An interesting announcement today from Walmart’s Vudu, the digital movie and TV rental service that’s similar to Apple’s iTunes. It has begun to let customers offer access to the UltraViolet-enabled content in their libraries to as many as five people. Invitees in the “Share My Movies by Vudu” initiative have to create an account with Vudu, which is free, or link the Walmart service to their existing UltraViolet digital lockers. Then they get to see or download whatever’s in the inviter’s library — including select DVDs added via Vudu’s Disc to Digital service. “We know you’ve spent a significant amount of money and time building your collection and have plenty more films to add to it,” Vudu Senior Director Amit Balan says in a blog post. “Share My Movies by Vudu is another way we’re helping you get the most out of your collection.” Remember that Disney isn’t a member of UltraViolet — it has its own digital locker service called Disney Movies Everywhere. So its content is out. At the end of 2013 UltraViolet had more than 15M consumer accounts that could access 12,200 movies and TV shows from 10 major content providers.
Angry comments have erupted on the Veronica Mars Kickstarter site from donors upset that they are unable to download the movie via the service provided: Flixster/Ultraviolet. The film, which was funded on Kickstarter, promised that donors who pledged $35 or higher would “receive a digital version of the movie within a few days of the movie’s theatrical debut, plus the T-shirt, plus the pdf of the shooting script.” After Warner Bros declined to finance the idea based on its 2004-07 TV series, Veronica Mar’s creator/exec producer Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell went to the crowdfunding site with an intention of raising $2M to bring the popular TV series to the big screen, but it quickly ended up raising a whopping $5.7M.
The comments range from, “This is a bunch of crap. Where is the MP4 download that just works, for everyone, with no problems?” and “This is ridiculous. I can’t even get a full download of Flixter (sic) to even attempt to watch the movie. Both I and my husband have been alternately trying to download it for over an hour. I have never been so disappointed … I’ve been looking forward to this for a year” to “I’m disappointed that the Flixster streaming/download isn’t working when we had a whole evening planned around watching the movie. I ended up paying $7.00 to rent the movie through amazon … ” Others wrote: “What a way to say ‘screw you’ to backers” and “I regret this funding.” And still another: “Giving up getting digital download to work. Happy movie got made but can’t help but feel ripped off for not getting the copy of the movie I was promised.” In response, Thomas sent out this statement to donors:
“We’ve read all of your comments since yesterday’s update. We know that some of you have strong opinions about the decision to provide digital versions of the movie through Flixster. As you’ll see in the original FAQ on our Kickstarter page, we’ve always planned to include Flixster as a digital distribution platform. But I also know that many of you use iTunes, Amazon or other platforms, and would prefer to claim your digital copies on your favorite service, so we hoped we’d also be able to arrange for more options. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t possible. In the end, Flixster was the best option for getting the digital movie reward out to all of you, worldwide, at the same time.” He suggests calling the customer support team … okay, a total debacle.
Cable companies are notoriously tin-eared when it comes to dealing with consumers. But Comcast hopes to show that it can win movie-lovers’ hearts and cash by selling electronic versions of films and TV shows — a business that’s now dominated by Apple’s iTunes and Amazon. The cable giant should begin to sell a few hundred movies and TV shows movies and TV shows to its 20M Xfinity digital customers by year end, I’m told. (The industry term for this is Electronic Sell-Through, or EST.) The main selling point is that Comcast subs will be able to buy the content via their set top boxes, and watch on their TV sets, without the need for an additional device to link them to the Web. Adding cable or satellite companies to the retail mix is “really going to open up amazing opportunities,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer told analysts last week, teasing Comcast’s expected announcement.
Netflix Nabs ‘Hunger Games’ For The UK & Ireland
Netflix has secured exclusive rights to The Hunger Games for the UK and Ireland before it hits the streaming service in the U.S. Netflix entered the market in January 2012 where Amazon’s Lovefilm is a strong player and where Sky continues to build its business. It hit 1M subscribers last August and has UK deals with studios including Disney, Fox, NBCU, Paramount and Miramax.
Bérénice Bejo To Star In ‘Le Dernier Diamant’
The Artist star Bérénice Bejo has booked her latest French film and will start shooting next week. The Eric Barbier-directed Le Dernier Diamant co-stars Yvan Attal, Jean-François Stévenin and Annie Cordy. France’s Vertigo Productions is producing with international sales handled by Other Angle Pictures. The heist movie follows an ex-con who is coerced into participating in the theft of a celebrated diamond during an auction in Antwerp and who becomes entangled with the diamond’s owner (Bejo).
Australia Distribs Confident Of Fast Take-off For UltraViolet
The UltraViolet format launches in Australia on May 1, a joint effort from the majors and independent distributors which they are confident will avoid the pitfalls which plagued the technology’s introduction in the U.S. Key elements of the Australian launch include a unified marketing campaign, the participation of all distributors except Disney, which has yet to join the UV bandwagon, and the support of dominant retail chains, home entertainment retailers and digital download services. The Oz-based working group that includes members of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem Universal, Sony, Fox, Warner, Paramount, Roadshow and Hopscotch eOne, predicts 300,000 Australian homes will sign up for UV accounts by October 31. Australia still has a very healthy DVD rental business, partly because pay-TV penetration is a relatively low 30%, Netflix and Hulu haven’t entered the market and the SVOD business is tiny. U.S. and Australian companies that supply UV back-end services have been pitching the mass merchandisers. Distributors haven’t announced titles for the May launch. The primary target of the marketing campaigns will be families and people aged 25-45, rather than early adopters regarded as less receptive to UV. Distributors hope the ease and convenience of downloading films to multiple devices via UV will reduce piracy. – Don Groves
That’s an important distinction, and a potentially risky strategy, for the new online service created by the joint venture between Verizon and DVD kiosk rental company Redbox. “We’re not the Netflix killer,” Redbox Instant By Verizon CEO Shawn Strickland said this morning at a briefing at the International CES confab in Las Vegas. While Netflix focuses on streaming TV series, his service’s ability to offer DVD rentals “is a core differentiator” while streaming “is positioning us for the future.” The problem with streaming movies is that the service can’t land most titles for about eight years — until they’re finished with the premium TV runs on channels led by HBO, Showtime and Starz. That’s baked into Redbox Instant deals with Warner Bros, Sony and MGM, although Strickland says that “there will be some exceptions.” One is from his pact with EPIX: It enables Redbox Instant to run movies from Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM about 60 days after they first appear on pay TV. Redbox Instant is still working on deals with other studios including Disney, Universal, and Fox.
They’re calling it the “Get Connected UltraViolet Movie Starter Pack,” and it will be included when consumers buy certain gadgets — mostly Blu-ray players and smart TV sets. Beginning sometime this year, buyers will receive a redemption code for five or 10 UltraViolet titles. Lionsgate, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. are participating in the initiative, announced today at the International CES electronics show in Las Vegas. Manufacturers joining in the plan include LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio. And on the streaming side, companies joining in are Best Buy’s CinemaNow, Flixster, Nook Video and VUDU. “It is terrific to see leading companies in content and hardware come together and agree on a standard allowing more content, more options and more products to consumers,” says Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro.
The continuing decline in DVD sales, and disc rentals at bricks-and-mortar stores and subscription services led by Netflix, continued to weigh the business down according to data out today from DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. It reports that consumers spent $5.66B in Q4, a 1.5% drop vs the period last year. That resulted in a full-year total of $18B, up 0.23%. The total sell-through figure for packaged goods — largely discs — fell 8.4% to $3.1B in Q4. That’s due to DVDs: While the trade group doesn’t break out data for Blu-ray discs (it once did), it says that spending on the high-definition format was up 10% for the year. DEG doesn’t break out sales of UltraViolet-enabled discs but says that the initiative has “achieved significant milestones in industry and consumer adoption and is rapidly becoming an integral part of the home entertainment landscape.” Spending on digital downloads is up — 50% to $295M — but not enough to compensate for the decline in DVDs.
OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. (October 25, 2012) – Redbox, a wholly owned subsidiary of Coinstar, Inc. (Nasdaq: CSTR), and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have signed a multi-year agreement to bring Warner Bros.’ Blu-ray Disc™ and DVD titles to Redbox® kiosks 28 days after their retail release dates.
In addition, Redbox announced plans to join the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) and has agreed to promote UltraViolet through a program of mutually agreed-upon promotions and marketing tactics designed to help retail customers discover UltraViolet.
“For the past 10 years, Redbox has been committed to giving consumers affordable access to new-release entertainment,” said Galen Smith, senior vice president, Redbox. “This new agreement continues this commitment and represents an exciting new chapter in our relationship with Warner Bros., and an opportunity to explore our consumers’ interest in UltraViolet.”
This could be a big boost for the entertainment industry’s streaming initiative, which has been struggling to ignite consumer interest. Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer told analysts in a conference call this morning that the discs, which go on sale August 18, will also offer opportunities for buyers to access UltraViolet streamed versions via Walmart and Time Warner’s Flixster. The studio has high expectations for Hunger Games, the biggest home video release Lionsgate’s ever had: It says that two-thirds of the film’s profits are yet to be collected — and most of the cash will come from consumer sales. Execs say that they’re encouraged by retailer pre-orders, including from Apple’s iTunes. The studio is helping retailers to attract fans to stores on Friday night before the official sale date, for example by offering special signage and packaging. There’s also a co-promotion arrangement with Amazon for Kindle Fire owners. “Our revenues right now from licensing and merchandising of Hunger Games are ahead of our plan,” Feltheimer says.
Moguls will need a stiff drink nearby when they read Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne’s bracing report today about the state of the home video business — and Hollywood studios. He says that film operations at Universal, Disney, Paramount, Fox, and Warner Bros are worth about $19.3B, down from $40.2B in 2007. And a big reason for the 52% drop is that studios’ annual home video profits from each TV household fell to $100 last year from $127 in 2007 — and will continue to slide to $93 in 2015. Sales and high-priced rentals of DVDs and Blu-ray discs from retailers such as Blockbuster are simply falling too fast as consumers discover that they can do just fine paying $1.20 a night to rent a disc at a kiosk — or less to watch a movie from Netflix. The analyst says it’s possible that studios will boost sales of discs with the UltraViolet initiative, which gives buyers opportunities to stream the movies to mobile and other digital devices. But probably not:
London, UK (March 27, 2012) – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) UK today announced three of the studio’s hottest summer releases, Jack & Jill, The Vow and 21 Jump Street, will arrive in stores through June and July 2012 with UltraViolet digital versions of the movies included with their respective Blu-ray Discs™ and DVDs.
After a customer purchases a Blu-ray Disc or DVD with UltraViolet and creates their free cloud-based UltraViolet account, they will be able to access their movie through any UltraViolet-compatible service or device – from PCs and tablets to TVs and smart phones. UltraViolet gives users unprecedented freedom and flexibility to download and stream their movies most anywhere they can access the Internet. Users can even share their library with up to six family members in their household account.
UltraViolet’s had a rocky start. Consumers have struggled to figure out what it is and how it works — and the studios backing the industry initiative have hungered to have a big retailer help walk people through the process. That’s what makes the new alliance with WalMart interesting. Starting on April 16 consumers will be able to take their home videos to some 3,500 WalMart stores and have them converted to digital files stored in the retailer’s Vudu digital storage facilities for Internet streaming. It will cost $2 to transfer a DVD or a Blu-ray disc, and $5 to have a DVD upgraded to a high-definition file. Users must open a free account with WalMart’s Vudu, and go to its site to access digital files. “It will encourage customers to continue buying physical DVDs,” says John Aden, WalMart’s EVP General Merchandise. WalMart has the exclusive right to convert discs to digital in stores. (Samsung has announced a Blu-ray player that will transfer discs to digital for UltraViolet.) The company also plans a “multimonth educational campaign” both in and out of its stores to help people figure out what to do with their discs and how to access movies on mobile and other digital devices. New releases that are UltraViolet enabled already provide buyers with the opportunity to stream a digital file.
The devices would allow users to store their digital TV shows and movies on physical hard drives, and is seen as a complement to the UltraViolet platform, where content is stored online in the cloud. The storage initiative with SanDisk and Western Digital is dubbed Project Phenix and the first products are expected this year. The companies formed the joint venture, called the Secure Content Storage Association, in August.. “The simple message is you’re collecting all your content and putting it in one place to be able to access a full high- definition experience,” Danny Kaye, Fox’s EVP Global Research and Strategy, told Bloomberg. Here’s today’s release:
BURBANK and LOS ANGELES, Calif., Feb. 28, 2012 – Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK), and Western Digital (NYSE: WDC) today revealed “Project Phenix” (working title), an initiative that will give consumers an easier and faster way to organize, store and move their high definition digital movies and TV shows – including new releases in up to full 1080p quality – across multiple devices. In addition to local storage, the content will also be backed up via the UltraViolet industry standard as well as other cloud-based services.
The project is being developed by the newly formed Secure Content Storage Association (SCSA). Established as an LLC, this coalition will create and license solutions that secure high definition and other premium copyright-protected content on local and portable hard drives, and flash memory products such as USB flash drives, SD™ cards and solid state disk drives (SSDs). Once content is downloaded to a hard drive or flash memory product, it could then be accessed, online or offline, on any SCSA-enabled device such as a connected TV, laptop, Blu-ray™ player, tablet, mobile phone or game console. The optimized content will be made easily available for purchase via digital download, digital files bundled with physical media, kiosks in retail stores, or other means of secure digital delivery.
The Time Warner chief delivered an unusually impassioned address today imploring investors to pressure everyone from pay TV distributors to Hollywood studios to deploy on-demand streaming initiatives including TV Everywhere and UltraViolet home video. “Not enough consumers are aware of these powerful enhancements and not enough consumers have them at their fingertips,” Bewkes told the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference. “We have to move much faster…You should absolutely demand that the companies in which you invest get serious and invest in this opportunity.” He’s most interested in television, the business that accounts for about 80% of Time Warner’s profits — and especially TV Everywhere, which gives pay TV subscribers the ability to watch shows on mobile devices on demand. ”The user experience today is really spotty. Some distributors make it easy and others don’t. You know who they are and so do they.” Specifically, Bewkes wants programmers to make more content available to TV Everywhere. He wants programs to be available on TV sets as well as tablets. He wants Nielsen to figure out how to measure the number of viewers on all digital platforms. And he wants distributors to make it easy to find and access programming. “You shouldn’t need to be knocked upside the head by an iPad to realize that consumers are demanding rich, flexible, intuitive user interfaces,” he says. Consumers “think they deserve it, and they do. And they’re voting with their finger tips everyday.”
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes channeled his inner Les Moonves in a conference call with analysts this morning to deliver one of the most relentlessly cheery infomercials he has ever presented for his company. But he wasn’t able to duplicate the CBS chief’s ability to mesmerize investors: Time Warner shares dipped sharply during the presentation after opening up on the company’s strong 4Q results and announcement of a new stock buy-back plan. The drop was due to the company’s warning that corporate expenses will rise in 2012. Execs also acknowledged that the film studio — which won’t have a new Harry Potter film — faces difficult comparisons with the 2011 results.
Still, Bewkes hammered on his theme that “our best years are ahead of us” — especially due to TV Everywhere and business models that promote digital distribution. “We’re at the vanguard of the industry” in promoting them, Bewkes says. For example, the HBO Go app soon will be available for Microsoft’s XBox. The company also is developing apps so pay TV subscribers can
Samsung’s announcement is really interesting, The company says that it will introduce this year a Blu-ray player that can take users’ existing DVDs and Blu-ray discs and upload them to an UltraViolet digital locker. That means people don’t have to wait for a movie to be released on a disc that includes UltraViolet streaming rights in order to watch their home videos on digital devices. The remote control for the Samsung player will have a dedicated button that says “Disc To Digital.” The announcement followed the long-awaited disclosure that Amazon has an UltraViolet agreement with a studio which it declined to name — but which I’m told is Warner Bros. The agreement means that when Amazon sells an UltraViolet-enabled disc from the mystery studio, the retailer will also handle digital streams for the movie. Amazon and Samsung made their announcements at a 2012 International CES panel about UltraViolet.
The big question following this expected announcement is whether Redbox and Blockbuster will tell Warner Bros to take a hike and buy the studio’s new discs from retailers. That’s one reason why other studios have been reluctant to push for the longer window. But Warner Bros made the announcement at the 2012 International CES because it’s eager to push low-cost rental services aside in the hope that the entertainment industry’s new UltraViolet initiative will boost sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. UltraViolet enables buyers of some discs to stream the movies from remote servers to digital devices including smartphones and tablets. “Since we implemented a 28-day window for subscription and kiosk, we have seen very positive results with regard to our sell-through business,” Warner Home Video North America president Mark Horak says. “One of the key initiatives for Warner Bros is to improve the value of ownership for the consumer and the extension of the rental window — along with our support of UltraViolet — is an important piece of that strategy.” Netflix VP Content Anna Lee says that it is going along with the longer delay “to ensure members have continued secure access to Warner Bros DVDs and Blu-ray discs.”
We’ll see whether the entertainment industry can gin up some big news at this week’s 2012 International CES for its UltraViolet streaming initiative — such as an alliance with a major retailer. But for now, this is what we’ve got: Panasonic will load its Viera Connect TV sets and Blu-ray players with connections to Warner Bros’ Flixster. The entertainment company wants its Web destination to become the chief gateway for consumers to stream movies after they buy discs that include UltraViolet access rights. Warner says that there’ve been 50M downloads of the Flixster app for Android, Blackberry and iPad devices.