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Analysis for 'Universal'

  • Amazon Gets Universal Movies to Stream That Netflix Already Has

    Amazon announced a new licensing deal with NBCU that gives it streaming rights to a batch of older movies from Universal Pictures, bumping to 9,000 the number of movies and TV shows available for its Amazon Prime Members. However, the move is unlikely to have the folks at Netflix quaking in their boots; like Amazon's licensing deal with CBS from last week, virtually all of the Universal movies are already available on Netflix (by my count 9 of the 11 titles identified in today's press release can be streamed on Netflix while only "Elizabeth" and "Fletch" are available solely on DVD).

    Don't get me wrong, more content is always a good thing, and these deals, along with an acquisition of Pushbutton, a UK app developer for connected devices, suggest things may be ramping up at Amazon. But the content deals do underscore the catch-up game that Amazon is playing with Netflix. That's the dynamic in today's market - Netflix got a head start in aggregating Hollywood content for online distribution. Now, to the extent it has a willingness to pay, Amazon must go do similar deals.

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  • Premium VOD is a Train Wreck Though It Just Doesn't Matter

    Yesterday marked the official launch of "Premium VOD" by DirecTV, a plan under which movies will be released just 60 days after their theatrical opening (half the usual time) for 48-hour rental by subscribers for $30. The first movie being offered this way, which DirecTV dubs "Home Premiere," was Sony Pictures' "Just Go With It" starring Adam Sandler. Three other studios, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures and Fox have already signaled their intent to release movies on Premium VOD with DirecTV and other pay-TV operators who have expressed interest.  

    Theater owners and the Hollywood creative community are livid about Premium VOD, which they perceive as paving the road to cannibalizing theatrical attendance which would in turn harm a movie's overall economics, creating a dangerous downward spiral. In addition, there's concern that if consumers switch to watching movies on the small screen then the creative license implicit in a big screen emphasis will get squeezed. While their concerns are completely justified, the good news for them is that Premium VOD will be lucky to achieve even minimal success. Instead it will more than likely end up being a short-lived experiment that will have virtually no impact on larger Hollywood dynamics. Here's why:

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  • As DVD Sales Wane, Experiments With Movies' Digital Delivery Windows Rise

    Yesterday brought more evidence of how digital distribution release windows and promotions are rising as DVD sales wane. First there was news that Disney had teamed up with Wal-mart to allow buyers of the Toy Story 3 DVD to get a bonus digital version of the film playable through the company's recently acquired Vudu digital outlet. That offer was quickly one-upped by Amazon which announced an increase from 300 to 10,000 movies in its "Disc+" program, which provides a digital copy to the user's Amazon VOD account when they purchase a qualifying DVD.    

    Meanwhile at the Blu-con conference in Beverly Hills, studio executives debated how to best calibrate digital, VOD and DVD distribution. Even emerging practices come with exceptions and debates about results. For example, while VOD has largely gained day-and-date release with DVD, exceptions are still made on a case-by-case basis, such as with Universal's "Despicable Me" which will have its DVD go on sale on Dec 14, but its VOD release not until after Christmas.

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  • Fox, Metacafe Have a Winner with New "Australia" Contest

    This morning Twentieth Century Fox and Metacafe are announcing "The Thirty Second Film Contest," which challenges contestants to put together a winning thirty second spot for the epic film "Australia," opening on November 26th. Though not yet fully live, I like the direction of this initiative a lot, and believe it provides an innovative example of how to blend traditional film marketing techniques with broadband-enabled audience participation.

    Contestants visit the promotional site hosted at Metacafe, a large aggregator of short-form entertainment, to obtain film-related assets provided by Fox. These can be augmented with the contestant's own music, voiceovers, sound effects and artwork to create a highly original entry. Entries are submitted through Metacafe and will be judged by the folks at Fox and Bazmark (Australia director Baz Luhrman's company).

    The contest is actually meant to be quite serious and semi-professional; Luhrmann has also created a whole library of videos about film-making, which a student of the art can use to help shape his/her entry, or just watch to learn. The grand prize is enticing: a trip for two to Australia, another to NY for a private screening/meeting with Luhrmann and inclusion of the winning entry on the film's eventual DVD.

    The Australia contest builds on a similar one that Metacafe and Universal offered for "The Bourne Ultimatum" last year, which I reviewed enthusiastically here. The concept also follows on previous posts I've done about the value of what I call "purpose-driven user generated video" or "YouTube 2.0" opportunities for users to create videos that have actual business value. I continue to believe that user-submitted videos which go beyond goofball entertainment are a huge area of broadband industry opportunity.

    The Australia contest is a winner on multiple levels as it; creates pre-release buzz for the film, allows fans and aspiring artists to get involved and showcase their work, taps into a large base of original (and free!) ideas to help promote the movie, and introduces a fresh, updated approach to film marketing that is sorely needed for differentiation.

    This week I've been talking a lot about engagement and why it's so critical in the broadband era. While media and entertainment companies must always focus on driving ratings points or a big opening day box office, the ways to do so are changing. The key change I see is that films, TV programs and other entertainment must become part of a larger experience - complete with multifaceted engagement opportunities - rather than just a one-off moment of audience consumption. Broadband enables this shift in a big way. More marketers need to take advantage of the possibilities.

    What do you think? Post a comment now!

     
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  • iTunes Film Deals Not a Game-Changer

    In the last few days there's been a lot of attention paid to Apple's deals with Disney, Fox, Warner Bros, Paramount, Universal, Sony, Lionsgate, Imagine and First Look Studios giving iTunes day-and-date access to these studios' current films.

    As an advocate of the broadband medium, naturally I'm delighted to see studios put broadband distribution on a par with DVD release. The deals should rightly be interpreted as another step in the maturation of the broadband medium.

    However, these deals, in and of themselves, do not constitute a game-changing event for paid downloads of feature films. That's because until there's mass connectivity between PCs and TVs and much-improved portability, consumers' willingness to buy is going to be significantly muted. Consumers' inability to easily watch a feature film on their widescreen TV or easily grab-these- movies-to-go (as with DVDs) are a huge drag on the download value proposition, easily swamping its new convenience benefits.

    I believe that lack of mass connectivity between PCs and TVs is the last major hurdle to unlocking broadband video's ultimate potential. It is also the firewall that's preserving a lot of incumbents' business models (cable operators, broadcasters, etc.). No question, Apple and iTunes are powerful marketing partners for the studios, and their download revenue will certainly increase from its current modest base. But not even Apple's mighty brand (and certainly not its anemic AppleTV device) is enough to compensate for broadband's current deficiency.

    The good news is that there's a frenzy of energy directed at solving the PC-to-TV connectivity issue. Though no approach has yet broken through, I'm still betting it's only a matter of time until one does. When that happens, studios will reap the major benefits. Until then, these deals represent progress, but not game-changing events.

     
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