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Home Entertainment Doing Fine Despite Misguided Media Criticisms

30 Apr, 2015 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Ever since home entertainment, buoyed by DVD sales, overtook theatrical as Hollywood’s primary revenue stream in 2001, it has been a frequent target for those in the media who take great delight in hammering success. When the growth in disc sales began to slow during the high-definition disc transition and format war, countless reports surfaced that the sky was falling on the home entertainment business — a wrongful cry that grew louder when consumer spending on disc sales actually did begin to top off and then decline, even though those dollars were merely redirected toward  on-demand streaming and Digital HD.

The business is evolving, toward a digital distribution model, but if you look at the numbers you’ll find the total amount of money consumers are spending on bringing movies and TV shows into their homes and mobile devices has remained remarkably solid, despite competition from all corners of the Web, from Facebook to YouTube.

Indeed, the media’s cries that home entertainment’s days are numbered have become so frequent, and yet so hollow, that it is a wonder that anyone still takes them seriously.

Perhaps cognizant of this, some in the media have drafted a new game plan: If we can’t argue, with a straight face, that home entertainment spending is falling precipitously, then we can pick apart the business and brazenly declare the numbers are cooked.

It is this travesty that online gossip site Deadline has perpetrated with its assault yesterday on the latest quarterly home entertainment numbers report from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, which has first-quarter home entertainment spending nudging up a quarter of a percent, when all aspects of the business are factored in. The numbers show a continued slide away from traditional packaged-media sales and rentals into their digital equivalents, Digital HD sales and on-demand streaming.

Deadline quotes analyst Michael Nathanson, of MoffettNathanson Research, who according to the gossip sheet is “at the forefront of analysts who believe” — get this — that spending on “streaming services led by Netflix” should not be included in the home entertainment tally. He feels Netflix falls into the same category as “cable TV or premium channels HBO, Showtime and Starz,” according to Deadline, and thus should not be counted. “What’s more,” Deadline quotes the analyst as saying, the subscription streaming services "are mostly comprised of TV products, while the majority of DVD or VOD transactions are related to film.”

How’s that? Netflix, which began life as a DVD-by-mail rental service and then transitioned into streaming as the next chapter in the rental business, isn’t part of home entertainment? This reminds me of those occasional stories that popped up in the early days of DVD, when the business was booming, that implied home entertainment was dying because videocassette rentals were falling.

And as for the assertion that subscription streaming shouldn’t count because much of their fare consists of TV shows, that’s equally ridiculous. It’s the “on demand” element that sets home entertainment apart, and watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix is no different from renting or buying the series on disc. Let’s not forget that in the early 2000s, the compact size and greater capacity of DVD led to a burgeoning TV-on-DVD market that at its peak topped $4 billion in annual sales.

As for the original content that inspires comparing SVOD services to TV networks, they are, if anything, more akin to the long-form equivalent of direct-to-video fare than they are the traditional television model, and thus still within the realm of what would be considered "home entertainment."

No, Deadline and Michael Nathanson, you are sadly mistaken. The home entertainment business is evolving, this is true — but you can’t just arbitrarily cut out a traditional segment of the business, rental, because it’s being consummated in electronic fashion rather than physical form.

You might not want to hear it, but home entertainment is alive and thriving — and those of us who have been around for 20 or more years are elated that at a time when more and more eyeballs are watching farting cat videos on YouTube or “liking” some status update on Facebook, filmed content is still being consumed, on demand, as heavily as it ever was.

If you feel like tearing apart some product or business, go after something that genuinely deserves it — like Smart Cars or newspapers.

Home entertainment is doing just fine.

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