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Stephanie Prange is the editor in chief of Home Media Magazine. The Yale University graduate joined what was then Video Store Magazine in 1993 and was instrumental in transitioning the publication into a tabloid newsweekly. She spearheaded the publication’s reviews section, as well as aggressive coverage of the home video sales market. She also helped launch the magazine’s Web site in 1996. In her position as editor-in-chief since 2006, she has spearheaded the launch of such projects as the daily blast, transmitted via email each day to readers, and Agent DVD, a consumer publication aimed at genre enthusiasts who attend Comic-Con International in San Diego. She has freelanced for The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times and parenting publications. She has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Southern California.

Steph Sums It Up
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7 Feb, 2014

Digital Delivery: Salve or Salvation

The studios’ quarterly results reported this week offer a somewhat clearer picture of what studio executives are thinking about digital delivery’s contribution to the future of home entertainment.

Perhaps the most optimistic vision came from Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes. He noted the number of consumers who had used UltraViolet, the cloud-based service backed by most of the major studios, including Warner Bros.

“They love it,” he said. “We think more and more consumers will enjoy its benefits as retail support continues to increase.”

Bewkes said the improvement for UV contributed to a 50% increase in year-over-year electronic sellthrough throughout the industry, a number reported by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“That helped drive an increase in domestic consumer spending on home entertainment for the first time in eight years,” Bewkes said.

On the other hand, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger was much more cautious. He said home entertainment’s scant 1% uptick in consumer spending in 2013, driven by increases in digital distribution, didn’t yet warrant a victory parade. He cautioned that packaged media’s 13% sales decline in 2013 wasn’t completely offset by digital sales.

“But, I think it’s still early in terms of just how significant that all could be,” Iger said.

Some noted higher revenue from television content deals with subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Fox made a killer deal on the discontinued AMC show “The Killing,” while offering Amazon Prime exclusivity on the FX show “The Americans.” Sony caught a good break on its subscription video-on-demand revenue (as well as retail) for Golden Globe-lauded “Breaking Bad.”

In the midst of all this, Redbox, the kiosk company and leading physical rental outlet, appointed a new president, Mark Horak, a longtime Warner home entertainment executive. It’s a smart move for the biggest physical disc and outlet presence in the nation. With his studio background, Horak can help Redbox negotiate an uncertain digital future, while holding on to the rewards of physical media. It also helps that he is a smart and savvy executive who has seen many of the vicissitudes in the home entertainment industry, allowing him to negotiate future changes, including digital delivery.

Will digital be home entertainment’s salvation or just a salve as disc declines? The smartest and most experienced executives in the industry are on the case, both on the studio and retail fronts. But the answer to that question is still unclear.

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23 Jan, 2014

It's a Pie Contest

No, I’m not hungry while writing this (well, maybe a little). I’m referring to a metaphor oft talked about when the entertainment industry hits a crossroads. Each new delivery mechanism for entertainment inevitably is seen as a threat to the old order — and its piece of the revenue pie.

Television was seen as a threat to movies, but ended up growing the pie. The VCR was seen as a threat to content of all kinds, yet it gave birth to the video industry, and ended up growing the revenue pie for all content producers. At one point DVD was assailed for threatening the existing home entertainment industry, which was based on analog tapes (really!). Certain observers were concerned that the move to digital would prompt widespread piracy and kill the home entertainment industry. Instead, DVD turned out to be one of the best products ever launched by the studios, and brought in so much revenue (growing the pie) that movies got the green light in part based on projected DVD revenue.

2014 seems to be yet another round in the continuing entertainment pie contest. How that pie will be sliced — and whether it will grow yet again — is still in question.

The television delivery model — until recently composed of broadcast and cable — is facing a new threat from “over-the-top” delivery services. Netflix, Hulu, Aereo, HBO Go and many other services yet to be announced are vying for the television market. Now that content can be delivered to the television via the Internet, broadcast and cable delivery services have a new competitor — or (more accurately and ominously) new competitors.

Web delivery of content opens the pie to the biggest array of pie slicers yet, competitors with avid, and specific, fan bases. At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show, World Wrestling Entertainment announced its own Internet network.  That network includes live pay-per-view events, reality shows, original shows, documentaries, classic matches and more than 1,500 hours of VOD programming — all for $9.99 a month. It costs more than Netflix, but hey, those wrestling fans are rabid! Wrestling fans may reconsider their cable service if they can get what they want online.

But don’t count out the old guard yet. They are fighting this battle in the courts, as they did with the Betamax case that spawned the video industry. Net neutrality (meaning new upstarts such as Netflix get the upper hand) suffered a setback. The old guard won one, and is vying to control the Internet channels of the future.

But in truth there is no telling how this pie will be sliced — or if it will grow, as it has at all past crossroads. Here’s hoping that this new change will again grow the pie instead of just slicing it up in new ways. That way content producers — and creative folks — all win.

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10 Jan, 2014

The Disconnect With Connected Entertainment

This holiday season both of my kids got tablets. They are pretty much out of the toy stage.

Their wish lists were full of electronic devices, even though we already had two computers, a laptop, a Chromebook, various iPods and four cell phones.

When they got the tablets, I thought it would draw the teenager away from the phone and the 11-year-old away from the iPod.

Instead they gave new meaning to the term second screen. They watched content and played games on their tablets while texting on the phone and playing games and chatting on the iPod.

When the television was on, they achieved what I would term “third screen.”

In the first two days after receiving the tablet my teenager said she had already watched five movies via our UltraViolet account. My 11-year-old had discovered various games to play and had shared her discoveries with friends via wireless on the iPod.

I couldn’t help but think of that as I scrolled through news of studio and other on-demand content flowing to new devices and perused all of the gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show.

During a panel on the future of entertainment, Paul Berry, founder and CEO of Rebel Mouse, noted that in his family, group viewing is rare.

“Each of us has our own device, and we plug in our headphones,” he said.

Boy, did that sound familiar.

With digital content growing exponentially, and the number and types of screens to watch it in the home and on the go also soaring, communal viewing is becoming ever more rare.

The variety is just too tempting. When each family member can find something they want to watch online at any time, family movie night is no longer a group activity.

Still, there were occasions over the holidays when we all sat down to view a Blu-ray Disc together, often prompted by the kids, who seemed to crave that communal viewing experience common during the holidays of my childhood.

I guess even the most connected kids occasionally yearn to connect outside the digital world.

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30 Dec, 2013

Everyone Wants a Digital Compass

While every year in the home entertainment business seems to be one of change, 2013 was particularly eventful. Our issue highlights the year’s digital evolution.

We cover the shifting of digital delivery in both Thomas K. Arnold’s analysis of the year and in our special section on the digital roadmap at each of the major studios and select independents.

We have a 6 Questions feature with Target, a top mass merchant that has jumped into digital waters with its new video service. The top retailers for physical product — Target, Walmart and Best Buy — now all have digital offerings that tie in to UltraViolet.

We also have a preview of the Consumer Electronics Show. Second-screen applications, be they video services, companions to traditional content or games, are a focus at the show.

And we’re running our monthly Apps section, which covers AMC Networks’ Yeah! streaming service among other developments.

Many have embraced subscription services such as Netflix, especially for TV content. With its move into original programming, including “House of Cards,” Netflix is now a content producer, not just a catalog-content distribution service. Amazon’s Prime subscription service is aggressively competing with its own original programming and a growing library. Binge viewing of television product on the subscription services is a well-recognized phenomenon — a practice first noticed by the industry when consumers began to purchase TV season discs and watch episodes one after another. Meanwhile, cord cutting is disruptive to the entrenched cable and satellite services and the studios that supply them with content.

Also, the studios’ Digital HD push is encouraging consumers to build collections they can access from the cloud anytime they want on numerous devices.

While physical discs still drive studio home entertainment revenue, the move into the digital delivery is accelerating, and content owners must plot a course that will successfully, and profitably, navigate the emerging digital landscape.

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16 Dec, 2013

Home Media Crossing Borders

As perhaps you have noticed, Home Media Magazine is expanding its scope. In the Oct. 14 issue we took a look at , and in this issue we explore the Canadian home entertainment market. Both are part of our initiative to grow coverage of the increasingly important international market for entertainment.

While in the United States we may think of ourselves as the center of the entertainment universe, home entertainment takes a different shape in each territory based on customs and laws. Competition varies for digital, packaged media and theatrical players. In Canada, Cineplex spans the entertainment distribution chain, and Cineplex’s Malcolm Clarke, the subject of our 6 Questions feature, offers a unique perspective on the Canadian market.

Studios also test concepts internationally. Cineplex was at the forefront of SuperTicket, which marries home entertainment with the theatrical experience.

“SuperTicket provides Cineplex the opportunity to engage the customer at the start of the film life cycle and allows our guests to gain access to the digital copy of the movie first,” Clarke noted. “First and foremost, SuperTicket is about building a relationship with our customers. We build that relationship by providing value.”

Redbox may be a fixture in U.S. neighborhoods, but the kiosk goliath is just getting started in Canada. Netflix, too, doesn’t have such a big footprint North of the border as it does in the domestic market. Still, opportunities abound as brick-and-mortar stores recede.

“There are not [a lot] of resident Canadian digital services in the market,” said Charlie Miller, director of global licensing and multimedia services with BlackBerry, which serves the Canadian market.

The bottom line is that studios that are increasingly looking to international markets for growth may find that the territory is quite different from the U.S. marketplace, requiring a different disc and digital delivery strategy. International markets also offer a venue for experimentation.

We plan to continue to explore these differences.

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2 Dec, 2013

Nothing Like a Series Set for Rabid Fans

'Breaking Bad: The Complete Series'
'Breaking Bad: The Complete Series'

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment rolled out the red carpet treatment for its comprehensive “Breaking Bad” series set last week. Lead star Bryan Cranston showed up along with other talent from the series, including Vince Gilligan, the series creator, to acknowledge the end of an era in their respective careers as well as to promote the release of the gigantic series set.

Before the advent of disc, perhaps most of the reminiscing about a series happened at the wrap party and was lost to time. But Sony, via a feature-length documentary about the final season — allowing each actor to say a final goodbye — has given one of the seminal TV series of this era a truly proper sendoff.

I’ve written previously about the historical value of disc as a medium, and in the TV realm, disc offers a particular service when it documents the entire work of a series, almost as if it were an extended feature film. In the documentary, “Breaking Bad” is compared to feature Westerns of yesteryear. Like classics such as Stagecoach and The Searchers, “Breaking Bad” is an American Western, albeit a modern one, in which bad guys and good guys fight it out and in the end it is unclear what “good” and “bad” mean anymore. Another contemporary series, “The Walking Dead,” is exploring similar themes, and when it comes out in a complete series set, no doubt it will delight both rabid TV fans and media historians.

Like extended Westerns, both series may best be remembered as a whole, rather than piecemeal.

It’s been said recently that television as a medium is garnering increased creative attention. I recently talked to an aspiring writer who, rather than looking to write the next big feature film, was focusing his attention on writing for television because it afforded a better creative outlet.

While streaming episodes may be a great way to initially consume this flourishing creative format, it will be on disc, in full series sets, that these series will be preserved.

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18 Nov, 2013

Holiday Sales Will Still Be Awash in Blu

While the digital delivery revolution continues to draw considerable attention on Wall Street and in the home entertainment industry, Blu-ray Disc and Blu-ray Disc players will most likely be hot items yet again this holiday season.

Indeed, at least one analyst expects Blu-ray unit sales to grow.

“I predict Blu-ray Disc unit sales will rise in the neighborhood of 10% for the holidays,” notes Russ Crupnick, SVP of industry analysis with The NPD Group. “Despite the fascination with Netflix streaming, and a growing electronic sellthrough market, there is also a huge physical disc market.”

While an iTunes or other gift card may offer the digital equivalent to view content in the home, there’s nothing quite like a Blu-ray boxed set (which often includes a digital copy) to place under the tree.

NPD estimates the number of physical disc buyers in the United States at more than 50 million — and that number could be poised to expand as new Blu-ray Disc players enter the market.

It is notable that Walmart again is offering an ultra-low-priced LG Blu-ray player at $38 to kick off the holiday sales season Thanksgiving weekend.

Blu-ray also plays a part in two of the hottest game items this holiday season. The next-generation consoles, the PlayStation 4 from Sony and the Xbox One from Microsoft, will both play Blu-ray Discs. Each sale of those two new consoles puts another Blu-ray player in the home and creates another potential Blu-ray Disc buyer.

Movies on disc have been a staple of the gift-giving season for more than a decade, first solely on DVD and then also on Blu-ray Disc. There’s nothing quite like visually appealing physical discs of favorite movies and TV shows — both classics and new releases — to create excitement on the retail floor, in a stocking or under the tree.

While Netflix may shine on Wall Street, the holiday season is the ideal market for the physical disc. It offers retailers a flashy and exciting product to draw and keep customers in the store during the most important shopping season of the year.

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28 Oct, 2013

Amazon Ups Streaming Prices – Kinda

Amazon’s streaming service has done something that just a year or so ago put Netflix into a downward stock spiral, with pundits placing CEO Reed Hastings on worst-CEO lists.

Amazon has raised prices ­— kinda. The service raised the threshold for free shipping from a $25 order to $35. And that may mean that customers pay more for the privilege of streaming. Let me explain.

Amazon’s streaming service has always operated below the radar, a formidable second-run in the streaming business. Amazon Prime subscribers who pay $79 for their service — which offers free shipping — can access Amazon’s Netflix-like streaming service at no extra cost.

“Free” is a misnomer. Folks pay what I would term a subscription cost ($79) for no-cost shipping and Amazon Prime streaming (a competitor to Netflix).

Amazon’s latest move involves more than just shipping. It’s designed to push consumers to Prime membership.

An Amazon release noted: “Prime includes unlimited, free two-day shipping, with no minimum order size, on more than 15 million items, as well as unlimited streaming of over 41,000 movies and TV episodes through Prime Instant Video.”

There you have it. Amazon Prime is a package that includes streaming. You aren’t just paying for free shipping; you are paying for a streaming service.

But, if you don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime and ship anything less than $35 (as opposed to the previous $25), you find out Amazon’s shipping prices have risen. And you are likely to choose to pay the $79 for Amazon Prime, resulting in more revenue for Amazon (and its streaming service).

It’s the classic upsale: “Would you like streaming with that free shipping?”

I also wanted to call attention to a special section in this week’s issue on Apps. Apps are an increasingly important part of our business, and we will be covering the market on a regular basis. Previously, we ran special sections on apps, but more regular coverage is warranted. Please contact reporter Chris Tribbey (ctribbey@questex.com) with story suggestions.

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14 Oct, 2013

Finding Catalog Title a Stream

Recently, my daughter and I were looking for “The Addams Family” movies from the early 1990s. Those films — based on the 1960s sitcom my generation grew up watching in reruns — hit theaters well before my 11-year-old was born, but she had seen a Halloween costume she liked based on the Wednesday character and wanted to watch the films.

I assumed we had it on DVD, but neither the original The Addams Family movie nor the sequel Addams Family Values were anywhere in our library. We also did not have the classic TV show in physical media. Though we didn’t really try, I felt sure none of the mass merchants would be carrying those decades old movies and that we wouldn’t find it at our local Redbox kiosk, which would be stocked with the latest blockbusters windows would allow. There are no traditional video stores in my neighborhood. (As you may have read in our Sept. 2 issue article, “Rental Smackdown,” there aren’t any video stores within 10 miles of my house.) Also, to be quite honest, I wasn’t interested in driving all around the neighborhood to find discs of the movies or show.

So, we decided to go online. Perhaps Amazon Prime would have such titles, past their prime (no pun intended), but not exactly old enough to warrant a classic re-release. Bingo! Those not-yet-classic 1990s hits were available to stream. Catalog titles that my friends and I might have sought out at the local video store in years past were readily available to stream through my PlayStation 3 via Amazon. Our search was over.

And that’s a shame. My daughter has really grown fond of those movies. Had she been offered a ready purchase after discovering them via a streaming service, she might have decided to buy. As the studios sell off their libraries to online outlets clamoring for content, I think it would be prudent to take a longer-term view. Certainly, it may seem that many catalog titles have been drained of their value and are ready for the (practically free) streaming heap, but I think studios should try to extend the value of these titles by structuring deals that also offer a purchase option, ideally enabled with UltraViolet. That way, a movie discovery isn’t just a stream.

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1 Oct, 2013

Digital Delivery Still Forging Its Path

Continuous change was the mantra at the Entertainment Merchants Association’s fifth annual Digital Media Pipeline, held Sept. 24 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Such established outlets as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu have made their mark in the digital world, but that world is constantly shifting.

Content owners, service providers and retailers hope digital revenue will make up for the shortfall in packaged media. While Blu-ray Disc may be a stalwart followup to DVD, it cannot hope to match the revenue avalanche that groundbreaking disc created. Thus, extracting revenue from the elusive and mercurial digital market is a necessity if home entertainment and indeed the entire entertainment ecosystem is to continue to flourish.

How that can be done is the real puzzle, and no one seems to know exactly how the pieces should fit. Early digital release may boost the segment. Incremental revenue post-sale in the game market might bring in steady income. But, while promising, these strategies are far from universal or commonplace.

Entertainment in the future may tend to cross platform “worlds” that can be monetized in various mediums — games, user-generated content, movies, physical and digital delivery, and merchandise.

Where does that leave the quiet drama or coming-of-age film that are the bread-and-butter of independent film as well as some of our most-beloved classics?

Keynote speaker Morgan Spurlock seemed to indicate that Netflix and other digital outlets were offering documentaries to a wider audience. Certainly, Netflix is also helping to put the spotlight on television series with its move into original programming and Emmy plaudits. But are these digital services capable of financing the kind of quality entertainment that the studios, networks and independent producers have been offering in years past? In large part, Netflix and other digital services are reaping the harvest of programs and talent financed by the old system. If the newfangled digital world can’t produce a strong stream of revenue, will quality content wane as well?

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