Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Talent in Charge?
A group of top recording artists, led by rapper Jay Z, wants to make streaming pay talent more. They’ve launched a new music streaming service — Tidal — designed to offer artists better pay for their work.
The service starts at $10 monthly and is designed to take on the likes of Spotify and Pandora by offering better-quality audio and better remuneration for artists. Such luminaries as Beyonce, Kanye West and Madonna were on hand for the announcement.
This isn’t the first time a big-name music star has called out cheap (or free) streaming services for underpaying artists. Singer Taylor Swift, fresh off the launch of her blockbuster album 1989, pulled her catalog from subscription streaming service Spotify, saying artists and their labels aren’t paid enough for the many times listeners stream their songs on the free version of the service.
“Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is,” she wrote in a column in The Wall Street Journal.
It seems Tidal may be one step in that direction, as far as artists are concerned. Artist Alicia Keys, at the press conference in New York, said Tidal will “preserve the value of music,” according to the Los Angeles Times, and will offer exclusive content not found anywhere else. Sound familiar? Tidal has no free service; it’s $9.99 monthly for basic service, with standard streaming of music and high-definition music videos, and $19.99 monthly for CD-quality streaming, HD videos and access to original content.
But in the Internet realm, who really is in charge? Is it the content producers or the technology companies that deliver content? It’s a question that has not only plagued the music business, but also the entertainment business at large.
Will Tidal’s quality streaming, offering better compensation to talent, convince consumers to pay more (or, really, pay anything at all)? That’s an open question. I, for one, hope it will, and probably so do the many movie and TV show producers out there that find they don’t get enough of the bounty from the Internet revolution. But it’s not the top stars that are really in danger. It’s the upcoming talent that is taking the biggest long-term hit for low-cost streaming. I hope Tidal finds a way to include them, too.
By: Stephanie Prange
A byproduct of the growing popularity of OTT is that consumers are judging their wireless carriers not by how cheap the service is, but by how smooth the streaming experience is.
I found that little pearl of information in a recent Ciena-sponsored study conducted by ACG Research, which predicts average bandwidth consumption per mobile user is expected to go up 52% over the next three years.
That sharp uptick in consumption is being fueled both by increasing smartphone penetration, which ACG believes will rise from 55% by 67% by 2018, as well as the growing trend among consumers to watch filmed content over their phones. ACG believes OTT use on smartphones will account for 59% of the predicted bandwidth consumption increase.
At first I questioned the validity of the study, picturing my almost nightly routine these past two months of watching a “Game of Thrones” episode, on Blu-ray, in my family room, on my trusty Panasonic plasma.
But then I caught myself watching a YouTube video during a particularly long red light, and even a half hour episode of a silly old 1960s sitcom while waiting at the doctor’s office for my annual physical.
And I figured if a home theater purist like me would stoop to watching stuff on a tiny smartphone screen simply because it is so cheap and so easy, then this truly must be the wave of the future. Just like home video flourished in the first place because we didn’t want to be tied down by the networks telling us what we can watch, and at what time, OTT and smartphones, together, have unleashed us from every conceivable restraint. And as more, and better, programming becomes available with the proliferation of OTT, so will our freedom increase.
The challenge for carriers, of course, will be to increase bandwidth accordingly. According to the ACG study, supporting backhaul capacity requirements will exceed 1 Gbps by 2018, “and this will be further intensified by the latest wireless standards such as LTE-Advanced and the introduction of more small cells, which are expected to deliver faster wireless services with broader coverage to users. Service providers need to take steps to deploy a mobile backhaul solution that supports 10 Gbps to meet this projected bandwidth and ensure quality of experience.”
As ACG research analyst Michael Kennedy noted in the Ciena press release, “Now more than ever, the quality of experience for the latest OTT applications is paramount and a key driver of customer loyalty. In three short years, these networks must offer broader coverage and handle more people using more applications on more devices at the same time. As a result, the backhaul infrastructure must transform to enable a more dynamic experience."
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Retailers Blast Off With 'Interstellar' Exclusives
Walmart's 'Interstellar' gift set
The only March 31 release with any notable exclusive promotion at the major retail chains was Paramount’s Interstellar.
Walmart offered a special gift set of the Christopher Nolan-directed sci-fi film, containing special packaging and a 48-page booklet.
Target offered exclusive steelbook packaging, while Best Buy offered exclusive bonus content — a half-hour panel discussion with Nolan and the cast.
New Blu-ray copies of the film at all locations included a special collectible Imax film cel containing a scene from the film.
New on Disc: 'The Band Wagon' and more …
The Band Wagon (Blu-ray)
Warner, Musical, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Jack Buchanan, Oscar Levant, Nanette Fabray.
1953. In a kind of daring move roughly around the two-thirds mark, story considerations get scrapped almost altogether, and Wagon turns into a dazzling rat-tat-tat revue with one socko Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz musical number after another.
Extras: Liza Minnelli and Michael Feinstein join forces in a bonus commentary carried over from the 2005 DVD.
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Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn, James Broderick, Pete Seeger.
1969. Here’s the only Arthur Penn achievement beyond Bonnie and Clyde and The Miracle Worker to be honored with a Best Diretor Oscar nomination, a wistful hippie concoction that was and is superior to the same year’s Easy Rider. Sprung from lead Arlo Guthrie’s same-titled 18½-minute folky monologue tune that became one of the counter-culture staples of the era, Alice’s Restaurant the movie is more factually embellished than the recording, though a lot of its still ticklishly broad comedy would disqualify it as realism under any circumstances.
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'Battle' for Blu-ray Shoppers
Target's 'Hobbit' Blu-ray with Lego
The quest to attract buyers for Warner’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and other new releases March 24 led to a fervor of retailers rallying the troops in the form of several exclusive promotions.
Target offered an edition of the 2D Blu-ray combo pack of the concluding chapter of the “Hobbit” trilogy with pack-in Lego figures of Bard and Bain.
Best Buy offered steelbook packaging for both the Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray and The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray boxed set.
Walmart offered a single-disc DVD edition of Armies with special box art and almost none of the extras in the widely available two-DVD set. In fact, Walmart didn’t offer the two-DVD set, and sold its single-disc version at about the same price the other stores offered the two-DVD version. However, the DVDs weren’t tagged with a Walmart exclusive sticker, so shoppers who picked up the DVD at Walmart might not have realized there was a version available with substantial bonus features.
Walmart also offered a DVD gift pack of Universal’s Monster High: Haunted, with a Scaremester Collection DVD containing 18 episodes.
In addition, Walmart has a $24.96 preorder for Anchor Bay’s Paddington Blu-ray with an in-store box containing a plush bear and the ability to stream the movie via Vudu.com 10 days before the April 28 street date. The film will be widely available on Digital HD April 17.
For Universal’s Unbroken, Walmart offered a version of the Blu-ray containing a booklet and 30 minutes of exclusive bonus features viewable through Vudu.
Of course, Universal made available a “Legacy of Faith” DVD special edition of Unbroken exclusively through faith-based outlets Family Christian Bookstores, Mardel Christian Bookstores and ChristianBook.com, with a bonus DVD containing an additional 90 minutes of interviews.
Target offered the Unbroken Blu-ray with a collectible bookmark, while Best Buy had a steelbook version of Unbroken as well.
In anticipation of Universal’s Furious 7 in theaters, Target offered a $10 discount off any “Fast & Furious” Blu-ray ($8 each) and a remote-control car toy ($22.99) based on the franchise. The Blu-rays contain a $7.50 coupon to see the new movie, which hits theaters April 3.
Target also had in-store signage touting an additional 10% off new DVDs and Blu-rays via its Cartwheel coupon app.
New on Disc: 'John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man' and more …
John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man
Olive, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Featuring Maureen O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Joseph McBride, Peter Bogdanovich.
2010. Here in director Sé Merry Doyle’s full-length feature, Maureen O’Hara is front and center with her remembrances of filming 1952’s The Quiet Man and working with director John Ford.
Extras: Unlike a lot of Olive releases, this one has a robust collection of local-color featurettes and outtakes.
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The Prowler (Blu-ray)
VCI, Drama, $24.97 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes.
1951. Definitive L.A. crime novelist James Ellroy referred to director Joseph Losey’s uncommonly grown-up exercise in doom as “perv noir.” This is a handsome Blu-ray of the picture’s restoration.
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Rental Market Is Boxed In
It wasn’t so long ago that the top dog in the video rental business was Blockbuster Video. Blockbuster executives crafted the rental deals that the rest of the industry emulated or worked around. Now that mantle seems to have passed to Redbox, the kiosk company that was characterized as an upstart not so many years ago.
I remember a spokesperson for a major public video store chain telling me that the kiosk market was just a marginal business that would never overtake stores. He said, “How could they possibly replace video store clerks?” Another such spokesperson said online physical rental (Netflix) was a side business, never to rival the store experience. (Now, by the way, Netflix executives think disc rental is a side business, too.)
Those public video store rental chains are long gone — and still standing is Redbox. Following the stores’ demise, Redbox is the dominant outlet at which consumers rent a physical disc. Netflix has sidelined its physical disc rental business in favor of streaming and original programming for streaming, and independent or mid-level chain video rental stores are few and far between.
Pretty much every time I go to a grocery store in my neighborhood, I see a Redbox kiosk with a customer or two. For most consumers who want to rent a physical disc, Redbox is the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to view content, especially movies. Just before Blockbuster went bust in late 2013, Home Media Magazine editors fanned out to find the closest rental outlets and Redbox kiosks were by far the most convenient. I personally had to get on a freeway and travel a half hour to find the nearest Blockbuster or indie rental store. The writing was on the wall.
After the demise of many video stores, Redbox has become important to content owners as well. The studios look to Redbox to buy and rent all of their new releases (popular or not) under output deals. Independent content owners look to Redbox to pick up art house or genre titles that used to find a place in a larger video store rental market, but that the mass merchants increasingly won’t sell.
“Everybody is taking them to lunch,” one industry observer told me of Redbox. Until some other market (perhaps digital) eats their lunch, Redbox looks to be on a roll.
By: Stephanie Prange
$2 Billion Cure for 'Netflix Fatigue'?
It’s interesting to note that Netflix is now spending more money on content than HBO, BBC and Discovery. The subscription streaming behemoth, which began life as a DVD-by-mail rental service, spent more than $2 billion on content in 2014, about 20% of which went to original programming such as its hit series “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
That’s a huge expense for a company that charges its customers less than $10 a month for unlimited access to all this content, but with international expansion high on its agenda Netflix seems bent on making a splash in whichever new markets it enters, at the same time casting a wary eye over its shoulders at U.S. consumers and hoping and praying they don’t come down with “Netflix fatigue,” particularly now that Amazon Prime is nipping at its heels.
This huge spend has shaken up Hollywood to the point where studios and independent content producers are seeing Netflix as a lucrative new revenue source that at least for now far eclipses what they can make from this content from traditional channels, be they foreign TV rights or good old DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Is it sustainable? That’s a good question. Nothing, in business, ever really lasts forever, but then lengths of successful runs vary wildly. MySpace was huge, but was rather swiftly banished to the social media graveyard by Facebook, which has remained on top largely because of its popularity not so much with fickle teens as with older demographics, particularly moms, with an ingrained sense of brand loyalty. The Apple iPhone and iPad remain the Cadillacs of mobility, status symbols both because of their sleek look and incredible craftsmanship.
Netflix has an amazing amount of product, but the lack of first-run movies and spotty record regarding TV shows — you can watch “Breaking Bad” but not “Game of Thrones” — is a definite weakness; hence, the drive toward original content.
But if there’s a word of caution I could throw out here, it’s that if you’re No. 1, everyone and his brother are going to want to unseat you. Amazon Prime is just one of a growing legion of competitors, big and small, broad and niche, hungry for a bite of the Netflix-dominated OTT pie. And while Netflix is smart to look overseas to further expand its reach — in January the company, currently in 50 countries, said it wants to be in 200 by the end of 2016 — the growth potential is not unlimited.
For Netflix, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, these truly are the best of times, and the worst of times. About all Netflix can do is continue to pay big bucks to feed the beast —realizing the beast is growing hungrier all the time and hoping it won’t one day turn on its master.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Targeting Disney's 'Dalmatians'
'101 Dalmatians II' Blu-ray exclusive to Target
Target March 17 had exclusive availability of the Blu-ray version of Disney's animated sequel 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure. The 2003 film was a direct-to-video follow-up to the 1961 animated classic, and the new Blu-ray is timed as a companion to the "Diamond Edition" release of the original film earlier this year. The London Adventure Blu-ray was advertised in Target's weekly ad circular for $17.99 and upon its release was available only in stores and not listed on Target's website.
Among the other new releases, DreamWorks Animation’s Penguins of Madagascar received the most attention. All the retailers sold the special packaging configurations with wind-up penguin toys, though only Walmart varied the price.
Best Buy offered a $7.99 Penguins lunchbox, though lowered the price to $4.99 when purchased at the same time as a Penguins disc.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with the exclusive featurette “Are You Smarter Than a Penguin?”
For Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, Best Buy offered the 3D Blu-ray combo pack with 30 minutes of additional footage.
Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray of the Annie remake at Target came with a bonus disc of exclusive extras, plus a $5 savings when the Annie movie was bought at the same time as the soundtrack CD. Target’s version of the soundtrack contained two exclusive songs.
Best Buy touted a Facebook coupon with a $5 savings off the Annie Blu-ray.
Walmart offered the Annie Blu-ray with a plush toy of the dog Sandy.
New on Disc: 'Eat Drink Man Woman' and more …
Eat Drink Man Woman
Olive, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Sihung Lung, Yu-Wen Wang, Chien-Lien Wu, Kuei-Mei Yang.
1994. As a title, Eat Drink Man Woman seems pretty apt, given that it deals with four sets of romantic relationships (involving three daughters and a father) plus a lot of food. The result is still a lovely mix of family drama and social satire. A fresh Blu-ray look at this early Taiwanese import from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee shows that it hasn’t lost a beat.
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Stormy Weather (Blu-ray)
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Musical, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, The Nicholas Brothers.
1943. A major showcase for Lena Horne, Stormy Weather is kind of back-loaded with some of its best numbers saved till the end — but not so back-loaded that you fiddle with your socks waiting for the good stuff.
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