The 17th January 2018, saw the launch event for two books providing a critical perspective on the recent history of home media distribution: Cult Media: Re-Packaged, Re-Released and Restored and DVD, Blu-Ray & Beyond: Navigating Formats and Platforms Within Media Consumption, both edited by Jonathan Wroot, Lecturer here at the University of Greenwich, and Andy Willis.
Meanwhile guest speaker Robert Price, Managing Director for 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Chairman of the British Association for Screen Entertainment (BASE) was there to give an insight into what the future might hold for the home entertainment market.
Here are three key points that stood out from his talk:
The popularity of the movies is not in decline.
One of Robert’s main points was that content is driven by customer demand, and the large number of content available proves that there has been a growth in cultural significance for movies. In the UK, “£4.1 billion is spent on watching films every year”, over “£77 per person”, and within this, the home entertainment market was worth “£2.7 billion in 2017” an increase of “7.5% from 2016”. It’s said that the average buyer spends £99 on home entertainment a year.
The growing importance of the foreign market was highlighted throughout the talk. “Fox now distributes to over 130 countries Worldwide”, and the global theatrical box office took in an insane, “£39.9bn”, up “3%” from 2016. Franchises are being propelled by the global market, with the Transformers films being “kept alive by the high numbers in the Chinese box-office”; it’s estimated that between 2016-2021, the Chinese movie market is expected to grow by “68.5%”.
Above all, the way we interact with movies on a social level is the driving force for commercial success. Robert stated that a past 21st Century Fox release, Deadpool (2016), was partly made due to the highly positive response that leaked test footage received online, spurring it into production. Along the same lines, he added that “movies create a constant stream of conversation and consumption”, with the recent release of the Avengers Infinity War trailer prompting “1.45 million conversations on social media” for a film that does not release until April.
It’s clear that digital has changed the way we consume content
The relationship between digital and film does not just end at the social level, but has also remodelled the way we consume entertainment. The power of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services has continued to rise in recent years, partly due to the fact that they operate via distribution methods that differ to the studio strategy of old. They don’t have to follow the standard 5-year release window, as all their content is made available on the service, giving them an edge on distribution. Having new content available instantly and constantly is a major incentive for customers. The combined number of paying subscribers (Netflix, Amazon and Now TV) for October 2017 is “10.8 million”, up from “9.5million” in October 2016.
Netflix’s original content is increasing more and more, but while this has led to “quality exclusives”, the overall library of third party content is considered by many to be “poor”, leading to the “number one reason people cancel Netflix” being that “they ran out of things they wanted to watch”. Studios, like Fox are pulling content from third-party streaming platforms (see link for more info: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/25/foxs-fx-could-pull-more-shows-off-of-netflix-amazon-and-onto-fx.html) so, since for the customers “content is still king”, Netflix have upped the number of their own productions.
It’s estimated that the annual video content budget for Netflix is “£4.4 billion”, with Amazon operating in a similar fashion with a “£3.3 billion” budget. These are not the only contenders, as Apple have begun to dip their toe in original content production, with it being said their current budget is “£0.7 billion – a figure that will surely rise. Netflix has changed from a streaming platform to a full-blown competitor for the major studios, and Robert added that he feels that “It’s almost inevitable that Netflix will soon be in every home.”
Home Entertainment has “powered the Hollywood economic model”, but this way of work is “under attack” from the rise of digital. 2017 marked the first time that digital sales overtook physical in the UK home entertainment market. We can attribute this shift to the fact that “there is new content everywhere“, with an “explosion” of devices creating “access ubiquity”. Movies are now watched on “36% of televisions”, but “89% of computers, 42% of games consoles and 58% of iPads”. The digital streaming market will only continue to rise ; in 2013, “digital subscriptions made up 7% of home entertainment sales.” In 2017, this figure is up to “32%”.
So Hollywood will have to change…
While change has been hard to receive, it is not proving detrimental to the market as a whole. Fox reported that digital has grown from “10%” of home entertainment revenue to “60%”, but the overall market has yet to suffer, with the UK’s filmed entertainment “£4.8billion” value in 2016, showing an increase from 2014’s figure of £3.8 billion”. The big studios aren’t retreating from increasingly powerful streaming services, but instead are welcoming the challenge.
With the Fox/Disney deal still fresh in the news, a lot of the discussion centered around the potential danger this could bring to the film industry, Robert was positive about the deal, and stated how it was “driven by scalability”. There is a need for “more content and more outlets of revenue”, and with that being said, the smaller avenues like “Fox Searchlight” should not be facing consequences as a result of the deal, and could perhaps even increase their output, as it provides Disney with a new audience.
(See link for more information on Disney’s plan for their streaming service: http://deadline.com/2018/02/disney-streaming-service-launch-slate-star-wars-marvel-1202281846/)
In fact Robert highlighted the potential danger of the “tent pole” release strategy, that tends to put too much focus on the blockbuster films, an example being that “The Last Jedi”( 2017), while successful made less money than previous release, “The Force Awakens” (2015). The point Robert kept returning to was the importance of delivering content that people want. Failure won’t come from piracy or streaming but from a lack of engagement with the consensus of the audience.