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Stephanie Prange is the editor in chief of Home Media Magazine. The Yale University graduate joined what was then Video Store Magazine in 1993 and was instrumental in transitioning the publication into a tabloid newsweekly. She spearheaded the publication’s reviews section, as well as aggressive coverage of the home video sales market. She also helped launch the magazine’s Web site in 1996. In her position as editor-in-chief since 2006, she has spearheaded the launch of such projects as the daily blast, transmitted via email each day to readers, and Agent DVD, a consumer publication aimed at genre enthusiasts who attend Comic-Con International in San Diego. She has freelanced for The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times and parenting publications. She has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Southern California.

Steph Sums It Up
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17 Feb, 2011

We Plan to Salute ‘Digital Drivers’

Stephanie Prange Home Media Magazine
Stephanie Prange Home Media Magazine

It is no secret that digital delivery of content has taken great strides in the past few years, and Home Media Magazine has been covering developments in this part of the business in every issue. Now we plan to take yet another step in elucidating the digital delivery world. In our upcoming March 28 issue, Home Media Magazine will single out our industry’s digital leaders, the executives at the studios and content services who are charting the course for digital delivery of movies and TV shows. We are calling them “Digital Drivers.”

Never in the history of the business have there been so many different ways to consume such content, in addition to physical media. From cable video-on-demand to online streaming and downloading to Apple apps such as those offered for the first time by Warner Bros. Digital Entertainment, the digital delivery arena is growing remarkably.

Our aim is to provide a roadmap of the players in the digital business who are key to licensing content both to service providers and from the studios. The philosophies and deals are in constant flux in this ever-evolving corner of this industry. Windows, prices — both to consumers and service providers — and players are adjusting constantly.

Thus, we are hoping to start an annual snapshot of this part of the business through its key executives. We invite everyone in the industry to offer input for our “Digital Drivers” section via our website, at www.homemediamagazine.com/news/digital-drivers-form, where readers can nominate their choices for digital players. Readers also may e-mail me with their suggestions and why each particular digital driver is a key player in the delivery of online movies and TV shows.

As part of our section, we also hope to offer a primer of phrases in the digital business to outline the alphabet soup of terms such as EST and iVOD.

While perhaps no one has the definitive road map for the future of digital delivery — and how content holders will continue to profit and grow the business of making great content — our aim is to help make that map more clear through identifying the “Digital Drivers” in our business.
Blu-ray Disc continues to be the gold standard in content delivery. However, digital delivery of content, too, will be part of our future, and we plan to cover it with the same thoroughness with which we have been covering the video business for more than 30 years.


24 Jan, 2011

The Passing of an Era

Stephanie Prange Home Media Magazine
Stephanie Prange Home Media Magazine

It’s the passing of an era. The kiosk has taken the video store’s place in rental market share, according to The NPD Group, with subscription services such as Netflix holding the biggest chunk of the rental market.

Consumers no longer trek to the local video store to choose an evening’s entertainment at the same rate they did in the past. Instead, a disc or two just shows up in the mail, or mom picks up a $1 rental while buying groceries. The communal experience of going to the local video store with the family or a group of friends to see what’s available and to agree on entertainment for the night is no longer an integral part of the American zeitgeist. Perusing the recommendations of the local store clerks or asking the customer in the aisle next to you, “Have you seen this? Is it good?” are a thing of the past. Movie rentals are no longer a destination pursuit.

It’s been a gradual shift. My 12-year-old, who once recalled “those boxy things we used to watch movies on” (VHS), owned most of the movies she wanted to view. My 8-year-old doesn’t remember a time when movies weren’t on little discs. Neither of them really did what I did as a kid, which was to go with my parents or a group of friends to the local video store to pick a movie to see for the night.

Home entertainment is increasingly an individual pursuit. Dad might be watching an action flick on the big screen while Mom updates her Facebook page and the kids use the Web to chat with friends or stream a TV show on their phone.

Each time I pass the deserted Blockbuster location near my house, I feel a bit sad. No store has yet opened in the empty spot, which still sports the trademark blue and yellow paint. You can just make out the ghostly outline of the Blockbuster logo.

Perhaps the video store will have a second act. Blockbuster may yet reinvent itself as it comes out of bankruptcy. Certainly, there are scrappy independent rentailers who have managed to weather change and forge a business that coexists with kiosks and Netflix.

But I do think the era of the communal video store trip is waning. The competition for each family member’s eyeballs is pulling Mom, Dad and the kids in different directions. The exploding variety of entertainment available is making the habit of hitting the video store a thing of the past.


11 Jan, 2011

Going to CES with a Really Old Blackberry

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The ball-thingy fell out of my Blackberry. I tried to fix it, but various little plastic and metal parts kept falling out.

Should I get a new ball-thingy for my Blackberry? Should I get a new phone/e-mail device? My employer settled on the latter, but — unfortunately — it wouldn’t be available until after the Consumer Electronics Show.

Thus, I was stuck with a cumbersome, but working, black behemoth of a Blackberry with the old click wheel at CES. How embarrassing!
I might as well have walked around with a cell phone the size of a banana (if you don’t remember, see the last few scenes of My Best Friend’s Wedding).

It got me thinking about planned obsolescence, you know the idea that companies create things to become obsolete so you have to buy another version.

It has worked quite well in the home video business. Studios that sold classics to folks on VHS were able to get them to buy the same movie on DVD and perhaps yet again on Blu-ray Disc. Extra features via “special editions” offered other chances to prompt the public to buy yet again. The promise of 3D Blu-ray could extend that format even further, leading consumers to buy films they have in 2D in 3D as well. On the cusp of CES, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment announced plans to release at least 15 movies in 3D Blu-ray in 2011, including animated classics The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, and current theatrical releases Tron: Legacy and Tangled.
But what comes after Blu-ray?

Streaming and download options, obviously, are the brave new world of home entertainment. But how will planned obsolescence look in that realm?

Certainly, download and streaming speeds will improve, offering better and better picture and sound quality that will someday match Blu-ray Disc.

Consumers will have to store their digital purchases on a hard drive of some sort or in the “cloud,” amongst the amorphous digital field controlled by outside servers.

In that environment, will anyone really want to “own” a movie or TV show?

As content becomes ephemeral, unattached to physical technology, many of the old models may fall by the wayside.

We are already seeing the concept of windows change. For instance, should the studios allow consumers to see movies in their homes shortly after they hit theaters — for a price? Perhaps, that is the new world of obsolescence — windows. If you want to get the latest title in the highest quality, you will need to buy into an earlier window. Still, windows are just part of the equation.

Digital technology is sure to offer more options than ever before for HOW consumers see a movie or TV show — on a small screen or large, with a low-quality picture for mobile or on high-definition for the big screen, just after it has left theaters or broadcast or many months or years after the last promotional spot has run.

The technologies that deliver movies are more diverse than ever, as are the options for consumers in viewing a particular movie or TV show. What may be obsolete to one consumer accustomed to seeing the latest content could be just the ticket to another who likes to view content on demand on a mobile phone, no matter how old it is.

Planned obsolescence in the content world could one day become obsolete.
 


9 Dec, 2010

‘Shelf Space’ Issues for Streaming?

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The recent dustup between Comcast and Netflix tech partner Level 3 Communications has brought to light a growing issue in the anything, anywhere, anytime brave new world of digital delivery.

Level 3 is protesting a new fee imposed on it by Comcast for transmitting movies and other content (the volume of which has jumped due to its new deal with Netflix).

Comcast claims it’s merely a distribution pipeline with limited resources, much like shelf space on the store floor. To expand that “shelf space” for Level 3’s new Netflix content, Comcast says it needs more compensation to deliver the greater flow of content. Level 3 says Comcast is doing its cable customers a disservice by not giving them what they want regardless of the content source.

Retailers for some time have charged fees to put products on endcaps or give them special placement. Shelf space is limited at a brick-and-mortar store and, in order to offer a broad range of products, the store may not necessarily be able to stock as much of a given product as consumers would like. The Internet, ostensibly, was supposed to be different, with consumers calling the shots on what they wanted to buy without restrictions. The new controversy calls that promised Internet nirvana into question.

In the case of Level 3, Comcast claims it is being asked to greatly increase the content delivery network’s allotted “shelf space” for its new Netflix traffic at no extra charge. Complicating the issue is the fact that Comcast itself wants the prime “shelf space” for its own cable and Xfinity service, which increasingly competes with Netflix streaming.

The key is how much traffic Comcast owes Level 3 at what price. It’s unclear just how much the extra traffic is costing Comcast, which is the heart of the problem.

Perhaps the upcoming FCC vote on this issue, dubbed “net neutrality,” will find some common ground. It may be that the Internet needs some sort of traffic cop to balance the wishes of consumers and streaming companies against the cost to companies that deliver that streaming and other services via the Web.

Unfortunately, the Internet’s “shelf space” may not be as easily defined as that of Walmart or Target. Which companies or persons bear which costs may be very difficult to determine.


29 Nov, 2010

Is There Any Money in Streaming?

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Drowned out by the Wall Street hype about the growth of digital delivery, industry pundits (myself included) have often wondered if the economics of streaming content would ever work out.

Netflix’s bow of a $7.99 streaming-only subscription in the United States this week, on the heels of Hulu’s rollout of its “premium” service at the same price (after a price drop), may finally enlighten us. Each move starts to give the industry some way of quantifying the streaming offerings out there.

I was a big critic of Netflix’s decision to offer streaming at no extra charge at the outset, concerned that when you offer something for free, consumers are reluctant to pay for it afterward. I may be proved wrong in my initial reluctance to giving customers something for free. But I think most would agree that the ultimate test is a streaming service that makes a profit without leaning on the old-fashioned disc rental business (in the case of Netflix) or on free, unlimited access (in the case of Hulu).

Still, Netflix has somewhat muddied the streaming waters by offering the streaming-only service at the same time it raises prices for disc rentals. If you want to rent Blu-ray discs from Netflix, there’s an even steeper premium.

Each is taking a big gamble, and it will be interesting to see which has its finger on the pulse of the consumer. We are getting much closer to finding out if there is actually any money in streaming.

One anecdote from my own life: My mother recently signed up for Netflix. She checks e-mail only about once a month, so the idea of her streaming anything seems remote. When she gets wind of the fact that the price may go up, I’m not so sure she will stay on. Will other disc renters feel the same way? Will the sub price for streaming plus disc rentals plus the premium for Blu-ray make some re-evaluate Netflix’s offering? A dollar or two to rent a disc from Redbox may start to look really inviting.

In a poll at hackingnetflix.com, by Nov. 23 nearly half of respondents said they wouldn’t change their Netflix plan, while about a third said they would downsize their plan to save money and about 10% would drop DVD rentals to go streaming-only; 10% said they would quit Netflix.

Still, the jury is out, and I give credit to Netflix and Hulu for trying to quantify their product. I’m ready to get past the hype and move toward digital profit. The ultimate goal is an entertainment industry in which content owners, creators and distributors can make a decent profit.


22 Nov, 2010

TV a Big Part of Netflix’s Streaming

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While Wall Street pundits have proclaimed that Netflix’s streaming growth is coming at the expense of packaged media, it looks to me that the subscription service’s streaming is actually complementary to traditional forms of entertainment.

In a recent speech, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said repurposed television shows account for 50% of streaming content for Netflix subscribers (see story). And now Netflix has bowed a streaming-only option (see story).

Sarandos rightly said that subscribers like to stream in short bursts, and that the service is complementary to existing cable and satellite service.

“It fits peoples’ lifestyles,” he said.

That makes sense to me.

While on a plane, at the gym or waiting in line, I’d like the ability to stream a TV show on an iPod, iPad or other mobile device. I’m not exactly going to haul around a laptop to view an entire feature-length movie on Blu-ray Disc or DVD just to run errands.

Even on the plane, where there are so many interruptions, viewing a short TV show on my mobile device cuts down on the amount of equipment I have to lug around and offers a snack-sized bite of entertainment when I may not be able to get fully engrossed in a feature.

Having access to Netflix on your mobile device is like owning a library of TV reruns that can be viewed to pass the time. I recently saw an amusement park attendee viewing her iPad while waiting for her kids to get off a ride. I doubt she was perusing an feature-length drama. I’m betting a TV episode would last about as long as it would take for her kids to finish the ride (it was a slow day, after all).

On a mobile device to pass the time, lower-quality video streaming fits the bill. Most folks aren’t looking for top-notch picture and sound while on the move, but just a bit of entertainment to pass the time while they wait in line at the post office or trudge on the treadmill at the gym.

That’s why Blu-ray sales continue to grow at the same time streaming services such as Netflix also flourish. They serve two different, but ultimately complementary, consumer needs.


14 Oct, 2010

What a Horror-ific Night!

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The reputed ghosts at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel  (among them Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift) must have had a great time Oct., 12, as many of the most influential and celebrated filmmakers, actors and producers in the horror and thriller genre converged for the second annual Reaper Awards, presented by Home Media Magazine and DreadCentral.com.

The Roosevelt was home to the first Academy Awards in 1929 and served as a perfect, haunting setting for Reaper Awards: The Sequel.

What a gracious and welcoming family of talent the horror genre supports!

The host of guests at the cocktail party and dinner looked like a wedding party  — albeit a little offbeat one.

Lest we forget in our industry, the DVD/Blu-ray Disc release is often regarded by filmmakers as the only lasting testament to their work. I’ve talked to many a filmmaker who likes streaming and Internet distribution, but really wants that disc to have in their collection as a record of their effort. That’s why it is so rewarding to honor the work of folks who often find their audience via home media and live on via disc.

Lifetime Achievement Grimmy winner Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night) lauded the home media industry for allowing old and new fans to appreciate his films.

“These films are kept alive by multiple generations,” he said. “Parents pass these films on to their children, and when they [become adults], they pass them on to the next generation. Because of VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, [VOD], these films live on forever.”

Thank you to our generous sponsors who made this really cool evening possible: Fox, Anchor Bay, FEARnet, Warner, Sony, eOne, Image, Lionsgate, MTI, Paramount and Universal.

Thank you to my two right hands in helming this sequel: Angelique Flores, who handled the operations, and John Latchem, who supervised the voting process and created the video presentation. Also thanks go to other Home Media Magazine team members, Billy Gil, Melbert Sebayan, Renee Rosado, Chris Tribbey and Miko Revereza, who assisted at the show.

And a special thank you to Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton, co-founder and editor in chief of our partnerDreadCentral.com, who was the perfect master of ceremonies for the evening.

We look forward next year to Reaper: Part III.


30 Sep, 2010

Blu-ray’s Penetrating Questions

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Blu-ray Disc format penetration is growing, despite competition from old stalwart DVD. The format’s penetration has doubled since July 2008, with 17% of U.S. households owning at least one Blu-ray device in July 2010, according to research from Centris Market Intelligence (see story, cover). I’d say that’s a pretty good run so far for a high-def disc that only won the format war in February 2008 and then faced a brutal recession.

Unfortunately, Blu-ray still can’t catch a break, even while gaining significant ground. Industry pundits are still pointing out that it’s no DVD. But I think that was clear from the beginning. Blu-ray always was destined to be different from its predecessor. I didn’t expect it to match the pattern of the first disc format to be sold directly to consumers in breadth. DVD had the advantage of the first crack at truly selling catalog directly to consumers, in addition to the inception of the TV DVD business. No one bought much TV product on VHS.

In comparison to DVD’s advantages in the marketplace when it debuted, Blu-ray has a harder row to hoe. What may make Blu-ray a bigger star is 3D.

In the 3D arena, Blu-ray has a clear advantage over video-on-demand and Internet streaming options. Those two distribution avenues cannot possibly match the quality of 3D on Blu-ray. The application could in fact offer a new dimension to Blu-ray sales.

At first, I admittedly was a little skeptical about the 3D wave, and it’s potential for the high-definition format. I’d seen a few bad versions of the new 3D technology (one film actually gave me a headache), and I couldn’t see how that would possibly be an engine for growth in the home.

But now I’ve noticed growing studio and hardware support behind 3D — even in hard economic times. 

Anecdotally, 3D in the home seems to be fascinating consumers as well. At a recent Costco, I noticed an older man comment to his wife that the picture on a flat-screen TV on display looked blurry, which sounded like a bad sign for 3D. Then, he noticed the glasses in front of the TV, and looked through.

“Oh, wow!” he said.

That same “wow” factor may be the ticket to more Blu-ray growth.


9 Sep, 2010

3D Bundling a Smart Move

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One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome with the launch of HDTV — due to the HD DVD versus Blu-ray Disc format war — was the confusion about high-definition disc content. Certain content wouldn’t play on certain players. By avoiding that problem with Blu-ray and 3DTV, the industry seems to have gotten it right this time. Content, instead of confusing the issue, can be a major boost to the adoption of a new dimension in TVs.

By bundling major 3D theatrical hits with 3DTVs, studios and consumer electronics manufacturers are offering buyers an instant “wow” factor. Consumers can go home with their electronics purchase and immediately get the full benefit of 3D without the worry that they’ve got a disc that may soon become obsolete.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment and Sony Electronics are partnering for consumer and retail education, promotion, and marketing support of in-home 3D devices, including bundling 3D Blu-ray versions of recent box office hit Alice in Wonderland and family favorite Bolt with the electronics. Meanwhile, Panasonic is reportedly partnering with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment  to bundle its 3DTVs with the 3D Blu-ray release of box office sensation Avatar in December, and Samsung is collaborating with DreamWorks Animation to bundle How to Train Your Dragon and select “Shrek” films with 3DTVs this fall.

I’ve already seen enticing and reasonably priced displays of 3DTVs with the whole setup, including the 3D Blu-ray player. Add a movie such as Alice in Wonderland, Avatar or How to Train Your Dragon to the bundle, and it’s even easier to close the sale.

But the studios aren’t doing this merely to help out their friends in the electronics industry.

While electronics companies are obviously benefitting from studio content, the studios ultimately may be the bigger winners. As was often noted during the high-definition format war, sell the razor and make money for years to come on the razorblades. Content in 3D plays on any of the 3DTVs out there. This time around, the studios’ “razorblades” work with any of the “razors” out there.

With the hits the studios are bundling with 3DTVs, it looks like the format’s electronics may start moving off retail shelves this holiday season despite the bad economy. And that will mean studio sales of 3D Blu-rays for many seasons to come, and a new lease on life for a Blu-ray format increasingly facing competition from high-definition digital delivery. Blu-ray’s advantage has always been its high quality of sound and picture. The new 3D format will again show off the fact that Blu-ray is the best way to watch movies.


26 Aug, 2010

Honoring the Best in the Business

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We’re in awards season here at Home Media Magazine.

A few weeks ago we announced the top discs of 2009 with our annual DVD Critics Awards (Warner Home Video’s glorious Wizard of Oz re-release took top honors) and next week we will honor the best in high-definition Blu-ray Discs.

There are so many great people behind these discs, from the sales and marketing executives to the supplemental material producers to the replicators and authoring companies. We appreciate your hard work and relish the opportunity to recognize it.

And there’s more to come.

Our panel of horror judges is evaluating titles and choosing the nominees for our annual Reaper Awards. The awards, honoring the best discs in the horror genre, will be presented Oct. 12 at a gala dinner and cocktail reception at the legendary (and haunted) Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. We’ve had more than 100 submissions for the nominee process, and there is some truly great product out there. We’ll be announcing those final nominees vying to receive a coveted Grimmy soon. Home Media Magazine is co-presenting the Reaper Awards with the in-the-know horror site DreadCentral.com. DreadCentral’s editor-in-chief and co-founder Uncle Creepy is again set to host the show — and we look forward to a frightfully good party.

Also, coming in late October is our much-anticipated annual Women in Home Entertainment issue, in which we honor the savvy and capable women who help make this industry what it is. We will soon set up an online nomination process for that honor. Until then, please pass on nominees to me. It’s really a pleasure to honor the great women in our business, and I look forward to this issue every year.

In these recessionary times, our industry (and everyone) can use something to celebrate. The Home Media Magazine team sees our mission as both informing the home media industry through our website and magazine and enthusiatically trumpeting its top accomplishments. Offering these awards and galas is one of the ways we like to complete that mission.

It’s our pleasure, and we welcome your enthusiastic input in the process.