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Thomas K. Arnold is considered one of the leading home entertainment journalists in the country. He is publisher and editorial director of Home Media Magazine, the home entertainment industry’s weekly trade publication. He also is home entertainment editor for The Hollywood Reporter and frequently writes about home entertainment and theatrical for USA Today. He has talked about home entertainment issues on CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight,” “Entertainment Tonight,” Starz, The Hollywood Reporter and the G4 network’s “Attack of the Show,” where he has been a frequent guest. Arnold also is the executive producer of The Home Entertainment Summit, a key annual gathering of studio executives and other industry leaders, and has given speeches and presentations at a variety of other events, including Home Media Expo and the Entertainment Supply Chain Academy.

TK's Take
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22 Jun, 2009

Gardening or Gaming--Gee, That's a Tough Choice...

Stop the presses! Monday begins with the earth-shattering announcement from the Pew Internet & American Life Project that a new study shows that 97% of all teens between the ages of 12 and 17 play video games. Gee, who would have thought....

What I find interesting, though, is that while the study says 90% of gamer parents know what they're kids are playing, just 13% believe that video games have a negative influence on their children's behavior.

I'm definitely in that 90%--my oldest son, 13-year-old Justin, loves Call of Duty, while the two younger boys, 11-year-old Conner and 7-year-old Hunter, like Wii Fitness and anything SpongeBob--but I'm not quite in the majority who believe there are no negative ramifications. The principal of my sons' school, Denise Coates, has an interesting view that makes more and more sense the more I think about it. The problem with video games, as she sees it, is that the only way to gain something--to win a prize, gold coins, advance in the game, you name it--is by hurting someone else. This can be as benign as SpongeBob zapping some strange sea creatures, or as realistic as the Call of Duty soldiers lobbing a grenade into an enemy encampment. In any event, it doesn't exactly send a good message to our children.

I ran this by another parent and she nodded in agreement, but then added, "I don't know what's worse, though--when we were kids we didn't blow each other up in video games, we shot each other with toy guns."

She's got a point, but I can't help but feel too much exposure to violence does tend to desensitize kids. I'm not for censorship of any fashion, mind you--just some parental control. And that's the approach I am taking. I'm not banning my kids from video games, but I am limiting their time in front of the screen and encouraging them to read, ride their bikes, play in the pool, etc. And when I'm home, I make sure we engage in some form of physical activity, from going to the beach and swimming, surfing or paddle-boarding to hiking, biking and kayaking. I'm also taking the boys to museums, to the zoo, to the harbor--anywhere that's part of the real world, not the virtual one.

And you know what? All this extra exercise and mental stimulation--heck, we even drove up to the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum a few weeks ago--is making me feel better, as well, both physically and mentally. Why, the other day I even let a little old lady merge into my lane instead of speeding up and honking had she tried to cut in.

I wonder if the boys would like to try gardening?

19 Jun, 2009

Digital Delivery Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

Analysts, for some unknown reason, might still love downloads over packaged media. But what's known in the biz as "EST," for "electronic sellthrough," has been getting quite a bum rap of late, chiefly because consumers don't seem to want to spend $20 or even $12.99 for a downloaded movie when they can get the real thing for about the same, or even less.
There's a great column in Electronic House by Arlen Schweiger called "Blu-ray vs. Digital Downloads: Tale of the Tape."  Arlen makes a compelling case for why he believes Blu-ray Disc, as the new standard-bearer for packaged media, will prevail. He notes the quality is unsurpassed, while "pickings are slim if you're searching for HD downloads in 1080p." The same goes for audio quality, extras and even content availability, when you factor in DVD (and you should, since all Blu-ray players are backwards compatible).
And while a certain segment of the population certainly will be drawn to the ease and convenience of digital delivery (chiefly on the rental side, however), "for dedicated home theater/projection system owners, who realize the quality difference between Blu-ray and everything else, it's a no-brainer."
And my point earlier about analysts loving downloads may be eroding quicker than we think. Our senior editor, Erik Gruenwedel, wrote a great story (click here to see it on our Web site) titled "Show Me the Money: Analysts Sour on Streaming." He noted that while analysts by and large are still "enamored by the promise of streaming," a growing number of them now 'contend a Pandora’s box scenario is emerging that could result in revenue and margins that pale in comparison to the traditional business models.... Laura Martin, analyst with Soleil Media Metrics, said the rush to migrate professionally produced TV content on the Internet for free could turn out to be 'anti-consumer,' 'anti-media' and even 'anti-America'."
Food for thought, eh?


17 Jun, 2009

'Gran Torino' Wins Triple Crown

Warner Home Video's Gran Torino, fresh off a $148 million box office rally, topped all three DVD/Blu-ray Disc charts its first week in stores: the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart, Home Media Magazine's video rental chart and the Nielsen VideoScan Blu-ray Disc sales chart. For the full story, click here.

For Blu-ray Disc watchers, here's some additional information not in the chart story: Of Gran Torino's total sales, 14% of all units sold were on Blu-ray Disc. For second-ranked The International, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the ratio is higher, at 20%.

Warner's 40th anniversary edition of Woodstock, which debuted at No. 7 on the sales chart, generated 21% of its total unit sales from Blu-ray Disc.

16 Jun, 2009

Catalog Resurgence?

One of the most common refrains in home entertainment circles is that among our industry's many maladies is a dramatic slump in catalog sales. It's been going on for several years in the DVD arena, and has been attributed largely to the fact that most so-called "saleable" older movies were released on DVD years ago, so for the typical collector there's nothing left to buy. The sagging economy has only made matters worse, and now we're seeing valiant efforts by studios to release classic films on Blu-ray Disc also met with consumer indifference.

And make no mistake: studios are cranking out an admirable stream of great old movies on Blu-ray Disc, from How the West Was Won and Woodstock to more contemporary classics such as The ShiningForrest Gump and Ghostbusters.

Sales, so far, have been marginal, but I sincerely believe we're in for a turnaround, and here's why.

There's the quality issue — do old movies really look better in high-definition? — that has led to some hesitation among Blu-ray owners, but that's becoming less and less of a factor, as the consensus is a resounding "Yes." Check out some of the forums and chat groups — there's a growing chorus of fans who say just about any old movie looks better on Blu-ray, simply because old movies were shot on film, which has a higher resolution than even modern HD cameras.

As one recent post said: "Basically you can get the catalog films that have been released on BD with no worry. It'll look as good if not better than when you or your parent/s saw it in theaters."

With the quality issue settled, then, it becomes more a question of need — and whether or not that need supersedes our growing propensity to pinch pennies.

Ultimately, it will. I have a friend who pulled out a copy of Monster, to watch again. The case, he said, has gotten shabby (my friend's DVD collection was moved several times and spent a few months in the garage during a family room remodel) and the disc has several scratches. It still plays OK, but he likes the movie so much he doesn't want to risk future disappointment and wants to buy a new copy. His first question to me: "Is it available on Blu-ray?" I told him it's coming out on Blu-ray Sept. 1 and he was ecstatic, saying he'll surely pick it up.

Another friend, who loves uniformity, now has several dozen Blu-ray Discs sprinkled among a library of some 1,000 movies. "When I put a Blu-ray Disc back on the shelf and pull out a DVD, it feels like a VHS cassette," he said. "Blu-ray looks better on the screen, but it also looks better on the shelf."

Let's all keep our fingers crossed my scenario holds true. Our business could use some good news.

10 Jun, 2009

Inside the Charts

Warner Home Video's He's Just Not That Into You swept the national home video sales and rental charts its first week in stores, in large part because it was the only big theatrical title to arrive in stores the week ending June 7. You can read the full story by clicking here. But you didn't come here just for the traditional 220-word chart story, did you? You came for a more thorough inspection of the weekly sales and rental charts, and that, dear reader, is what you shall receive, in the form of eight points of interest.

1. Of the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert for the week ending June 7, six of the top 20 sellers are new releases. Of the holdovers, two have been on the chart for three months: Summit Entertainment's Twilight, which actually rose to No. 10 from No. 13 the previous week, and Walt Disney Home Entertainment's Bolt (No. 19 this week, No. 9 last week).

2. Lionsgate's season four set of "Weeds," the week's top-selling TV release, generated a healthy 17% of its total sales from the Blu-ray Disc edition.

3. Defiance was the top-selling Blu-ray Disc for the week, followed closely by Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, which sold 87% as many copies as Defiance. That's significant, our market research director, Kelly Burner, tells me, because Final Fantasy appeals to a niche anime/video game fan demographic and has been out on DVD for more than a year.(This information didn't make it into the regular chart story because the data was late this week.) In fact, Blu-ray sales were so strong that they propelled Final Fantasy back into the overall top 20 sellers list (it was No. 17).

4. The top-selling title so far this year continues to be Twilight, by far. The year's No. 2 seller, Bolt, and No. 3 seller, 20th Century Fox's Marley & Me, sold fewer copies, combined, than Twilight did on its own.

5. The theatrical catalog market can't seem to shake its doldrums. Recent catalog releases just aren't showing up in the First Alert top 20, and even if you dig deeper, you'll find Blu-ray Disc fans aren't rushing out and replacing their libraries. Two catalog titles that are bubbling under the top 20, Seven and Dodgeball, aren't even available on Blu-ray Disc.

6. Only three new releases made it into Home Media Magazine's top 50 rental list for the week ending June 7, which shows you that the rental business, which used to be home to all sorts of adventurous home video explorers, is now largely a matter of convenience and is as hit-driven as sellthrough, if not more.

7. Rental customers also don't mind waiting. After three weeks, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is still the country's No. 3 rental, and the falloff between this week and last week is just 18%.

8. Even though it's a classic sellthrough title, the 20th Century Fox family film Marley & Me is still among the nation's top 20 rentals more than two months after its release. Indeed, it's tied for 20th place with Sony Pictures' Seven Pounds, released the same day but a much more typical rental title.


9 Jun, 2009

Psst! I've Got A Secret....

Check back at the Home Media Magazine Web site promptly at 7 tonight (that's Pacific Time) for a major Blu-ray Disc catalog title announcement. I promised the studio I wouldn't give any hints, but believe me this is one we've all been waiting for!

8 Jun, 2009

Box Office Actuals Are In

An update to my box office report from yesterday, courtesy of our friend Brandon Gray at Box Office Mojo:

"Significantly underestimated on Sunday, The Hangover pulled ahead of Up to lead the weekend with a smashing $45 million. While Hangover was upgraded with actual grosses reporting, Land of the Lost dropped to $18.8 million."

Check out Brandon's site at www.boxofficemojo.com


7 Jun, 2009

What's 'Up' Doesn't Always Come Too Far Down

Two wide new releases aimed at young adults and families, Warner Bros.' The Hangover and Universal Studios' Land of the Lost remake, failed to bounce Disney/Pixar's Up from the top of the weekend box office charts. Up made $44.2 million, but the R-rated Hangover came in at a surprisingly strong No. 2 with $43.3 million, significantly more than expected. Only Land of the Lost disappointed, generating just $19.5 million for a weak No. 3 weekend finish. To read my full box office report in USA Today, click here.

3 Jun, 2009

Guess What's on Top of the Charts -- Again!

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment continued to dominate the DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ending May 31 as the studio's screwball comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop retained its top position on both the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart and Home Media Magazine's rental chart. For the complete story, click here.

3 Jun, 2009

VOD Not Necessarily the Enemy

Remember the old days when talk of shortening pay-per-view windows to within 30 days of a film's home video release sent video retailers into a fit of anger? Fearing cannibalization, they threatened boycotts and complained loudly and vociferously to anyone who would listen.

But then some retailers noticed that a TV showing could actually help their business, almost like a commercial. Even a PPV debut wasn't the rental killer they had feared; lots of consumers simply preferred the flexibility of being able to rent a movie and watch it at home at their leisure, being able to stop, pause, and rewind as often as they liked — something PPV, at the time, couldn't match.
The advent of video-on-demand has certainly raised the bar on electronic delivery, but the big news today that Comcast is extending the VOD window from one to two days for movies from Warner Bros. and Lionsgate certainly is no cause for alarm to those retailers who rely on packaged media for their livelihood. All right, maybe rental dealers have a legitimate complaint, although the case could be made that easier access to VOD is no more of a threat than Netflix and the proliferation of Redbox kiosks.
But our business these days primarily revolves around sellthrough, and I contend that extended VOD windows can only help DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales by increasing awareness and making it easier than ever for consumers to try before they buy. Consumers fall into two categories, and those who like to collect movies certainly won't be deterred by VOD. Those who prefer a transitory experience — the rental crowd, if you will — may be swayed to "rent" electronically, but from a studio standpoint, that's a far better deal than watching Redbox rent their movies for a buck a night, not give one dime back, and cannibalize sales to boot because that Redbox kiosk happens to be located right inside a Wal-Mart store.
The studios have never liked the traditional rental model, from day one. Revenue-sharing made rental tolerable, but the studios have always derived far more money from sellthrough. The advent of Netflix, with its subscription model, and Redbox, with its dollar rentals, has put a serious ding in revenue-sharing, particularly in the case of Redbox, which from what I told does not have a single revenue-sharing deal in place. So not only are studios no longer getting much of a cut of the rental action, but they also have to contend with the troubled economy, which has led to a slump in DVD sales but a surge in DVD rentals. "The fact is, the rental business is up while the sellthrough business is down, and if a consumer walks into a Wal-Mart store and sees a Redbox kiosk he just might rent a movie for a buck instead of walking all the way to the back to buy the movie for $20, unless it's something he really, really wants to own," one studio executive told me.
So is it any wonder the studios are becoming more and more accommodating with VOD providers such as Comcast? Like physical video rental, it's a transitory experience, but unlike physical rental the studios get better margins and the chance to help rather than hinder sales.
Warren Lieberfarb's vision at last is coming true: Consumers who collect movies buy DVD or Blu-ray Disc, while those who prefer to rent movies do so electronically, where studios and not retailers are in control.
Video rental dealers may not like it, but hey, that's Hollywood.