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Oh no, you're thinking, not yet another Top 10 of 2001 list. That's right. No. It's not. Exactly. More like a Top 10 List of 2002-2006. And at this point, it's not Top 10, since we already counted down the first three items on the list way back in 2001.
When last we met on this screen -- a fortnight ago -- the subject was an Executive Summary from management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Produced by its Entertainment & Media practice, it is titled, Vying for Attention: The Future of Competing in Entertainment and Media -- Our Industry Perspective 2001-2005. (For information on the full length report, visit www.pwcglobal.com.)
There's a section on "Top Ten Ways to Survive in the Attention Economy." Let's join our Top Ten list, then, already in progress, as we pick up where we left it, starting with No. 4.
That would be, "Don't Pay Attention, Pay for Attention!" PWC observes that "Companies will demand measurements of advertising's worth." What a concept, that. Blame it on the one-to-one relationship marketing popularized on the Internet. With data-rich, individualized responses and transactions emanating from email and Web sites, marketers are fast becoming spoiled into expecting quantifiable returns on their media investments. No longer will the famous quip by legendary Philadelphia merchant Wanamaker that "Half of all advertising works; we just don't know which half" seem quaint. It will just seem antiquated.
"Dynamic Pricing" marks down the halfway point of PWC's list, at No. 5. The eyebrow-raising concept here is that "One important revenue tool will be selling the same concept at different prices to different consumers in different places at different times -- even at the same time -- for a variety of strategic reasons." The example used, believe it or not, is that "Satisfied filmgoers exiting a blockbuster [lower-case, as in theater, not store] might pay as much as $99 for the DVD if it is sold in the lobby on the first day of theatrical release." … and if the theater happens to be in a typical middle-class burb like Beverly Hills, Shaker Heights, Ohio, Chappaqua, N.Y. or Grosse Point, Mich.
Now, for one of my favorites, if for no other reason than I posited an almost identical scenario in a column many months ago: No. 6 is "Compress Your Windows." Digital media, which has a bad habit of respecting no copyright owner, threatens to make the time-honored Hollywood economic structure of sequential distribution as sturdy as a house of cards. Instead of the serial pattern of release -- where a film's run in theaters must end before reaching video, then play out there before PPV and so on -- we're headed toward parallel windows, running simultaneously. The alternative is digital piracy so pervasive it easily could render the very assets of the major entertainment players virtually worthless. PWC thinks so too. "In a global market, digital content flows faster and farther, is easier to copy or pirate, and declines rapidly in value as it flows."
"Create Standards That Work" is No. 7. MP3, says PWC, "is a prime example of a ‘standard that works.'" Such a standard is defined by Pricewaterhouse as one that "should satisfy the ‘person in the street,' not the techno elites." I have my own version of that: no matter how simple the maker believes its new technology to be, it has to be yet another notch simpler for the average consumer. The mind-numbing example is the gag about nobody being able to set the timer on a VCR. The mental laziness implied in that paradigm is too pathetic to ponder. MP3, by the way, says PWC, was "originally developed for feature films."
Weighing in at No. 8 is "Share the Investment Risk," something that the major studios' video divisions figured out a long time ago. "Brand-owning companies should leverage capital and focus on core competencies by outsourcing non-core functions across the supply and demand chains." Sound familiar? In the rental biz, they call it distribution.
"Learn from Others' Mistakes" would be numero nuevo. Here, it's projected that companies will move cautiously in entertainment media. "They will aim to be first on creative, but ‘fast second' on technology. First movers take the brunt; ‘best movers' will succeed in the long run." Napster is a first mover; the record labels are best movers. And for the capper, #10 is "Focus Your Attention as Companies Converge and Diverge." In plainer language, that's amplified with "major entertainment and media conglomerates will continue to acquire; others will break themselves into multiple businesses." PWC concludes, "Do not become too invested in any one idea -- there is no One Answer."
Ah, but there is only One Question: Do we shape the future, or does the future shape us?
By: Bruce Apar
It's clear that the fourth quarter of 2001 and the holiday selling season have given the DVD category a major afterburner push going into 2002. I spoke with a number retailers following the Christmas holidays and the anecdotal consensus was that, on the rental side, DVD's share of revenues leaped 10 percent or more. Stores where DVDs share of rental revenue was 20 percent reported DVD rentals accounting for 30percent of revenues; stores with 30 percent saw their DVD share of revenues grow to 40 percent. That's a 33 percent to 50 percent growth in DVD rental volume. Some retailers reported even higher numbers.
Video Store Magazine's stellar research team has been tracking the data going into the year end and reports DVD accounted for about 25 percent of rental spending in the last week of the year, compared to little more than 9 percent for the same week last year.
Our staff also visited major sellthrough retailers as well, from Target to Best Buy to Tower, right after the holidays and found scenes reminiscent of a horde sweeping through and leaving in its wake empty shelves, displays in disarray and clerks in a daze. (Okay, perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but you get the idea.) Videoscan/A.C. Nielsen reports that for the five weeks from Thanksgiving through the week ending Dec. 22, DVD software sales surged 71 percent compared with the same period in 2000. Anecdotally, previously-owned DVD sales also rocked for some retailers who really jumped on some of the bigger fourth quarter titles in the expectation that the post-Christmas holiday would see a lot of newbie DVD owners come looking for movies to play on their shiny new machines.
Now comes the interesting part…what happens for 2002. I think it'll all come down to price. It will be very interesting this year to watch the pricing trends in DVD and VHS as the industry tries to find the maximum rental and sellthrough revenue model for both studios and retailers. One possible model: ‘A' title DVDs remain in their current $20 range, while rental-oriented titles DVDs climb to the $30 to $35 range; and VHS titles in the ‘A' category debut at sellthrough prices as a rule, along with their DVD brethren.
Check out Video Store Magazine next week as we begin a series on 2002 pricing trends.
Happy New Year!
Now that all the publishers and pundits are just about finished with their year-end reviews, we all move on to our predictions for the coming year.
I read one yesterday and I just have to take the analyst to task. You may not agree with me, but it's important to challenge a few assumptions.
Speaking to The New York Times, Forrester analyst Eric Schieirer predicts that the next battle front in the file trading/piracy war is for the entertainment companies to go after the end users of file trading software.
"It's not companies doing this," Schierer told the Times, "It's hobbyists in their garage. To stop hobbyists requires a whole new level of copyright enforcement."
Sorry, Eric, but while that theory may sound appealing, it's doomed to failure. The entire scenario is fraught with absurdities, just like some of the present cases worming their way through the court system.
First of all, if prosecuting end users was of any value in stopping offenses, our society would long ago have ended illegal drug sales and prostitution. The streetcorner drug war of the 1980s and 90s was a dismal failure in terms of stemming the overall drug tide. Pursuing penny-ante copyright violators who grab digital files for personal use would fare the same. Even making a few examples would do as much to discourage file trading as other prominent object lesson cases have made: Prosecuting Sydney Biddle-Barrows and Heidi Fleiss has done little to dent prostitution.
Second, as a practical matter, how are companies -- even comparatively wealthy studios -- going to afford prosecuting every Tom, Dick and Mary who copies a file on a computer? Studios, once independent entertainers impervious to the whims of the advertising market, have become media conglomerates much more sensitive to economic shifts and global events. These companies are losing money all over the place to an industrywide advertising slump and their news arms' obligation to intensive, free coverage when world events become grave or startling. Can they afford to chase the half million file traders a month that some of these services claim? Can they do it without privacy intrusions upon the innocent that would likely result in costly cross litigation? Is it a wise use of their resources?
Third, they can't go down that road, at least not without admitting defeat on the existing front. The major entertainment companies sued file trading services KaZaa, MusicCity.com and Grokster to stop their activities, contending that facilitating file trading has no other purpose than copyright infringement. If that's true, Warner would have to sue AOL for offering file trading capacity on its Instant Messenger service (something along that line is, indeed, taking place). Both sides could spend millions in court for what would ultimately be nothing more than an expensive fund transfer from one of a media giant's pockets to another. It might not be the first case of its kind but it seems foolishly expensive all the same.
You can't have it both ways. The giants will have to admit it's not the technology's fault before claiming it's consumers' fault. I'm envisioning gun lobby-style bumper sticker campaigns saying, "Computers don't violate copyrights, people do." In fact, a trial is set later this month in another case that will set precedents about whether file trading is, in itself, a crime.
Fourth, shutting the services down won't help. The music giants went after their David (aka Napster). The giants may have knocked David down, but here come a couple of big rocks from the little guys: users are panning the services the giants provided to replace Napster; and new, more sophisticated technologies are springing up to shame their levels of service. That's a likely outcome as long as the giants don't have end users design their services. End users designed Napster and KaZaa.
In the end, the giants hurt themselves and, if the movie Goliaths follow the same course as their musical corporate brothers, they'll drive prices for their packaged wares down, just as analysts say the prices for CDs are dropping now.
Much of the digital frontier remains to be tamed. I don't know how all of this will turn out, but I'll be keeping a close eye on it. It's going to be a fascinating year.
It's been said "history is just one damned thing after another." As of next Tuesday, 2001 will be history. The New Year holiday usually affords us some time (between football, the interminable Rose Parade, perhaps dangling from the rain gutter taking down those Christmas lights) to think back on the year and recall some of its highlights and lowlights.
In next week's issue of Video Store Magazine, the editors have put together a comprehensive look at the years events, month-by-month, as well as several of our own Top 10 takes on the industry. As I say in that issue, having come into the industry only in the last quarter, editing that section helped me to get a perspective on the industry's ebb and flow of events in the past 12 months and how those might impact the business in 2002.
We ignore history at the risk of repeating it, but I'd bet a majority of you would say 2001, from an overall home entertainment industry standpoint (and, obviously, with bowed heads toward New York City and Washington, D.C., in a united and solemn grief), would rate as a year worth repeating in many respects. Even if the trends of this year continue to play out in 2002, your job as a home entertainment business manager is to now take advantage of what you have seen in the past year and use it to improve on those trends and prepare to mitigate some of their possible side effects.
No doubt, DVD will continue in meteoric rise in 2002, by almost everyone's prognostications. The fourth quarter saw one DVD sales record after another. And with player sales expected to continue to boom and the pipeline already loaded with such family-oriented, high-production value films as Monsters, Inc., Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings coming to video next year along with a host of other great titles, the studios should enjoy another banner year. But while the industry is busily maximizing that opportunity it must keep a watchful eye on such issues as the impact on VHS -- still the predominant format for this business -- and maintaining a viable rental market. How far and how fast the transition will be the challenge in the face of the great opportunity.
The past year has been a great one for video specialty retailers. The big, publicly owned chains enjoyed phenomenal stock price growth, climbing out of the basement after a miserable 2000. And there are indications the smaller chains and independents enjoyed a net gain in store numbers in 2001. Again, so much of this was fueled by DVD, which allows for a nice ROI on DVD rentals, along with a great slate of titles this year, especially in Q4. All things being equal, 2002 should also be a repeat performance.
And mass merchants, as a rule, grew their floor space for home video—again focusing on DVD, but not at the expense of VHS—driving the sellthrough of DVD to new heights. If DVD pricing policies on ‘A' titles remains status quo in 2002, as it appears to be doing, then mass merchants will continue to not only drive DVD sales to more records, but also play a key role in supporting the lower-priced family fare VHS titles.
On a more contentious issue, though the specter of video-on-demand (at least it's a specter to video rentailers) was rising quickly on the horizon in the early part of 2001, fueled by formation of joint studio efforts such as MovieFly and Movies.com, it waned to a certain extent in the second half of the year, or at least the rhetoric did. But 2002 will see VOD continue its (some would say inexorable) march forward and it will be interesting to see if these initiatives get off the ground next year and doubly interesting to see if a First Sale doctrine case arises out of the launch of one of these services, supporting the right of video stores to retail the downloaded product, once they purchase it. We may witness the whole early ‘80s battle of video rental rights between studios and retailers all over again—talk about history repeating itself.
Those are a few thoughts I have had percolating as I prepare to celebrate the coming New Year. On behalf of the staff at Video Store Magazine, Hive4media.com and Home Entertainment Events, have a wonderful and safe and Happy New Year!
I have a theory, but without your help I can't really prove it. You folks, on the other hand, are in a perfect position to test it.
Video entertainment has weathered a lot of economic downturns. It's been called recession-proof, inflation-proof and even stock market-proof. Sometimes economic crisis in other industries actually helps our business. Video is sort of the unofficial barometer of economic conditions, or at least consumer confidence.
This is the year DVD has come of age. Prices for discs and players are down. Great titles abound. Sales have been phenomenal in light of other industries sagging. We all knew this would be the season of DVD and by retail reports, it is.
So play along. Be my lab rats, or, more accurately, groundhogs. I'm watching for the economy's shadow, but you'll have to help me see it. Here's my theory (and I'm inviting you all to support or contest it):
DVD player prices are down. If that played as strongly into the holiday gift season as we expected, I predict your stores are busy today and will be for at least a couple of weeks. DVD players topped numerous gift lists and, doubtless, some folks got their wish. Some of your customers are about to be converts and, for the next couple of weeks, will be renting DVDs like crazy to play with the new family toy. In that case, DVD rentals will be up overall and as a percentage of total rentals.
On the other hand, those shiny, sexy little discs make excellent presents for anyone who already has a player. Prices are reasonable and almost everyone with a player still wants something on DVD. Sellthrough numbers on top titles have broken record after record in the fourth quarter. If the economy or consumer confidence is still sagging, I think most of those discs will have landed in the hands of folks who already have players. In that case, DVD rentals may be down overall and stable as a percentage of total rentals over the next couple of weeks.
So let me know how it goes over the next couple of weeks and we'll see if any pattern emerges.
I could be wrong.
It says here that "the bulk of revenues for the U.S. video-on-demand (VOD) market will come from the pay-per-view (PPV) audience instead of from the video rental or box office audiences." That's according to Jupiter Media Metrix in a report whose highlights, as essayed in a news release, sound as murky as the water made famous by the Exxon Valdez.
Jupiter analyst Lydia Lozoides is quoted as saying, "The industry heralded VOD as the entertainment technology that would unseat the VCR -- that's unrealistic." My question is, what industry said that? The analyst further talks of shifting the PPV audience to VOD and generating incremental revenues. My question is, what is the actual difference between the PPV and VOD audience? My question is, generating revenues incremental to what? Incremental to current home video revenues? Incremental to current PPV revenues? If the latter, what constitutes incremental revenues as opposed to good, old-fashioned market growth?
Then there's the most murky comment of all: "Studios, operators, cable networks and the rental market must prepare to counter the effects, both positive and negative, of VOD on their businesses. Failure to do this will result in another blow to the advancement of interactive television."
Now you know why some consultants get the big bucks: because whether or not they know what they're talking about, it's arguable whether anyone else will understand it. Very possibly it's my own density, but no matter how many times I read those two sentences back to back, they don't add up. If existing channels can't counter VOD's effects, would not it be a blow to them and a benefit to interactive television? Aw, heck, what do I know -- I'm just a consumer.
That brings me to an intriguing Executive Summary I just read from management consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers. Produced by its Entertainment & Media practice, it is titled, "Vying for Attention: The Future of Competing in Entertainment and Media – Our Industry Perspective 2001-2005." (For information on the full length report, visit www.pwcglobal.com.)
There's a section on "Top Ten Ways to Survive in the Attention Economy." Number one, echoing remarks you can read from Video Store editor-in-chief Kurt Indvik in the Dec. 21 Buzz, is "Connect with Your Customers and Cultivate Relationships." The catchphrase these days, of course, is Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which PWC defines as "one way to connect with customers as unique individuals." Of direct relevance to retailers is the suggestion "to mine consumer data, appeal to niches and continuously refine your marketing approach, balancing the investment against the lifetime value of acquired relationships."
Number Two is "Find New Revenue Streams -- NOW!" According to PWC, "a multichannel strategy gathers attention by being in all the places your customers are likely to be." Provocatively, but realistically, it adds that "the ‘all content is free' movement will continue to generate challenges. Your business models must turn adversity into advantage."
We need look no further for the most topical example of that advice than how the major record labels are launching their own online music subscription services, spurred by the watershed technology known as Napster.
"Set Your Customers and Your Brands Free" is Number Three. "The game is no longer about stimulating a mass market, but about custom buying experiences." There also should be an attempt "to conduct transaction experiences in a minimum of steps with a maximum of security." Finally, No. 3, PWC advises, "Companies will tailor offerings to smaller segments which may be less profitable; profits will come from an aggregation of small segments."
More on the PricewaterhouseCoopers report next time. Happy Holidays to all.
By: Bruce Apar
If you are in the retail side of this business, I assume you are readying yourself for what is one of the busiest weeks of the year for home video retailers; the week of the Christmas holiday. Kids are off school, extended family arrives and stays (…and stays), demand for home entertainment increases. It's a very busy time for the rental business and, certainly with DVD's banner year, there's an expectation that all those shiny new DVD players under the tree will also bring a post-holiday rush to stock up on a few more DVDs.
Next week also brings an interesting and eclectic slate of new releases, including Moulin Rouge, The Princess Diaries and Evolution—something for everyone. Theatrically, Lord of the Rings will be hitting its box office stride big time and is likely to push consumers in to the video store for similar fare such as Willow, The Mists of Avalon, The Dark Crystal and other fantasy films.
Right now is a good time for store owners and managers to gather employees together (if you haven't already), gird them for the coming onslaught and turn this customer service challenge into an opportunity. Dare I say your situation is much akin to many places of worship during this time of year that see the occasional worshiper attend Christmas Eve services (and encourage them to return after the holidays). So, too, is this an opportunity for video retailers to make an impression on their greatest concentration of customers (some more occasional than others) in the shortest time.
Holidays, enjoyable as they are, are stressful times. Customers don't want to encounter any more stress in conducting their day-to-day activities (like renting a video) and even seek a little refuge in escaping the household full of guests to attend to some basic needs (like renting a video).
Your employees need to be extra sensitive to customers, responsive to their questions, quicker than normal on moving returned movies back to the shelves (to avoid the innumerable requests for, "Have you got any [name your movie] back there?"), and remember to take the word "no" out of their vocabulary and replace it with "let me see if there is anything I can do." And like anyone else "on stage" trying to please an audience, smile. A lot. Even at that momentarily holiday-frazzled customer who's abrupt with you. Treat ‘em nice and they'll come back later, after the craziness and in a better mood, remembering that in your store, at least, they found a little Christmas spirit.
Studios are understandably always competing for box office receipts, as are theater owners. They measure much of their business success in those numbers.
But that may be an obsolete paradigm for studios. Packaged media may be the real measure of how popular an item is with the public. What people are buying at a movie theater is an experience--a big screen, jujubees and a group mind.
One thing you hardly ever see at a movie theater is me. I'm a bona fide theatrical outtake. I take myself out of theaters and choose a home experience, for several reasons:
I'll never forget the day in 1993 when I was sitting down with friends in terrific seats to see In the Line of Fire. Just as the opening credits started to roll, a cell phone rang about two rows behind me. I loudly growled, "I hope he's kidding" to my date as I turned to glare over my shoulder at the offending boor. He folded up his phone. But it dented my moviegoing experience forever and it's still a common interruption.
Kids are another reason I avoid movie theaters and malls. I don't have any, don't want any and especially don't want to listen to someone else's in a theater. If I'm going to a kids' show I try go late in the evening, but kids don't have bedtimes any more so that's often no solution.
It's a foregone conclusion that you'll pay high prices for theater concessions, but for myself and many others, popcorn is a fundamental part of going to the movies so you pay anyway. I went to the show over the Thanksgiving holiday and the $4 popcorn (with extra imitation rat poison butter 'cause I have no illusions that it's health food when I order it) was stale. If I was Orville, I wouldn't want my name on that. It's another part of the movie theater experience that's been largely spoiled.
I'm not short, but in most theaters seating isn't stepped enough to ensure I won't spend half the movie looking at the back of some tall guy's head. I don't get replays or half my ticket price back if that happens. It must be a real bummer for short people. What is less of a bummer for them is the shortage of legroom, which is always a problem for me.
People who went to drive-ins (yeah, I'm old) remember there was a little more formal etiquette in the group setting of an indoor theater; if you wanted to chat with friends during the show or had little kids, you went to the drive-in. Now people seem to chatter in theaters like they did then in their cars.
About the only thing that will get me into a theater now is a movie so improved by seeing it on that scale that a big screen is the only answer. Face it, dinosaurs just aren't that scary when they're 10 inches tall.
I'm really not as much of a curmudgeon as I sound like, but I do respect a group experience and appreciate when others do the same courteously. Which seems too seldom in movie theaters any more. I think a lot of people agree with that and it keeps them out of theaters, too.
So you can load your films with trailers, outtakes, featurettes and commentaries (most notably on rereleases)--most of the time, it still won't get my or my like-minded compatriots' cheeks into the seats. There are plenty of us who won't be among your box office head (and money) count. We'll wait for the DVD.
Vivendi Universal, in its quest to compete on Wall Street with the likes of AOL Time Warner and Disney/ABC, made some big moves last week to increase its U.S. presence.
In addition to what it calls a "strategic alliance" with satellite company Echostar, Vivendi says it will acquire the entertainment assets of USA Networks in a deal valued at approximately $10.3 billion. USA's Barry Diller will serve as chairman and c.e.o. of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, including the film and video arms.
The name of the game in these sorts of deals is "synergy"—USA's cable networks will get Universal product and Universal product will get better TV distribution.
But let's hope in the move toward synergy, the strengths of both USA Home Entertainment and Universal Studios Home Video aren't sacrificed in the shuffle.
Universal Studios Home Video, under the leadership of Craig Kornblau, has had a couple of stellar years. Hits have included The Nutty Professor, American Pie and The Mummy franchises and, most recently, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Universal also distributes DreamWorks Home Entertainment titles, which have included Chicken Run, Shrek and Gladiator. But it's not just the titles that have afforded Universal such a strong home video presence, it's also the company's skill in marketing them. Most recently, Universal pulled out all the stops for The Grinch, bringing out director Ron Howard for a tree-lighting ceremony to kick off the title on video, mounting a Toys for Tots drive and advertising the title through tie-ins with various food items from green Heinz ketchup to oranges in the produce section.
USA Home Entertainment, for its part, has landed such hits as the Oscar-winning Traffic under the stewardship of chief Joe Amodei. Meanwhile, the company has shown its skill at marketing the specialty sports genre through distribution of titles from three of the major professional sports leagues. The company recently launched the Ultimate Jordan DVD set.
While big conglomerates will always strive to get bigger, let's hope Vivendi Universal doesn't lose sight of the contributions of both USA's and Universal's home video departments. They may be cogs in a big machine, but they've worked swimmingly.
By: Stephanie Prange
It's funny how perceptions change.
A year ago, it was home video that was getting no respect. In articles in the consumer press and in casual man-on-the-street encounters, rental stores were likened to dinosaurs while DVD was hailed as a really cool new toy, but still an interim step toward electronic delivery-which everyone agreed was the future of home entertainment.
Today, home video is getting oohs and aahs for its resilience and strength. The stock prices of the leading rental chains have risen dramatically-in Hollywood Entertainment's case, we're talking a twelvefold increase-while DVD is firmly positioned as the hottest consumer product launch in history.
As for video-on-demand, welcome to Rodney Dangerfield-land. We're seeing headlines like "VOD is DOA" and expressions like "vaporware." Enron, the huge power company that last year was partnering with Blockbuster on an ambitious branded VOD scheme, is on the ropes, and while we're still seeing studios invest in research and development, their steps are hardly making the headlines they once were.
Whatever happened to the theory of peaceful coexistence? This polarization of public thought, fueled by the media (one of the few times I'll plead mea culpa to something blamed on the press), is shortsighted and just plain wrong-as extremist views often are. And I'm pointing my finger both at those who believe video is the end-all and VOD will never fly and at those who believe home video, despite DVD, will soon be history and eventually all things entertainment will be delivered into the home electronically-either over the Internet, cable lines or phone lines.
The history of man's materialism is filled with complementary items. Replacement technologies are few and far between. Thus we have the bicycle and the automobile, radio and television, the movies and home video, and so on.
And I know what you're thinking-yeah, but what about music? At the NARM convention earlier this year, didn't we hear from futurists and woebegotten record dealers that digital downloads were killing packaged media?
That was before Napster got shut down. And while CD sales are hardly flourishing, I don't see the music industry going all-electronic anymore than I see the home video business.
Peaceful coexistence. It's a political term that really, truly, definitively applies here as well.
All right-maybe not the peaceful part.
By: Thomas K. Arnold