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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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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.

 


7 Oct, 2014

Redbox Instant Was Doomed from the Start


There’s only one thing that surprised me about Redbox pulling the plug on its streaming video joint venture with Verizon Communications, Redbox Instant by Verizon: Why did it take so long?

Back when I attended the big press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2012, announcing the JV (it didn’t actually launch until March 2013), I had trouble understanding the business model.

Generally, if you take aim at a competitor — in this case, Netflix — you build a better mousetrap, as they say. Apple entered the cell phone market with the iPhone; Sony jumped into the video game business with the PlayStation.

But from the very start, Redbox Instant appeared to be a poorly conceived venture that consistently failed to take advantage of Netflix’s chief weakness: a limited selection of content, particularly on the movie side, which despite its grand success remains a depository for studio castoffs.

Of course, if Netflix couldn’t strike a deal with Hollywood for better product, what would make anyone think Redbox could do it? But even if the two services had similar (weak) content offerings, why has Netflix exploded while Redbox, well, appears to have imploded?

One factor was that Netflix already had an established base of customers accustomed to the subscription model, through its hugely successful disc-by-mail rental service. All Netflix had to do was migrate those customers over to streaming by making the viewing experience even easier and simpler, which it was able to do by eliminating the hassle of having to send back a disc.

The other advantage Netflix had was in brand awareness. When Netflix launched its streaming service, it was already known for sending movies and other content directly to consumer homes, albeit in physical form. Redbox, on the other hand, was known for its vending machines, a model in which consumers had to go somewhere to get their entertainment.

Netflix also marketed the hell out of its streaming service, to the point where Netflix became as iconic a name in home entertainment as Blockbuster had once been. Redbox hooked up with a cell phone company known for smartphones and data plans, not movies.

Redbox’s unique selling proposition was this: Subscribers didn’t just get unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows, they also got four DVD rentals a month from Redbox’s network of kiosks.

Big whoop. If you’re trying to sell someone a new car, you don’t throw in free horse-and-buggy rides.

In the official notice on its website announcing the demise of Redbox Instant by Verizon, the company said, “The service is shutting down because it was not as successful as we hoped it would be.”

That, my friends, is an understatement — and, in retrospect, Redbox has only itself to blame.


7 Oct, 2014

'Beauty' on the 'Edge' in the 'West'

Walmart's 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' with T-shirt
Walmart's 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' with T-shirt

Several of the Oct. 7 new releases garnered exclusive promotions from the major retailers upon their debut.

Best Buy offered the Blu-ray combo pack of Warner's sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow with more than 25 minutes of additional bonus material, while Target offered the title in a steelbook case.

Disney's Sleeping Beauty: Diamond Edition drew the special packaging at Best Buy, which offered the Blu-ray with lenticular box art. Target packaged the Blu-ray with a 32-page read-along storybook, while Walmart offered it as a gift set with a Disneybound: Sleeping Beauty Style bonus DVD.

For Universal's A Million Ways to Die in the West, Walmart offered the Blu-ray with a packed-on "Moustachery" T-shirt, while Target offered it with 30 minutes of additional featurettes. At Best Buy, shoppers could buy it in a $29.99 bundle with another Seth MacFarlane-directed comedy, Ted.

Among other new titles, Best Buy offered the original Sharknado Blu-ray for $4.99 with the purchase of the second movie.

Walmart offered Fox's American Horror Story: Coven Blu-ray with an exclusive bonus DVD with a cast Q&A panel discussion from Paleyfest 2014. Walmart also had Lionsgate's Duck Dynasty: Season 6 as a "Duck-Luxe" edition with 35 minutes of exclusive bonus material.

Oct. 3 Walmart offered Disney's Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion on DVD the day the first episode of the new animated series debuted on the Disney Channel.

 


6 Oct, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Killer Elite/Noon Wine' and more …


The Killer Elite/Noon Wine

Available via www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Caan, Robert Duvall, Olivia de Havilland, Jason Robards.
1975/1966.
Sam Peckinpah’s stirring 48-minute telepic of Katherine Anne Porter’s short novel Noon Wine has been the Holy Grail of his career since it aired on TV once in 1966.
Read the Full Review

The Desert Song

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning, Bruce Cabot, Lynne Overman.
1943.
This isn’t a movie that emboldens one to go to the mat even in a fixed wrestling match, but it is a great deal more entertaining than anyone expects from an operetta with Nazis.
Read the Full Review
 


30 Sep, 2014

'Transformers' Takes Over Retail

Target's transforming 'Age of Extinction' packaging
Target's transforming 'Age of Extinction' packaging

The promotional blitz surrounding Paramount's Transformers: Age of Extinction hit retail Sept. 30, with exclusives tied to the Blu-ray release at all the major retailers.

Amazon.com bundled the Blu-ray combo pack (non-3D edition) with a statue of Optimus Prime riding the Dinobot Grimlock, priced at $79.99.

Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack in limited-edition packaging that transforms into a facsimile of Optimus Prime. Some Targets still had a preorder bundle for Age of Extinction that included a 40-inch cloth poster and a voucher for the robot packaging Blu-ray. Target also offered a $10 savings with the purchase of the Blu-ray concurrently with a select "Transformers" toy, and its Age of Extinction Blu-rays touted $6 coupons for future purchases of Paramount movies on DVD or Blu-ray.

Walmart offered a number of exclusives tied to Age of Extinction. One was an online exclusive Blu-ray combo pack in packaging designed to resemble Bumblebee’s head, offered at Walmart.com for $24.96. In addition, Walmart offered a preorder incentive that let fans order the head on its own or with a deluxe Transformers action figure in a $44.92 bundle, a savings of $15.

For its physical stores, Walmart had a deluxe boxed set of the Blu-ray combo pack with a metal magnet and three exclusive figurines. In addition, Walmart offered a boxed set of all four "Transformers" films for $39.96.

Best Buy offered Age of Extinction in exclusive steelbook packaging. Best Buy also had exclusive cover art for Fox's 24: Live Another Day, in the form of a o-card sleeve.

Toys "R" Us also had an Age of Extinction exclusive, packaging the Blu-ray with Optimus Prime and Galvatron Kre-O figures for $29.99.

Warner's first slate of Diamond Luxe premium catalog Blu-rays were exclusive to Best Buy on Sept. 30. The lineup includes Forrest Gump, The Green Mile, Natural Born Killers, Gremlins and Ben-Hur.

Target offered Gone With the Wind in Diamond Luxe-style packaging, at $18.99.

Walmart had exclusive availability of Shout! Factory's animated Thunder and the House of Magic on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as CBS's Walker Texas Ranger: The Reunion. For Universal's Team Hot Wheels: The Origin of Awesome, Walmart offered the DVD with a pack-on toy car for $14.96. For Universal's Monster High: Freaky Fusion, Walmart offered the DVD packed with a flashlight pen for $14.96.

Target ran a Monster High: Freaky Fusion cross-promotion offering $5 off when the DVD or Blu-ray was purchased with a tie-in doll.


29 Sep, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Innocents' and more …


The Innocents (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Deborah Kerr, Pamela Franklin, Martin Stephens, Megs Jenkins.
1961.
Truman Capote was the driving force behind the screenplay for this film notable for its weird children and weird visual concepts, based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.
Extras: The bonus material is juicy: an essay by critic Maitland McDonagh that’s heavy on the psychological themes plus lots with cultural historian Christopher Frayling (both a substantial on-screen intro, then voiceover commentary) that’s both substantial and accessible about a production where everything came together.
Read the Full Review

South of St. Louis (Blu-ray Review)

Olive, Western, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joel McCrea, Alexis Smith, Zachary Scott, Dorothy Malone.
1949.
Though it’s never more than a satisfying time-killer on the high side of routine, this release is a solid contender for the most dazzling print Olive Films has distributed to date. When it comes to showing what Technicolor really meant to the moviegoing experience most any old week at your ’40s and early ’50s neighborhood theater, this is the real deal. Joel McCrea plays a tough guy in covered-wagon territory who aims to hunt down a creep played by Victor Jory who burned down the Texas ranch McCrea had maintained with two partners.
Read the Full Review


26 Sep, 2014

At the Starting Line


As I nervously put my foot on the accelerator of a Ferrari to celebrate the Blu-ray, DVD and digital HD launch of Paramount Home Media Distribution’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, the home entertainment industry was also at the starting line for the most important season of the year, the fourth quarter. The adrenaline is likely flowing in home entertainment marketing departments.

As has been widely reported, the box office punch over the summer wasn’t as strong as it has been in past years, and that can affect performance on home entertainment. Still, what doesn’t take off with lightning speed at the box office can often make up ground in the home entertainment arena. Consumers distracted by vacations and summer pursuits often discover what they have missed at the box office on disc or digital.

The acclaimed Chef from Jon Favreau is a smaller-budget film about a man’s rekindling of his passion through cooking that many consumers will likely discover at home. Titles may become gifts to put under the tree, to stuff in a stocking or to offer up at the staff holiday party.

At the start of the fourth quarter, a lot is riding on the marketing acumen of home entertainment executives. In addition putting reporters in the driver’s seat of some very expensive and fast cars and staging cooking demonstrations by filmmakers (Favreau cooked up some Cuban sandwiches for Chef), marketers have designed an array of exclusive extras for retail clients. Look at any of our merchandising sections and you will see T-shirts, exclusive featurettes, toys and many other enticements rolled out at top retailers to draw consumers to buy discs or digital HD.

Home entertainment marketers are working closely with retail accounts to offer that something extra that will spawn an impulse buy. Here’s hoping their efforts help disc sales take off.


25 Sep, 2014

Stopping the Steady Slide


How do we stop the steady slide?

When I heard that U2’s new album was being given away free to every iTunes account, I thought to myself how far the music industry has sunk – to the point where albums, once the cash cow of the business, are essentially worthless.

It was actually a slow and steady process, and one in which music industry leaders have only themselves to blame.

Back in the glory days of vinyl LPs, eight-tracks and cassettes, kids like me had a great sampling mechanism for new music. It was called the single, and it cost 89 cents at the Wherehouse. We’d buy singles of songs we liked on the radio; if the flip side was good, as well, we’d spring $3.66 for the album down at Tower.

The model changed with the introduction of the CD in 1982. Record industry moguls, smelling money, jacked up the price of the CD single to $3.99; when consumers, outraged at the steep price hike, stopped buying them, they killed off the single completely and focused on raising album CD prices to make up the difference. That’s when consumers revolted and, with the birth of the Internet, took to swapping music files online through Napster and other sharing sites.

The record industry took a hard line against this practice, suing their customers and raising the price of CDs even more, to over $20. Ultimately, their plan backfired; consumers kept finding new ways to share music for free and the music industry’s profits plummeted until finally they caved and began selling music downloads themselves, at a fraction of the price they had been getting for physical discs.

The leaders of our industry watched and learned. When the movie industry launched a new format, the DVD, the price of movies went down, not up, and consumers responded by buying boatloads of movies and building massive home libraries.

And yet our industry’s fatal flaw was believing that the DVD gravy train would last forever and migrate over to the next advance in physical media, the Blu-ray Disc. They overlooked the fact that quality, as the music experience had shown, wasn’t nearly as important as they had thought. Music downloads don’t sound nearly as good as CDs, but to the average consumer that doesn’t matter: They gladly give up quality in return for cheaper product and ease of access.

And that’s our next big stumbling block: How do studios maintain the profit margin when consumers are perfectly OK with spending less than $10 a month to stream movies over Netflix, even if the quality isn’t as good as disc and the selection is limited to catalog product?

Keeping new releases out of the subscription streaming cycle has worked so far, but there are only so many hours in the day, and the novelty of Netflix has yet to wear off. This has led to a precipitous decline in disc sales, with consumers no longer hell bent on immediately rushing out and buying the latest hot new movie release when there’s plenty of stuff they still haven’t seen on Netflix.

The sale of movie downloads — EST, Digital HD, whatever you want to call it — is supposed to save our business, but despite early windows the practice still hasn’t caught on as studio heads had hoped. It’s still a fringe business, and there are those who believe it will never really flourish until the price comes way down, to $5 or less, a move that would destroy margins and put a serious dent in Hollywood’s revenue stream.

That’s why the studios continue to support the disc business, while looking everywhere they can to cut costs.

Will we eventually suffer the same fate as the music business, where content is essentially being given away? I hope not, but the truth is, we’re almost there. To counter this, studios need to find some way to transform the subscription business into a transactional business, although there are those who say it’s already too late.

If it is true that every challenge presents an opportunity, I hope we find it. I’ll be thinking of possible solutions, as well — perhaps while listening to my free U2 album on my iPhone.


23 Sep, 2014

Acting Like Good 'Neighbors'

Walmart's 'Neighbors' with T-shirt
Walmart's 'Neighbors' with T-shirt

Universal's hit comedy Neighbors was the only major theatrical film arriving on disc Sept. 23, but that didn't stop retailers from attaching their own exclusive promotions to the title to lure consumers to their party.

Walmart offered a deluxe box of the Neighbors Blu-ray combo pack with a frat T-shirt. Target offered the Blu-ray with a bonus disc containing 30 minutes of exclusive bonus content. And Best Buy offered free mini red beer cups for free (available for $4.99 separately) with the title.

Target also offered the second-season DVD of "Nashville" with two downloadable music tracks.

Target also offers a $5 gift card with a Target.com preorder or Transformers: Age of Extinction, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Maleficent or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


22 Sep, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Great Race' and more …


The Great Race (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk.
1965.
The best way to enjoy this onetime budget-buster about a farcical auto race back when cars were the new big thing is to take an “it is what it is” approach and appreciate its madcap audacity and director Blake Edwards’ lack of fear when it came to putting it on the slapstick line.
Read the Full Review

Trial

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Glenn Ford, Dorothy McGuire, Arthur Kennedy, John Hodiak, Juano Hernandez, Rafael Campos.
1955.
Modified from screenwriter Don Mankiewicz’s Harper Prize novel, Trial deals with a racially charged murder case in 1947 involving a Hispanic teenager, a white girl who dies in his presence at a beach where he was not supposed to be, and an attorney, played by Glenn Ford, who has never actually tried a case. Dorothy McGuire gives one of her best performances and Arthur Kennedy earned an Oscar nomination as a grade-‘A’ charlatan.
Read the Full Review