $5 more than the widely available 4K version.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack in exclusive fold-out packaging designed to emulate Newt Scamander's case in the film.
Walmart offered a special edition of the Blu-ray with a pack-in coloring book, for $5 more than the regular Blu-ray.
Amazon offered a Blu-ray gift set with a Niffler statue.
Among other titles, Walmart offered a gift set of the Monster High: Electrified Blu-ray packed with a DVD of Monster High: Frights, Camera, Action for $18.96.
This magazine in its nearly 40 years has seen formats come and go, navigating changes along with the industry. This month, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the optical disc (DVD launched in America in 1997) and its continued vibrancy. We also investigate virtual reality, a new format that the studios are just starting to explore. Meanwhile, we continue to report on the growth of white-hot digital delivery services and the increasingly award-winning and popular original content of such outfits as Amazon Prime and Netflix.
This industry has of necessity had to shift with the formats. Director Ivan Reitman, who worked on the Ghostbusters VR experience, likened making the 360-degree product to the early days of silent film, when directors were figuring out if audiences would understand and react well to a close-up. If viewers have the agency to look wherever they want in VR, how does a director tell a story? That’s just one of the questions facing the new format. Sony’s Jake Zim said the business plan for VR products also is in the embryonic stages — what to charge, what activities viewers will enjoy, what environments will be most conducive to VR are all under review as the studio dips its toe into this new medium.
As DVD launched 20 years ago, it faced uncertainty as well. Would the collector embrace the sellthrough-priced format and buy movies and TV shows to put on the shelf like books? It turned out to be an enormous success, and two decades later DVD and its successors are still spinning revenue for the studios. With the advent of Blu-ray Disc, it has adapted to high-definition and 3D and 4K Ultra HD with high dynamic range to deliver ever-better quality picture and sound. It’s been such a flexible format that today it still accounts for the lion’s share of U.S. home entertainment revenue. The arrival of TV DVD even helped create the binge-watching consumer that now ravenously watches episode after episode on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Before streaming, consumers learned to binge on disc series sets. The disc also created a whole new way to appreciate the content, spawning director’s commentaries, making-of documentaries and other extras that brought viewers into the process of making entertainment.
So here’s a toast to the past and to the future. May the legacy disc format continue to impress as it adapts to 4K UHD with HDR, and may new formats continue to entertain as well as the disc has for two decades.
By: Stephanie Prange