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.
Now that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) has become the second studio to announce Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc releases, two months after 20th Century Fox became the first, we’re likely to see most if not all the other majors follow.
It reminds me of the Blu-ray Disc launch 10 years ago, although back then the studios waited until the days leading up to the Consumer Electronics Show in January to issue their proclamations of support.
Of course, back then there was a competing format, HD DVD, that was stealing much of Blu-ray Disc’s thunder. With Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, there is no rival packaged-media format, at least none that I am aware of. The competition will be other methods of Ultra HD delivery, including hard drives and, of course, streaming.
Still, the good old Blu-ray Disc certainly has an advantage over its competitors, which is why a growing number of analysts and observers, me included, expect a resurgence in sales once Ultra HD takes hold — particularly if, as rumored, Sony is considering an enhanced PS4 capable of playing Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs.
As HD Guru observed in an Oct. 9 post, “What seems clear is that the Ultra HD Blu-ray system will stand as the reference-quality playback standard for 4K Ultra HD, high dynamic range and wide color gamut content delivery going forward.”
The Ultra HD Blu-ray specification, finalized last May, addresses a range of factors beyond simply increasing resolution that will significantly enhance the home entertainment experience for consumers. In addition to delivering content in up to 3840x2160 resolution, the Ultra HD Blu-ray format enables delivery of a significantly expanded color range and allows for the delivery of high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame-rate content. Next-generation immersive, object-based sound formats also will be delivered via the Ultra HD Blu-ray specification. Additionally, with the optional digital bridge feature, the specification enhances the value of content ownership by giving consumers, through an enabling technology like Vidity, the ability to view their content across the entire spectrum of in-home and mobile devices.
As for the future of Ultra HD, let there be no mistake: This is no tangent, like 3D, but, rather, the next step in our natural progression toward true movie-theater quality. DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group recently reported that Ultra HD TV set sales shot up 494% in the third quarter, with nearly 2 million sets sold so far this year. The Consumer Technology Association (until Nov. 9, the Consumer Electronics Association) has forecast 4K Ultra HDTV shipments of 4.5 million units for 2015, up from the 1.4 million units shipped last year. And according to IHS DisplaySearch, sales of 4K Ultra HDTVs are expected to reach 100 million units by 2019.
But studios and retailers won’t realize the benefits of this until 2017, at the earliest. While Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc software and hardware will begin appearing in stores next year, initial player prices of more than $3,000 (for the Panasonic DMR-UBZ1, which went on sale in Japan Nov. 15) will keep the lid on sales, mostly likely through next year’s holiday season.
But that’s the normal consumer electronics pattern. The first DVD players to hit the market, in 1997, cost more than $1,000; it took three years before prices plunged below $100. Similarly, back in 2006, the first two Blu-ray Disc players, from Sony and Pioneer, retailed for $1,000 and $1,800, respectively.
How long will it take Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc players to reach the “affordable” mark, generally considered below $300? It’s hard to tell — but if consumer electronics companies are smart, they will do so quickly, in light of the continued proliferation of home entertainment options.
Once they do, a Blu-ray Disc resurgence will be almost unavoidable — almost, because of the PS4 factor.
The fact that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is one of the first studios to say it will release Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs is certainly an encouraging sign, but in this business I think we’ve all learned to take nothing for granted.
I will keep my fingers crossed — and I encourage you, all of you, to do the same.
The doom-and-gloomers smell blood, and they’re acting like sharks on a feeding frenzy.
The home entertainment industry is collapsing. Not only is the disc business kaput, thanks to Netflix and the millennial generation’s inherent dislike of ownership, but even the home theater systems we’ve all saved up for and installed in our family rooms are an endangered species because, on top of all those other attributes, millennials don’t give a rat’s hiney about screen size. They’d just as soon watch movies on their smartphones.
I love how we judge, generalize and assume.
The problem is, assumptions are often wrong, particularly when they are based on faulty generalizations and judgments.
Could it be we are mistaking tolerance for preference?
Here’s my take on the matter, as the father of three teenage boys and a guy who likes to ingest lots of information, research and studies, not just those that reinforce the latest trendy assumptions.
My youngest son, Hunter, loves to play video games. When the rest of the family is watching a movie or TV show on the 65-inch Panasonic in our family room that he doesn’t want to watch, he’ll stay in his room, playing Dead Island or Call of Duty on the PlayStation hooked up to his computer monitor with a gaggle of networked friends.
But as soon as we are done, he’ll come downstairs and resume his game play on the big TV.
The other day, I gave a friend of middle son Conner a ride home from a high school cross-country track meet. He was watching a movie clip on his smartphone, so I asked him what he was watching. “Just a few previews on YouTube,” he said. Turns out, his parents were out for the night and he had very little homework, so he was looking forward to watching a whole movie on the family room widescreen. He was using his smartphone to narrow down his choices.
And up in the tiny college town of Arcata, where my oldest son, Justin, is studying at Humboldt State University, a funky little video rental store near the central plaza is always teeming with customers. The town’s primary Internet provider, Suddenlink, isn’t all that great, so watching Netflix can be a real hassle.
Moreover, when Justin was living in the dorm he’d brave the poor connection and stream movies on his Apple desktop or iPad. Now that he’s in an apartment, I asked him what he wants for Christmas and the first words out of his mouth were, “The biggest TV you can afford.”
I know where I will be on Black Friday.
These anecdotes are supported by research. In a July blog posting, Bob Pearson, president of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies, writes about his company’s latest survey about the entertainment habits of millennials. “Big screens still win — 63% of millennials surveyed said that their favorite place to watch a movie is on their TV at home and 25% would rather visit a movie theatre,” Pearson writes. “Back when the Boomers were growing up, that was the consensus as well … yet there wasn’t an option to show a movie on one’s iPhone, tablet, iPad, computer, etc. It is looking like big screens will continue to win when it comes to entertainment. Gaming on a phone, sure. Sitting down to watch a movie for 90 minutes? The couch and a big screen will always be more fun.”
As for cord-cutting, a new Nielsen study released in September suggests millennials may part ways with their cord-free streaming addictions once they start families. According to a New York Times article on the study, “The decision to go without a traditional cable or satellite service and rely exclusively on Internet streaming video might last only until millennials start families, new Nielsen research on the media habits of the 18-34 age group suggests.” The study found that among millennials who live in their own homes and have started families, 80% subscribe to cable, while just 6% rely solely on broadband connected to the Internet.
The Times concludes, “Millennials, more than a fifth of the total American TV audience of about 292 million adults and children, are considered crucial to the future of television because marketers covet their high earning potential and receptivity to ads. Yet with much of media in flux, their viewing habits continue to confound researchers.”
So we don’t really know all that much about millennials and their future viewing habits. Maybe, just maybe, they live and breathe streaming at this point in their lives because it’s cheap and conducive to their for-the-moment lifestyles.
But once they settle down, once they grow up, they just might want more choice. They might not have time for binge-viewing a TV series; they might not have the stomach for another 9-year-old ‘B’ movie.
They might want something new, something fresh, even if it means paying for it, either as a download or on a disc. And they might want to watch it on the biggest damn TV they can afford.
The home entertainment business is beginning to make sense again. The emergence of Ultra HD appears to have galvanized everyone to once again to work toward a common goal, which is the same goal the studios have been pushing since this business began nearly 40 years ago: getting consumers to buy movies for on-demand viewing, at a nice profit.
The Blu-ray Disc Association wasted no time in drafting specs for the Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, which will be the optimum way to watch movies with four times the clarity, and 64 times as many colors, as HD. Nearly 10 years after its launch, the physical disc is still unmatched in terms of quality and durability.
Within weeks of the BDA announcement in late August, Samsung and 20th Century Fox were first out of the gate with a player and movie titles. (See story, page 10) Samsung’s Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player promptly won a rash of accolades from the technology press at the IFA 2015 trade show in Berlin, where it was unveiled. As Tom’s Guide noted, “Streaming services come and go, but the UHD Blu-ray player will let you keep a permanent collection.”
Also in September, we saw the launch of Vidity, an enabling technology that lets consumers store their UHD content locally instead of in the cloud, and also easily move it around to various devices, from Ultra HD widescreens to smartphones. With each disc or download they buy they get a package of files geared toward all these various devices, for instant viewing anywhere, at any time.
Let’s face it — our industry is never going to put the Netflix genie back in the bottle. Reed Hastings and his crew came up with a brilliant concept, playing right into the twin “wants” that I believe dictate all human behavior: simple and cheap. Netflix was also able to hit the studios when they were down and offer them big bucks for catalog product, more than they were getting by putting it out on disc. The result, of course, has been a near-complete decimation of the catalog business — and a stern warning to studios that the content they value the most, the fresh new theatricals, must always remain in their control.
And the studios have done a great job protecting their new releases. The problem is, they haven’t done such a great job in keeping consumers interested in buying them. UltraViolet never lived up to its promise because it was a complicated process — further encumbered by Disney’s insistence on going it alone, with Disney Movies Anywhere. As the song says, “united we stand, divided we fall. …”
We now have an exciting new product, Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc, and it is incumbent that other studios follow 20th Century Fox’s lead and start announcing, and issuing, product — sooner rather than later. We also have Vidity, which not only eases the transition from physical to digital, but also immensely enhances the digital value proposition. Again, it is critically important that other studios join in and not proceed with their own proprietary variant.
The more I think about it, the primary reason home entertainment began to stumble and fall a decade ago was that it stopped making sense. At a time when the quality of the viewing experience should have been front and center, our industry kept getting distracted, first by BD-Live, a failed attempt to appear technologically cool at a time when few TVs were even connected to the Internet, and then by 3D, a perfect storm of a disaster (I remember buying a TV and no one knew which glasses I needed, not even the tech support guys at Panasonic!).
We’re at the point now where consumers are spending a little more than half as much on buying movies than they were a decade ago. Everyone’s tuning in to Netflix, studio home entertainment divisions have been bled dry of some of their brightest talent, and the TV folks are taking over, with OTT the mantra of the day.
And yet the opportunity to take back our business — selling movies to consumers — is now at hand. Let’s think long-term viability, not short-term profits, and do it right.
I hate buzz words and phrases such as “transformational moment” and “paradigm shift,” and yet I really hope everyone reading this recognizes the significance of the announcement by the Secure Content Storage Association (SCSA) that it has made available specs for “Vidity,” an enabling technology allowing consumers to move their 4K Ultra HD content easily around to virtually all their devices.
To use one of those phrases, this could be a real “game changer.”
The two biggest obstacles to buying movies and other content electronically, instead of on disc, is the lack of tangibility as well as the legitimate concern that your purchased content probably won’t play on all your devices.
Vidity smacks those two worries right out of the proverbial ballpark.
Much like a physical “combo pack,” you get everything with one single purchase — files for every device known to man, from your home theater system to your mobile phone.
And, again like a physical disc, you maintain possession of said files. They live with you, not on some far-off cloud, and you’re pretty much free to do with them what you want — move them around, take them with you to a friend’s house, transfer them to a new tablet when little Hunter cracks the glass and spills grape juice on your old one.
Vidity is also mercifully free of the other encumbering trappings so prevalent in the digital space, such as Internet access and the need to establish, and sign on to, myriad online accounts whenever you want to watch a movie.
I can’t stress how important this is to our industry, our business, our livelihood. If home entertainment is to survive, we need to establish a bulwark against subscription streaming with some sort of transactional business, which has always been the only real way for the home entertainment divisions of the studios to make money.
Under any sort of subscription business, content has no real value — which is a slap in the face to the creative community, and a blow to the pocketbooks of the studios. It’s merely part of a bundle, part of a package the consumer is buying for a very low price, sort of like those grab bags we all used to beg our parents to buy us when we were kids.
Netflix pioneered, and continues to dominate, the subscription streaming model. The concept behind Netflix is pure genius, playing right into the two key consumer “wants,” which is to get their entertainment as simply as possible, and as cheaply as possible.
Hollywood fed this monster, selling more and more old movies to Netflix to make their financial targets and compensate for slumping disc sales — only to find that the beast began taking a bigger and bigger bite out of Blu-ray Disc and DVD sales, to the point where consumer spending on disc purchases and subscription streaming is nearly equal.
Physical disc sales alone will never be able to reverse this trend, even if the advent of Ultra HD triggers resurgence in disc sales, as many of us believe it will.
Consumers are now in the habit of getting their movies and TV shows online, and anything we can do to turn them into buyers is welcome. Raising the comfort level, as Vidity promises to do, is certainly a step in the right direction.
And if all the studios come onboard and not only supply plenty of good, first-run content — of the kind not available on Netflix — but also aggressively market and promote this content, we might yet have a chance of saving this business.
Blu-ray Disc’s 10th birthday is less than a year away, and the resiliency of the disc came to mind the other day when I was reading the Futuresource Consulting report about the continued popularity, among consumers, of buying movies on disc.
In case you missed it, the survey, of 6,000 consumers in the United States, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Australia, found that more than 50% still regularly buy either Blu-ray Disc or DVD. And in the United States and the United Kingdom, the percentage of people buying discs has actually gone up from an earlier survey.
That supports the notion I’ve held that the primary reason we’re seeing such big drops in disc-sale revenues is a sharp drop in the average sales price.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not wearing blinders, by any stretch. The home entertainment industry has been disrupted by Netflix and subscription streaming, which continues to eat away at the transactional business because it plays right into the two primary drivers of consumer habits: the desire to get stuff cheap and easy. The Netflix model is focused on both, and that’s why we’re seeing continued gains in subscription streaming.
But let’s not count out the disc, not just yet. There are plenty of consumers who still prefer to buy and rent Blu-ray Discs and DVDs, maybe because they want new movies that won’t show up on Netflix for another, oh, eight or nine years; or there are bandwith problems in the area where they live; or they want a better picture and sound; or they’re simply coming down with what I call “Netflix fatigue,” a disenchantment with the tired catalog retreads that make up the bulk of Netflix’s movie library. Last April, PCWorld ran an article addressing precisely this issue, noting, “Netflix has a great roster of TV shows, but its movie catalog sucks, to put it bluntly” and suggesting viewers who want a better selection install a VPN and, in effect, “move to another country where Netflix offers its service. … The other day someone I know was in the mood for a baseball movie, but have you seen Netflix’s baseball movie selection right now? It's not great. The best choices were either The Bad News Bears or The Perfect Game. Fine movies, but not what he wanted. So he fired up a virtual private network provider, took a (virtual) trip over to Canada and lo and behold Netflix Canada was streaming Major League. Excellent.”
I’m also noticing a growing sense of optimism among industry insiders about a likely resurgence in popularity for the Blu-ray Disc, fueled by the advent of Ultra HD. Streaming services continue to have trouble transmitting true HD, so just imagine the clogged pipes that await a format with four times the clarity, four times the resolution, four times the pixels — and four times the data. With streaming, the focus is on getting the title to the viewer with as few buffering interruptions as possible. And while some streaming services now offer the same 1080p resolution as Blu-ray Disc, they use significantly more compression to deliver content over the Internet — which impacts image quality. As Forbes noted, “For cinephiles or even anyone inclined in that direction, HD content viewed on the finest Retina tablet display or LCD flat screen can’t come close to a Blu-ray.”
Ultra HD TVs are coming and will eventually become the standard. And if history repeats itself, the early adopters will be hungriest for content — which, at this point, is best delivered on disc. After finalizing the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec and logo back in May, the Blu-ray Disc Association is going to start licensing the technology on Aug. 24 — this coming Monday.
If the studios as well as independent content suppliers really get behind this — and I sincerely hope they will — we could see a significant lift in Blu-ray Disc sales.
I know I’m not the only one keeping my fingers crossed.
There’s encouraging news for home entertainment in the mid-year numbers report issued July 31 by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, but I fear that once again people are going to overlook it and misinterpret the report in a negative way.
The big news, to me, is that in the second quarter of this year consumers spent more money on digital delivery options than on physical media.
I know, I know — the bulk of that increase went to Netflix and subscription streaming, at the expense of Blu-ray Disc and DVD.
But that’s really not the way I see it — I believe this little statistic indicates not only that consumers are comfortable getting their movies and TV shows over the Internet, but it also suggests that electronic sellthrough (or Digital HD — call it what you will) has a real chance of taking off.
You see, the more people tune in to Netflix, the sooner they’ll catch on that there’s a lot of good new stuff they simply can’t access. I am operating under the assumption, of course, that the average American’s viewing diet consists of movies, and not just the TV series Netflix excels at. And if you’re a movie fan, Netflix simply doesn’t cut it. I can tell you from personal experience that in every home there will come a point when people grow tired of the studio castoffs, direct-to-video bombs and 9-year-old theatricals that make up the bulk of Netflix’s movie programming and clamor for something new, something fresh, something hot.
My 17-year-old, Conner, after consuming dozens of DTV horror sequels and Lifetime movies with Dear Old Dad, reached that point a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to see Guardians of the Galaxy — and because he’s been programmed to watch electronically he didn’t bother to visit our disc room, home to more than 2,000 Blu-ray Disc and DVD movies and TV shows I can’t possibly live without. No, he switched over to Amazon Prime and bought the film (on the family credit card, of course) for $19.99.
I hear lots of talk on the studio side about how to make digital movie purchases more attractive. Early windowing — issuing a film on EST two or three weeks before any other platform, including disc — is certainly a good incentive. So is pushing down the price and adding the extras we’ve grown accustomed to through discs.
But the real key to EST’s success, I believe, is patience — Netflix has done a great job indoctrinating people to watch movies and TV shows OTT, and it’s only a matter of time before the novelty wears off and people want to watch something new and exciting again. And, just like Conner, they’re finding out it’s quite easy to do — as long as you’re willing to pay for it.
And my hunch is, they are.
If we’ve learned anything over the last half-century, it is that consumers love choice.
They also tend to choose things that are cheap and easy.
When I was growing up, it was on the tail end of the three-network universe. Our entertainment-viewing schedules revolved around their broadcast schedules, and if we didn’t like it about the only alternative was watching old “Flash Gordon” serials on one of the handful of non-network stations our rabbit-ear antennas would allow us to watch.
We jumped at the chance for more control over what we watched, more choices — which gave birth to first cable and then, in the late 1970s, home video.
Home video, at the start, was cheap, and relatively easy. You could rent a movie for a couple of bucks a night, but you had to go to a video store — and then bring it back the next day, lest you incur ruinous “late fees.” And if you happened to have the collector gene, you had to wait six months, maybe more, for the movie to be available for sale to consumers. Oh, sure, you could buy new movies for about $65 to $100, but that didn’t pass the “cheap” test — so very few people did.
Since then, every innovation that has caught on with consumers has expanded their menu of choices — and it’s been either cheap, or easy, or both. With DVD, you no longer had to rewind, and you could buy movies for less than $20 right when they were released, with no six-month wait. With Netflix, you got your movie in the mail — no return trip necessary and, hence, no grim specter of late fees hanging over your head. And let’s not forget about Redbox, which let you check out a movie as you’re leaving the grocery store — and bring it back when you run out of milk or toilet paper.
With advances in technology, we saw things get even easier, and cheaper. Netflix ushered in the era of OTT, where for less than $10 a month you can watch a good-sized haul of old movies, newer ‘B’ movies, or TV shows. If you want to watch newer, first-run movies, you can buy them over the Internet, as digital downloads, or pick up a Blu-ray Disc at the local Walmart.
We have never had so many choices, and our choices have never been cheaper — or easier.
That’s why it irks me to no end when I hear people say things like “discs are dying” or “Netflix is taking over the world,” or other misguided pronouncements like that.
It’s all home entertainment, and each sector of the business — physical discs, streaming, electronic sellthrough (or Digital HD) — plays a crucial role in the palette of choices this industry has given consumers.
Consumers get to decide which format, which delivery method, works best for them. And invariably, it will be a mixture — we’ll watch Joyride 3 on Netflix one night, and then buy a disc or download of American Sniper the next. We might spend two weeks binge-viewing “Breaking Bad” and then take a break and watch nothing but first-run movies for the next eight or nine nights.
So let’s stop talking about dying formats and competition and cannibalization, and realize that to the consumer it is, quite simply, all about choice.
Netflix appears to have an insatiable appetite for original content.
Speaking earlier this month at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos attributed much of Netflix’s 20% year-over-year subscriber engagement hike to the success of original shows such as “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
The percentage of its total acquisition budget that Netflix spends on original programming keeps shooting upward; on an earnings call last month, chief financial officer David Wells said “it’s drifting up to 30% [and] could drift up to 40% … we are building out our … original content investment and that is cash intensive.” Accordingly, in his quarterly letter to shareholders last January, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings promised 320 hours of original programming this year, three times as much as in 2014.
Original content is not just the growth engine for Netflix here in the United States, but also abroad, where Netflix is aggressively expanding its reach. Sarandos noted that “House of Cards,” according to one report, is the most popular U.S. TV show in China.
And Netflix is more than happy to pay whatever it takes for exclusive rights — which is why some of the same studios that for years have griped about Netflix cannibalizing their sellthrough business are now creating original programming for the No. 1 streaming service.
Content, it appears, truly is king.
The more dependent Netflix gets on original content, the more it seeks global exclusivity of that content. Netflix no longer seeks blanket license agreements with studios for bulk programming. It picks and chooses specific programming.
To get control of that programming, Netflix is now dealing directly with creators and producers of TV shows and independent movies. When it licenses a show or movie, the rights are exclusive. That’s because binge-viewing, commercial-free, and on-demand access are key drivers of Netflix’s brand proposition.
“We’re either interested in the global rights or we’re not interested at all,” Sarandos said.
Netflix recently secured rights to African warlord drama “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba. The streaming kingpin beat out independent distributors (such as Fox Searchlight) within the major studios — a win Sarandos attributed more to dealing directly with producers and granting immediate access than money.
It also secured exclusive rights to Fox TV’s “Gotham” and A&E Networks’ “The Returned” by dealing directly with the shows' producers, Warner Bros. Television (“Gotham”) and A&E Studios, respectively.
“For a dollar spent [on original programming] and an hour viewed, you get more hours of viewing per dollars spent on originals versus the licensed content,” Sarandos said.
At the same time, Netflix is still interested in bidding on sitcoms with major stars, such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mike and Molly,” and “2 Broke Girls,” provided the market for the shows isn’t overheated, according to Sarandos.
“We’re not seeking a lot of [random viewing],” he said.
But for the most part, original programming is the way to go for Netflix — regardless of what it costs, where it comes from, and who they have to beat out at the negotiating table.
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.
Going it alone in the home entertainment business has never been a good idea. Back in the early days of home video, VHS triumphed over the far-better Betamax primarily because JVC, which designed VHS technology, was willing to license it to other manufacturers. Sony refused to share; only in the late 1980s did the company finally agree to license Betamax to other manufacturers, but by then it was too late: VHS had an overwhelming market share.
The home video market grew and prospered regardless of this disharmonious start, but I fear that’s something of an exception. The home video market gave consumers unprecedented control over their viewing choices, something they had never had before, and it grew rapidly largely because the proposition was so enticing and there was no real competition. Pay-per-view was still in its infancy, and the on-demand factor that really propelled home video’s fortunes was still a pipe dream.
Today’s home entertainment landscape is much more fragmented than it ever was. Consumers have all sorts of options for viewing movies, TV shows, and other programs on demand — when they want to watch it, where they want to watch it, how they want to watch it. And the proliferation of screens — remember, for years, the home TV was the only conduit to watch something, regardless of whether it was delivered on a cassette (and then disc), cable, satellite, or broadcast — has only intensified the competition even more.
The only constant, really, is this: The content owners, chiefly the studios, would much prefer consumers buy a copy of the movie or TV show rather than stream it (or, back in the day, rent it). It’s a clean, finite transaction — and a lot more profitable.
The studios have done a great job, driving ownership, through a series of innovations that focused on the two key factors driving consumer demand in this business: easy and cheap. First came DVD, priced low out of the gate to encourage sales and, with random access, so much easier to watch than a videocassette (no need to rewind). Then came Blu-ray Disc, a qualitative improvement, followed by Digital HD.
Getting people accustomed to buying movies electronically rather than in physical form was made all the more challenging by the emergence of low-cost streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. And yet it can be argued that the ease of streaming has opened up consumer eyes to the wonderful world of digital distribution — and through incentives like early windowing and saving hot new releases for purchase it’s only a matter of time before the studios establish a viable sellthrough business.
UltraViolet only makes the value proposition all the more enticing. The concept of a digital “locker” where your purchased content lives on forever, and may be accessed at any time, on any device, is a sweet proposition. It eases the transition from disc to download, and at the same time acts as a safety net. Even if you lose or break the disc, or your hard drive crashes and takes down your movie library with it, the content you bought is yours forever.
If there’s one fly in the proverbial ointment, it is this: While all the major studios and many independents are part of the UltraViolet consortium, Walt Disney Studios is conspicuously absent, insisting on going it alone with Disney Movies Anywhere, a proprietary alternative to UltraViolet.
That needs to change. Now, more than ever before, is the time to be a team player — to stand united as the industry transitions from packaged media into the digital space, with a viable purchase proposition to counter the proliferation of streaming options.
Disney Movies Anywhere is certainly a great technology, but it’s only one studio. UltraViolet could be the home entertainment industry’s Balm of Gilead, but it needs universal support.
Why not figure out a way to merge the systems?
Have we forgotten that old statement, united we stand?