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.
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.
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.
Nothing Like a Series Set for Rabid Fans
'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.
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.
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 (email@example.com) with story suggestions.
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.
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?
Tech Talk in Toronto
This month I moderated a panel on digital delivery and filmmaking at the Toronto International Film Festival. What was most striking about the panel was the mercurial nature of digital distribution and the almost Escher-like path that filmmakers must navigate to strike the right digital delivery deal for their films.
If filmmakers make a deal directly with Netflix or some other digital provider, it may preclude them from making other deals. Also, each film has a different preferred digital strategy. Some films may do better going theatrical first, but other films lend themselves to a digital-release-first strategy.
The marketplace is very confusing for independent filmmakers. Many of them would like to control their own destiny, but ultimately may need studio support. As funding becomes less studio focused, with filmmakers looking to crowdfunding on sites such as Kickstarter to bankroll their films, ironically the guiding hand of the studio may be more important than ever in the ultimate distribution of these films.
Also on the panel were Canada-based digital content distributors BlackBerry, with its video store, and Cineplex, which has a digital distribution arm in
addition to its packaged-media and theatrical businesses.
The distribution channels internationally are also varied and the licenses complicated. The international digital distribution market does not mirror what we see domestically. Netflix may reign in streaming here, but its footprint is much less deep or defined internationally.
On another note, my Canadian friends were very curious about the expansion of Redbox into their territory. While Redbox is a fixture of disc rental in the states, its international development is in its infancy. The lesson: While we Americans are accustomed to being the center of the entertainment universe, we may be missing the big picture. Just as the international business is becoming more important to the theatrical bottom line, so too is it an important part of the home entertainment landscape.
Filmmakers and distributors will have to widen their lenses when contemplating digital delivery.
A Blockbuster Is Hard to Find
In this week’s magazine, our editors and reporters looked in their neighborhoods for rental options. Most found a Redbox location within easy driving or even walking distance.
Blockbuster outlets seemed an endangered species, only happened upon on accident or via a long freeway trip.
And when our editors were able to get to a Blockbuster, it was a quandary to figure out how much a given rental would cost — though the selection was more broad than the Redbox kiosk option.
It is hard to see a former rental Goliath wane, but time may have passed Blockbuster by, leaving only ghosts like those at the Blockbuster in last year’s “South Park” episode. In the Oct. 24, 2012, episode, one of the kids’ fathers, Randy Marsh, buys a Blockbuster Video outlet for “only $10,000,” expecting to make a killing, only to find his customers are literally ghosts from the 1980s, wearing leg warmers and asking for films such as Turner & Hooch.
Whether Blockbuster is an anachronism or not, Redbox has taken steps to make sure its shrinking store footprint is filled. Our editors found Redboxes where there were formerly video stores, such as Blockbuster. The kiosk giant has skillfully filled in, and taken over, the disc rental market as Blockbuster has pulled back.
While our selected visits to Redbox and Blockbuster outlets may not paint the entire picture for the physical rental market, I think the exercise certainly points the way to — and points out — the successes and failings of the current physical rental landscape.
I hope you learn something (and perhaps get a chuckle or two, as I have) from the staff accounts we have supplied. The home entertainment rental business has changed a lot in the years since its inception around 1980, but one thing remains the same. Consumers are always looking for something to entertain them, in a convenient, wallet-friendly package. Whether it be Blockbuster or Redbox or a digital offering such as Netflix, or a disc or digital copy they own, consumers are looking for their own version of a “Blockbuster Night” that doesn’t break the bank.
The Heat Is On
August is a most anxious month for home entertainment suppliers. They gear up for the all-important fourth-quarter gift-giving season when sellthrough discs are expected to shine and the summer slate of big-budget theatrical films hits the home entertainment market.
The heat is on — and I’m not just talking about the weather.
Early in the summer, the fathers of blockbuster film, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, speaking at the opening of a new media center at the University of Southern California, predicted a Hollywood “implosion” of blockbuster flops that would change the industry.
“There’s going to be an implosion or big meltdown where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm,” Spielberg said.
Various pundits have weighed in on just how many big-budget films (some terming the number unprecedented) will turn out to be flops at the end of the summer.
Regardless of the final number, the home entertainment market will have to struggle with marketing them, flops or no. Some films will make up revenue in the international theatrical market, where lots of action and very little dialogue always plays well. But other big-budget behemoths will look to home entertainment to make up for lost revenue.
And, thus, the heat is on.
Home entertainment divisions will be expected to be cleanup hitters for titles that underperformed theatrically. Conversely, they’ll be expected to realize in the home entertainment market the promise of films that hit a home run in the summer theatrical contest.
But home entertainment divisions have another element to deal with: increased competition for consumers’ limited leisure hours from subscription video-on-demand services.
A colleague told me recently that the entertainment business is all about creating desire. That job falls squarely on the shoulders of the home entertainment marketing team this fourth quarter. How can we create desire for the summer blockbusters and for classic collections?
The heat is on.