Posts Tagged ‘Digital Entertainment Group’

DEG: Here’s The Rest of the Story

The headlines sure look impressive: “Overall Consumer Spending on Home Entertainment Up 2 Percent in First Half of 2013!” “Blu-ray Disc Sales Up 15 Percent Over Mid-Year 2012!” “Electronic Sell-Through Surges 50 Percent!”

Yes, it’s the latest Home Entertainment Report from the Digital Entertainment Group, the industry association that promotes the Blu-ray disc format, and to a lesser degree digital downloads and Internet streaming of movies and TV shows.

The DEG’s original mission (and its predecessor’s, the Blu-ray Disc Association) was to push Blu-ray into every home as a replacement for the standard-definition red laser DVD. But a funny thing happened along the way while the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps were slugging it out: Consumers discovered streaming, specifically from Netflix. And many of those same consumers decided they didn’t need an optical disc format anymore.

DVD sales began to tank in 2005, and DVD rentals starting falling off a few years later. The popularity of video-on-demand (streaming, downloads) grew so quickly that it surpassed the revenue from optical disc sales and rentals in 2011, and quite frankly, very few people saw that coming.

The problem with streaming and digital downloads is that they’re not as profitable as selling and renting optical discs, or “packaged media” as Hollywood calls them. Blockbuster found this out the hard way, as did Hollywood Video a few years earlier. And 3D did absolutely squat to boost the fortunes of the Blu-ray format after all of the hullaballoo died down.

It would appear that consumers who want to watch movies have decided they don’t need an actual physical copy sitting on their shelf. All they need is “anytime, anywhere” access to that movie. The net result is $4 and $5 rentals of Blu-ray quality movies through iTunes, Nook, Amazon, and other online stores…and not sales of $20 and $25 Blu-ray combo packs at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target.

So what’s with the skepticism? you may ask, given the upbeat headlines from DEG. Hmmm…If you scan the press release in more detail, you’ll find these gems hidden within:

* Overall DVD and Blu-ray disc sales fell 4.7% Y-Y to nearly $3.6 billion in the first half of 2013.

* Overall rental revenue, including digital, fell more than 5.5% Y-Y to nearly $3.1 billion.

* DVD/BD rentals from physical stores like Blockbuster fell 12.6% Y-Y to $522 million.

* Subscription-based DVD/BD rental revenue declined nearly 21% Y-Y to $531 million.

* Revenue from DVD/BD kiosks fell nearly 4% Y-Y to $955 million.

Notice the underlined words “fell” and “declined.” And how they all apply to optical disc formats. These trends haven’t changed significantly in the past eight years for DVDs, and an uptick in revenue from the sale of Blu-ray movies (usually in combo packs with DVDs and a digital copy) to the tune of 15% so far this year hasn’t been enough to offset any of these trends.

DEG, who has been known in the past to cherry-pick the data but not fill in the blanks, also stated that “Consumers bought more than five million Blu-ray compatible devices during the first six months. There are now more than 61 million Blu-ray players in U.S. homes.”

An interesting data set, but the big follow-up question is; how exactly are those “Blu-ray compatible devices and players” being used? Keep in mind that iPads, Galaxys, Kindles, and Nooks are in one sense “Blu-ray compatible devices” in that they can play back 1080p movies with 8-bit color. As for those 61 million Blu-ray players – are they functioning more often than not (as my experience tells me) as low-cost streaming media boxes, with the occasional BD loaded up now and then? DEG doesn’t say, so the number hasn’t any real significance right now.

Well, what was the good news, if any? For starters, video-on-demand services were up 6.9% Y-Y, earning nearly $1.1B.  And subscription-based streaming (read: Netflix) saw a gain of 32% Y-Y, generating about $1.5B in cold hard cash for studios and media conglomerates. And total home entertainment spending in the USA hit $4.63B for the first six months of this year, up 3% Y-Y.

In other words; streaming and downloads are in, physical disc rentals are on the way out. And to some degree, so are physical disc purchases. And that’s a perfectly logical development: If you can access any movie any time you want on any device, why on earth would you buy a physical copy of it that you might watch only once or twice?

As has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion, streaming doesn’t provide anywhere near the quality of a blue laser optical disc. True, and you also don’t see “buffering” on-screen messages or suffer through locked-up I-frames when watching a Blu-ray disc, unless your BD player has a problem.

Lately, I’ve been renting movies in HD resolution (1080p/60) and downloading (not streaming) them to my Nook HD+. I can watch them on a plane, anywhere in my house, or even on my family room TV or through my home theater projection system simply by plugging in an HDMI cable.  That’s pretty doggone convenient, and easy to carry around.

New releases usually command a $4 to $6 rental fee at the Nook store and I have 30 days to watch any movie after paying for it. I downloaded two movies for a recent flight to Italy (Amelia and The Great and Powerful Oz; I passed on Flight for obvious reasons!) and while I enjoyed both of them, I have no desire to own either movie or rent them again. I suspect I’m not unlike many consumers in feeling that way.

Long story short; while the DEG headlines raised my eyebrows, the true story behind the numbers did not. DEG’s data clearly indicates that the trend away from physical media continues to accelerate, albeit slowly. What that means for the BD format in the near future is uncertain, particularly when MPEG4 H.265 (HEVC) is implemented in a couple of years and we will be able to stream 1080p/60 content at 2-3 Mb/s – slow enough for the average cable Internet connection.

And that’s the rest of the story…

DEG Cranks Up The 3D Hype Machine

Last Tuesday, the Digital Entertainment Group, an advocacy group comprised of CE manufacturers and Hollywood content producers, released a study conducted by research firm SmithGeiger that claims 3D TV owners are overwhelmingly happy with their purchases.

This is hardly earth-shaking news, considering the source. The DEG’s job is to promote things like 3D and the Blu-ray optical disc format. Both are key parts of the revenue stream for TV manufacturers and movie studios.

The survey, which you can read here, does reveal many interesting ‘a-has!’ if you read carefully between the lines. Let’s take them in order.

Quote: “Of those who view programming in 3D, an overwhelming 88 percent rated the 3D picture quality positively, compared to 91 percent for their 2D picture quality.” Really? Why didn’t 3D picture quality rate as high as or higher than 2D picture quality? Wasn’t that a key consideration in buying a 3D TV in the first place?

Quote: “And, 24 percent of those who view 3D at home reported watching more television – in 2D and 3D – since purchasing their new 3D TV.” OK, can we break that down a bit further? How much more TV were they watching, on average? 10% more? 50%? 75%? We don’t know. And what’s the breakdown between increased 3D and 2D viewing? Again, we don’t know.

Here’s what I found much more interesting: 75% of the people in the DEG study who bought a new 3D TV did NOT report watching more 2D or 3D programming after their purchase, while 1% are actually watching less TV. Why? Because there wasn’t enough 3D programming to watch?

Does ‘watching more television’ include DVDs and Blu-ray movies? We just don’t have enough details here, so the ‘24% reported watching more TV’ claim is statistically meaningless without context. (And what about that 1% who are now watching less TV? Interesting…)

Quote: “Also, 85 percent of 3D TV owners surveyed would prefer to watch half, most, or all of their programs in 3D.” Looking at the tables actually provided by DEG, 14% said they’d watch most programs in 2D. But the group that said “it would be an even split” (using the report’s own wording) came to 23%, and a group that is stuck at 50-50 clearly does not favor either side – even though the DEG counted this group in the 85%.

I read the results this way: 62% of respondents clearly would watch everything or most programming in 3D, while 23% don’t lean either way and 14% prefer 2D. If you are trying to make a case that there is a clear preference for 3D, the numbers presented say that 37% of the sample group does not prefer to ‘watch most or all programming in 3D.’ While that still presents a 2:1 ratio favorable to 3D viewing, it is quite different from the 85% figure claimed by the DEG.

Quote: “Of the 3,100 3D TV owners surveyed, only a handful experienced any discomfort when using active shutter 3D glasses.” All right, I’m intrigued – what is “a handful?” Read further into the report and you will see that (a) 18% of respondents “never feel like I fully adjust to the glasses” while an additional 8% state that, “it takes several minutes for me to adjust to the glasses.” That is a total of 26% respondents who either have on-going problems with 3D glasses or take a long time to get used to 3D eyewear.

And the DEG survey numbers are in line with research done in human vision response by several universities and the American Optometrists Association. At the ADA/3D@Home conference in New York City a couple of months ago, the estimates I heard were that as much as 25% of the general population cannot see 3D correctly.

If the DEG thinks 26% is “a handful,” they are delusional.

Quote: “With an average of 2.38 pairs of glasses at home, it is clear that 3D TV owners are actively using their 3D TVs for viewing 3D.” If I had drawn that conclusion from the statistics presented in this survey, I would have gotten a big, fat “F” from my statistics professor at Syracuse University, not to mention my logic professor at Seton Hall!

Here’s what he would have said to me: Make sure you have all of the facts before you draw any conclusions! Facts such as: Anyone who bought a Samsung 3DTV in the past year got 2 pairs of glasses with it as part of a 3D starter kit. Did you buy an LG Infinia 3D TV bundle last fall? You got four pairs of glasses with it.

In fact, so many promotions bundled two or more pairs of glasses with the purchases of a 3D TV that the fact that the average home had 2.38 pairs doesn’t mean very much at all. Nor does it allow us to draw any definitive conclusions about how often viewers are using their TVs to watch 3D. All it means is that the average 3D TV owner has about 2 pairs of 3D glasses.

Quote: “More than 7 out of 10 of those surveyed use a Blu-ray 3D or 3D-capable player.” For what purpose, exactly? The survey question is incomplete, as it doesn’t ask specifically whether respondents “use a Blu-ray 3D or 3D-capable player” to watch 3D, a mix of 3D and 2D content, or mostly 2D content?

Here’s my question: How many of those Blu-ray players are mostly being used to watch Netflix streaming, and how often?

The accompanying chart shows that 87% use a cable or satellite set-top box, while 71% use a Blu-ray or other 3D-capable player (not a PlayStation 3), and 61% use a DVR or TiVo.

But the chart also says that 28% of respondents use a standard-definition DVD player. Why include that number, as it’s not relevant to 3D content playback? 34% of respondents have a Nintendo Wii (as I do), and it’s not a 3D delivery platform, either.

The survey goes on to mention that that “44 percent of 3D TV owners purchased their Blu-ray player bundle with their TV.” If these purchases really were 3D TV bundle deals, then 44% of 3D TV owners actually got a free Blu-ray player as part of their TV bundle. That was made quite clear in the advertising and marketing for various 3D TV bundle packages. Maybe the DEG isn’t quite clear on the meaning of the words “free” or “bundle?”

At the May 24 Connected TV and 3D event in New York City, DEG president Ron Sanders (also president of Warner Home Video) stated,  “The results of this landmark study clearly show that 3D TV owners are overwhelmingly happy with their 3D experience…this bodes well for the future of the Home 3D category.”

Really? My statistics professor would have been ROFL at hearing that. Here’s what my conclusions are.

(1) 75% of the survey respondents who bought a new 3D TV aren’t watching any more TV as a result of that purchase. That could mean they aren’t that enthusiastic about 3D, or that they just bought the TV as an upgrade and made sure it had 3D capability in it that they may or may not use. We don’t know enough to say – SmithGeiger didn’t ask.

(2) About two-thirds of the respondents want to watch most if not all of their programming in 3D. That is an interesting number and one which should be re-sampled a year from now.

(3) 26% of the respondents either cannot use 3D glasses at all or have measurable difficulty in adapting to 3D eyewear. That’s right in line with educated estimates and is a substantial impediment to widespread 3D TV adoption.

(4) The average number of pairs of 3D glasses in survey households is not substantially higher than the number of free glasses given away in 3D TV bundles. And we have NO idea how often they are being used, as SmithGeiger never bothered to ask.

(5) We know that 7 out of 10 respondents have Blu-ray players. We also know that many respondents have cable and satellite boxes. There are more of the latter than of the former. (Stop the presses!) What we DON’T know is how often those Blu-ray players and set-top boxes are being used to watch 3D content.

In fact, it’s mind-boggling that SmithGeiger didn’t ask any questions respondents about the number of hours per day, week, and month they actually spend watching 3D content!

Other fun tidbits:

(6) 78% of PlayStation 3 owners have upgraded their consoles for viewing 3D Blu-ray movies, and 76% of PS3 owners upgraded to play 3D games. Yet the following chart in the DEG study shows that only 7% of PS3 owners play 75 to 100% of their games in 3D, while 59% (by far the largest group) said that 25% or less of their game-playing is in 3D. There’s a disconnect here.

(7) 55% of 3D TV owners “would definitely” buy a 3D TV again. What – only half? I thought 88% of them loved their 3D TV picture quality! 25% of respondents said they “would probably” buy another 3D TV, while 14% said they “might or might not.” 7% said they “probably would not or definitely would not” buy a 3D TV again.

I interpret those numbers to mean that roughly half of the survey respondents are either (a) lukewarm about, (b) indifferent to, or (c) opposed to buying a 3D TV again.

That hardly constitutes a ringing endorsement for 3D TV, so it’s surprising that SmithGeiger didn’t ask the logical follow-up question: “Please list the reasons why you would buy or not buy a 3D TV again?”

Given the DEG’s position as industry cheerleader for 3D and Blu-ray, I’m not at all surprised in the way the survey results were stated. There is clearly a need for objective, in-depth analysis of why people have purchased 3D TVs, how they use them, and what their like and dislikes about 3D TV are.

But this survey and report doesn’t do the job. It’s clearly presented as more ‘spin’ that fact. There are too many holes in its methodology and flaws in its results  to be taken seriously as an objective analysis of the trends in 3D TV adoption rates and the factors that drive them.