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Six Questions: Shawn Strickland, CEO of Redbox Instant by Verizon

21 Jan, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey

Shawn Strickland

Discs combined with unlimited streaming — it’s not exactly a new concept.

But Redbox Instant by Verizon — which launches out of beta testing this spring — pairs the two together in a way that’s aimed at competing with the likes of Netflix, if on different terms.

Eight bucks a month gets users four DVD rentals at Redbox kiosks and unlimited access to older titles from Warner and other content owners, and to relatively recent releases from Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate (thanks to a deal with multiplatform premium TV service Epix, co-owned by the three studios). Add $1 more a month and subscribers can redeem Blu-rays instead of DVDs with their four kiosk credits.

If you’re looking for TV shows to stream, look elsewhere. Electronic sellthrough is in the cards, but UltraViolet access isn’t expected until summer. And Redbox Instant by Verizon isn’t accessible across all devices just yet. However, Shawn Strickland, CEO of Redbox Instant, says the advantages of the service are unique and clear.

Strickland took time during the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to discuss the future of the service with Home Media Magazine.

• It’s early, but so far we see a lot of deep catalog offered. Are you aiming for more new-release titles, keeping release windows in mind?

Strickland: In terms of presentation, with the merchandising of Redbox Instant, we’re offering consumers both the best in new releases on DVD and premium [streaming] content, like from Epix, along with higher-value catalog content. I think over time this market plays out not too differently from how cable networks and premium [VOD] subscriptions have played out, in that 10 years ago they were showing “Law & Order” re-runs and doing a movie of the week. They built an audience, they built a brand that matches that audience, and today they’ve built a unique content experience to reflect that. It’s going to play off the same in this space. Our expectation, and what we’re trying to do, is build scale off the Redbox user base, and with a [streaming offering] heighten that value proposition with consumers.

• Streaming has been the emphasis for Redbox Instant since it was announced. How important is electronic sellthrough for the future of the service?

Strickland: Yes, [electronic sellthrough] will be an important part of the business, but with Redbox Instant it will be ‘I want to watch this right now.’ For us it’s consumer choice. We fully expect in the early going that disc content is going to be the high-profile, Batman-type stuff, and that for Redbox Instant it will take our users a bit to get comfortable with the digital format.

• How does UltraViolet work into Redbox Instant by Verizon?

Strickland: We’ve done a deal with Warner Bros. to be in the UltraViolet ecosystem, and we’re looking at mid-year, in terms of when it will show up for sellthrough content going out the door. We’re working with our other studio partners to finalize implementation of UltraViolet for more titles.

• Are there any devices Redbox Instant is not on right now that you’re working hard to be included on?

Strickland: All of them! Ultimately, if it’s not in the living room, it’s a hobby. But we’re focused on all of them. We’re going through the certification process for a couple [devices], and we hope to be making a few announcements in the next few weeks. The [hardware] segment of the industry is as competitive as our segment of the industry, and a lot of them are figuring out their business models and determining their value proposition. For a few of the ones that have been excited about us, we’ve been holding them back because we’ve been so focused on getting the first release out. Now that we’re out, we’re able to move much more quickly on that. It’s a fun time to be here because I think nobody knows what that picture is going to look like five years out, and there are so many players who have the opportunity to change the current model.

• Where are you with the number of available titles at launch out of beta, and where would you like to be by the end of 2013?

Strickland: Our streaming offering is about 4,500 titles, and we’re still adjusting a few hundred titles [to that count]. For EST we’re at about 2,500, and we have plans for additional offerings later this year. We’re not trying to be all things for all people, so we’re not going to fill up on a lot TV content, but we know there are some additional opportunities out there that make sense for our customers.

• Redbox Instant ties its streaming with its kiosk offerings for DVDs and Blu-ray Discs. Any thoughts of doing the same with games, both physical and digital?

Strickland: We have to walk before we run. We’re so focused on making sure we can deliver on this, that while there’s a logical step there, we just don’t have the mental bandwidth to process it right now. It’s not an unfair question because we ask ourselves that for a few minutes between conference calls while driving home to see our kids before they go to bed. As we progress this year and evaluate how this takes off, we’ll tee up the questions of “What’s next?”

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