• Sony Gets It Wrong with "Meatballs" Promotion

    On Monday, Sony Electronics announced a holiday promotion in which buyers of select Internet-connected Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players would receive a free 24 hour rental of the Columbia/Sony Pictures film "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs." In addition, current owners of these devices would be able to rent the film for $24.95. For all of these consumers, the film would be available from Dec. 8th to Jan 4th, the month leading up to the film's DVD release.

    Ordinarily I would applaud any move by Hollywood to modify its rigid release "windows" to benefit broadband delivery of films. Yet in this case I think Sony's promotion is ill-conceived and is extremely unlikely to contribute any real momentum to studios' future broadband delivery plans. In fact, it may actually have the opposite effect and further stunt the broadband medium's emergence. Here's why:

    The release window is too tight - Release windows allow Hollywood studios to mine new value from the same content given each successive distribution medium's unique attributes and audience. But by trying to squeeze in this promotional window, Sony is exacerbating an already very tight windowing plan for "Meatballs" that called for DVD release less than 2 months following its theatrical run. Remarkably, even as Sony is trumpeting this new promotion, the film is actually still playing in theaters nationwide. Given it's already only 27 days until Dec 8th, there will be virtually no gap between theatrical and promotional windows. That undermines the theatrical value proposition, in turn ticking off exhibitors who are threatening to pull the film early, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

    Theatrical to DVD windows have been getting progressively tighter as studios have sought to bolster sagging DVD sales. The problem is that like a good wine, lengthy windows allow a film to age and increase in value for both those consumers who saw the movie and those who did not. With this promotion, Sony is giving consumers an in-home opportunity to see the film immediately adjacent to the DVD's availability. That can do nothing but also hurt the DVD's sales.

    The promotional offer isn't strong enough - For Sony Electronics, trying to differentiate its devices in a brutally competitive landscape is key. But do the marketing pros at Sony really believe that giving away a 24 hour rental is going to have a big impact? Personally I doubt it. The prices of the Sony TVs in the promotion are in the $1,000-$2,000 range, so a $25 incentive is easily swamped by the rampant deep discounts found in Sunday circulars (not to mention even deeper online deals). Further, I don't see any retailer incentives included in the promotion that would influence the sales process.

    The "Meatballs" offer might have a stronger effect on sales of Sony's Blu-ray players, though here too, it's unlikely to be profound. With Blu-ray player sales lagging, manufacturers and retailers have largely decided that hitching their wagons to Netflix's Watch Instantly streaming is the best way to bump up sales. But with sub-$100 Netflix-capable Blu-ray players now available, a "Meatballs" rental valued at $25 on a $200-250 Sony player will have a hard time breaking through. Last but not least, it's important to remember, Sony's promotion is for a 24 hour rental. Not offering consumers ownership of "Meatballs" makes the promotional value ephemeral. And with Walmart, Target and Amazon now offering top DVDs for just $10 apiece, a 24 hour rental valued at $25 is underwhelming, not to mention somewhat specious, given it is Sony that's setting the "price." Given all of this, I suspect Sony would have done better by just offering a free "Meatballs" DVD with purchase.

    Device audience too small to prove broadband delivery's appeal - Looked at differently, the small base of connected Sony Bravia and connected Blu-ray players, plus the new device sales over the promotional period, is unlikely to generate a large volume of "Meatballs" streaming anyway. That means that the promotion will do little to encourage Sony or other studios to more strongly embrace broadband delivery of their films. In fact, when the weak results of the promotion come in (as I expect they will), "Meatballs" could become future industry shorthand for "broadband delivery isn't ready for prime-time." That would be a shame, because I believe consumers very much want on-demand access to films in their homes. Netflix's success with Watch Instantly certainly proves that, as does the success VOD is having.

    From my perspective, rather than setting up half-baked promotions like this one, studios should take a step back and think through how to do broadband delivery (for both rental and download-to-own) correctly. There are a lot of moving pieces, but clearly addressing what to do about the DVD window is critical. Studios are rightfully worried about killing off this cash cow. But compressing the DVD window and then trying to insert a new broadband delivery window isn't going to be the answer. Rather than seeing more "Meatballs" like promotions, I'd prefer to see a cohesive strategy out of Hollywood for how it can fully tap into broadband delivery's potential.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.