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.
'Mockingjay' Catches Fire at Retail
Target's 'Mockingjay — Part 1' Blu-ray exclusive edition
The huge Friday, March 6, rollout of Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 carried over to overwhelm some of the March 10 new releases.
Target offered the Blu-ray combo pack with an exclusive bonus DVD containing four behind-the-scenes featurettes running about 45 minutes total, plus special box art and a booklet.
Best Buy offered the film in a steelbook case, while Walmart offered a slimmed-down Blu-ray edition with special box art, no DVD version and minimal extras.
For the March 10 titles, a couple new kidvid titles drew the most promotional interest. Walmart offered a DVD gift set of Fox’s “Air Bud” spinoff Russell Madness with a doggie plush, while Target offered a $5 discount when Warner’s The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown! was purchased with a 6-inch WWE action figure (priced at $9.99).
Best Buy has an exclusive window on the Blu-ray edition of Image Entertainment’s Wolfcop, which will be available elsewhere May 12.
Walmart had an exclusive version of the two-disc Blu-ray of The Sound of Music: 50th Anniversary Edition with a booklet, as well as a Peppa Pig: Muddy Puddles gift set with a plush toy.
Among Best Buy preorders, Universal’s Unbroken includes steelbook packaging and Paramount’s Interstellar includes exclusive bonus content, as does Warner’s American Sniper.
Are gathering clouds raining on studios’ digital sales?
It seems Warner CEO Kevin Tsujihara thinks that might be the case. Different studio-backed cloud-based content ownership services are confusing consumers and slowing digital growth, he said.
Since the introduction of UltraViolet, supported by most major studios, Disney has been a holdout, preferring to support its own subsequently introduced cloud-based service, Disney Movies Anywhere, rather than join the UV accumulation. Various industry observers have debated the merits of Disney’s different path, but many came to the conclusion that both clouds could coexist nicely without damaging digital growth on the horizon.
Tsujihara appears to disagree.
“It would be my goal to bridge [UltraViolet] with what Disney is doing, so the consumer doesn’t have to guess is that a Disney movie, or is that a Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal or Warner Bros. movie?” Tsujihara said March 4 at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom confab in San Francisco. He noted that while digital sales of movies increased 50% in 2013, growth slowed to 30% in 2014 and is about the same so far this year, which will not be strong enough to offset declining disc sales.
While two cloud services can coexist — indeed they do — it seems to me that they need to be connected through consistent marketing and operational logistics, making access to both seamless to the consumer. Consumers want simple services, and they really don’t care (or often even recall) which studio owned the content they want to acquire. Format options can stimulate, rather than kill, a market. But sometimes, as with the many TV versions of 3D, they scramble the message so much that consumers begin to boycott the market altogether.
“We have to focus on what the consumer is looking for: Simplicity. The magical thing about DVD was it was simple, easy and worked everywhere. I think we have to replicate that in EST,” Tsujihara said.
Making that sort of simplicity work for non-physical ownership is one of the key challenges facing studios, no matter which cloud they follow.
By: Stephanie Prange
Net Neutrality Is Vital
The Federal Communications Commission’s landmark ruling to declare Internet providers public utilities has met with a mixed response from those in the entertainment business.
The overriding sentiment appears to applaud the concept, but wonder — and maybe even worry — about the execution.
The concept is clear and, in my book, appropriate: Anything relied on as heavily by the public as electricity, or the Internet, needs to be protected in some fashion. And though as a small-government advocate it pains me to say this, the only viable method we have of protecting the public is through the regulatory arm of government.
California’s brief attempt to de-regulate utilities in the early 2000s was a disaster: energy bills tripled, and $10 billion left California in one month alone, bound for the corporate treasuries of unregulated power generators.
That’s because the private sector is not out to ensure what’s best for the public. The private sector answers to its shareholders, and its overarching goal is to maximize profits, not do what’s best for the public.
In the case of most businesses, that’s fine. Let the free market reign. But the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are different: They provide a delivery line, not a product or service, and keeping those lines open is critical for the public good. Unfortunately, we’ve seen them act the way any smart, for-profit business would act: in their own best interests. Verizon, AT&T and Comcast want the freedom to charge what they wish. They claim that they can’t afford all the investments they’ve been making and that companies like Netflix and YouTube are making gobs of money off their pipes and need to ante up more money to compensate the ISPs for all the extra bandwidth they are consuming.
The problem here is that the extra costs get passed down to consumers.
Under net neutrality — which the FCC finally accomplished through its finding that ISPs, like the big power companies, are public utilities and thus have to answer to a higher authority (the public) rather than their shareholders — all websites are equal. The commission has effectively eliminated the ability of ISPs to charge interconnect fees to ensure faster streaming speeds. This is as it should be, if you consider any attempt to restrict the public’s access to information — which is what higher costs invariably do — a breach of our constitutional rights.
The downside of government control, of course, is the prospect of over-regulation and, with it, a bigger bureaucracy — and more fees and more taxes to pay for it.
Netflix CFO David Wells really said it best when he intimated that in a perfect world, ISPs and companies like Netflix would be able to work things out on their own and reach some sort of compromise. “We were hoping there might be a non-regulated solution to it,” Wells said at the recent Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom confab in San Francisco.
But since that hasn’t happened — and clearly wasn’t going to happen — the FCC made the right call.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
Barbie, 'NeverBeast' a Snack for 'Mockingjay'
Walmart's 'NeverBeast' gift set
Two direct-to-video animated movies dominated the spotlight Tuesday, March 3, as retailers prepared for the latest "Hunger Games" disc on Friday, March 6.
Walmart offered a special gift pack of Disney's Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast Blu-ray with a Make Music With Bleu DVD, which instructs kids on how to make musical instruments from everyday objects.
For Universal's Barbie in Princess Power, Target offered a free mini pal with purchase of the movie or the Super Sparkle doll (priced at $18). Walmart offered the movie with a downloadable party pack.
Universal also offered a packaging variant for Princess Power, including a superhero mask inside specially marked copies of the DVD and Blu-ray.
However, the biggest title touted by the weekly ad circulars was the Friday release of Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1. Best Buy offered the film in a steelbook case, while Target offered 45 minutes of exclusive bonus content and a booklet.
Other Target promotions included a $10 instant savings with the purchase of Outlander: Season 1 Vol. 1 on disc and the book upon which the show is based, and a free Minion stamp set with the purchase of any "Despicable Me" movie.
New on Disc: 'Far From the Madding Crowd' and more …
Far From the Madding Crowd (Blu-ray)
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch, Alan Bates.
1967. The movie of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd was and is a little lumpy, if never less than highly watchable, as its second half wallows too much in local color while failing to find a way to at least suggest what makes Julie Christie’s Bathsheba Everdene (Hardy was a great one for names) tick.
Read the Full Review
American Experience: Edison — The Father of Invention (DVD Review)
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2015. Running a full two hours (well, 114 minutes) as only occasional “American Experience” documentaries do, this portrait is deservedly respectful, though it also addresses the type of dark-side material we never get in MGM’s factually embellished 1940 Spencer Tracy movie Edison, the Man.
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By: Mike Clark
Sizing Up a 'Big Hero'
Walmart's 'Big Hero 6' gift set
When it comes to retail exclusives, animated fare and superhero movies are usually the best bet, and Disney’s Big Hero 6 just happens to be both.
Among the Big Hero 6 exclusives available upon its disc debut Feb. 24, Walmart offered a deluxe gift set of the Blu-ray combo pack with a “Science of Big Hero 6” bonus DVD.
Target offered Big Hero 6 in a steelbook case, plus a $5 savings on toys based on the film.
Best Buy had the film with exclusive lenticular box art.
The Disney store had offered preorders of Big Hero 6 with speical lithograph giveaways.
Among other films, Walmart stocked a DVD two-pack of the “Horrible Bosses” films upon the release of the second movie, while Best Buy offered a $7 savings with the purchase of both films on Blu-ray.
Target offered the final season of “Sons of Anarchy” on disc with exclusive box art and previous seasons for $14.99 each. Best Buy offered $10 off the seventh season with the purchase of any previous season on disc.
A Procession of Visionaries
Honoring Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson of Walmart as this year’s Home Media Visionaries was pretty much a given, based on the big retail chain’s continued innovation in the field of electronic distribution and its simultaneous refusal to give up on the physical disc.
For more on these two fine gents, please read my column in the special section on Walmart.
But looking back through the years at our other honorees, I can’t help but notice that the one trait they all possess in common is an unbridled enthusiasm for the business and an unshaking belief that no matter how uncertain things might appear at the present, there’s always another day when things will become clearer and the business will return to growth mode.
Warren Lieberfarb’s selection as our very first Home Media Visionary in 2002 came as DVD celebrated its fifth birthday and sales were still growing by double digits every year. Few could remember DVD’s half-hearted launch and near death at the hands of Divx. Lieberfarb could have given up at any point in the early stages of DVD’s launch, when some studios simply refused to come aboard. Indeed, to many of us, the obstacles the fledgling format faced seemed insurmountable. But Lieberfarb never forgot that before DVD the rental business was slowly dying, and that DVD was not just a much better product but also the catalyst for a complete change in consumer habits, from going out to rent a movie for the night to buying one to keep or give away as a gift. So Lieberfarb persevered — and DVD became the biggest consumer electronics success story in history.
Our 2006 Visionary, Amy Jo Smith of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, is another industry veteran who refuses to give up — or bow down. Her claim to fame is rallying the troops and getting everyone talking again about next steps. Through conferences, workshops, white papers and webinars, Smith has become the glue that holds all of us together — and, it might be said, keeps things from falling apart when the outlook is not good. She’s not afraid to embrace and even encourage change. She and her team are always looking ahead, and in the process getting everyone excited about the business and its future prospects.
Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson are on the same track. Equal parts cheerleaders and visionaries, they know home entertainment will always play a key role in consumers’ lives, regardless of how it’s delivered. And like Lieberfarb and Smith, their overarching goal, quite simply, is to keep the customer satisfied.
By: Thomas K. Arnold
A Tale of Two Retailers
Digital ownership took a hit recently with news that Target had abandoned its Target Ticket service, a key supporter of UltraViolet, the cloud-based digital content storage platform supported by most of the major studios. But Target’s digital surrender may be less of a defeat for digital ownership, than it is a case of the tortoise losing to the hare.
A key reason why another retailer, Walmart, has been able to bridge the digital gap is its quick decision to embrace digital technology and ownership with its Vudu service and its adoption of the UltraViolet platform as well as Disney’s cloud-based service, Disney Movies Anywhere. In the digital arena, often companies that move more quickly win the race. Unfortunately, Target’s caution may have cost it, making it an also-ran.
That’s why Walmart’s Louis Greth and Chris Nagelson are so worthy of our Visionary Award this year. Walmart’s decisive move (before competitor Target) to embrace UltraViolet digital cloud ownership as a complement to its robust physical disc business put it at the forefront of innovation in the retail arena. Walmart was key to supporting the UltraViolet service, and working with its studio partners, has helped consumers get what they really want from entertainment ownership — the ability to possess a physical copy with the highest possible quality and numerous extras, as well as the option of viewing content they already own on their digital devices, from tablets to PCs to cell phones. Walmart this January accepted a Software Retailer of the Year award from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, and Greth put it best in accepting the award for the retailer: “Our customers love your product.” Giving customers what they want is the top calling of retailers, and Walmart has never lost sight of that, whether it be physical product or digital.
As the competition heats up in the retail space, Walmart is facing the future and embracing it. Target, still an important physical disc retailer, seems to have ceded control of the digital territory, finding that it was too far behind in the digital race.
It’s hard to see now how this marathon will ultimately end. Digital ownership certainly faces challenges, as Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara reportedly told a tech group Feb. 18 at Re/code’s Code Media confab in Dana Point, Calif. But in this tale of two retailers, one competitor is out of the race.
By: Stephanie Prange
Exclusives for the 'Throne'
Best Buy's 'Game of Thrones' Season 4 exclusive covers
The popular new release Feb. 17 in terms of retail exclusives was easily HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season, which drew incentives from each of the big three brick-and-mortar chains.
Both All three offered exclusive bonus content. Target offered a photo book and a 20-minute featurette about the show’s costumes, while Walmart packed its exclusive edition with a King Joffrey Funko mini-doll and a featurette about the season’s royal wedding episode.
Best Buy offered the “Thrones” season set with a choice of exclusive box art depicting the various family sigils seen on the show, plus a visual effects featurette.
Walmart offered a Dumb and Dumber To gift set with a T-shirt.
Otherwise, stores were anxious to promote the upcoming release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1. Target offered a $5 gift card, a free fabric poster and 45 minutes of exclusive bonus content with a preorder of the film, while Best Buy offered a Blu-ray steelbook case with its $19.99 preorder.
Best Buy also offered a $29.99 bundle that included the Blu-ray steelbook and Digital HD copies of all three films. Details are available at .
New on Disc: 'Kiss Me, Stupid' and more …
Kiss Me, Stupid
Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13.’
Stars Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston, Felicia Farr.
1964. At its very least, Billy Wilder’s career Armageddon is the ultimate Rat Pack movie, a tale about what the artistically driven (if not necessarily talented) will do to get out of a podunk hellhole — which is almost anything.
Read the Full Review
Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Maurice Chevalier, Jayne Mansfield, Eleanor Parker, Michael Connors.
1964. Even before the script manages to get Maurice Chevalier into nun drag, we’re talking a cinematic one-of-a-kind here, about a shady business executive desperate to come up with a $500,000 tax loss who elects to use the half-million on his hands to finance a disastrous TV version of Romeo and Juliet.
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By: Mike Clark